How to do Silk Painting – Salt Technique

Some of the detailed pieces I have painted on silk over the years have required a steady hand and a bit of know-how as well as lots of patience and good-will.

But we all start somewhere and I am certainly no exception. I remember when I first taught myself to paint on silk many years ago how I was absolutely mesmerised at seeing the salt technique in action.

This video shows you the technique in some detail:

I have found with practice that you can control the outcome to a certain extent. It’s really important to ensure that your work is wet. I’ve taught many silk painting workshops where participants have been really disappointed when the salt grains didn’t have the effect they wanted.

This was mostly due to them adding the salt when the paint was already too dry to react with the dyes on the silk.

You will get the longer lines similar to masses of little comets rushing across your silk on the areas that are sloped at the edge. And where the silk might have sagged a little in the middle, the markings are rounder.

The salt technique

What I particularly love is that, even after you’ve removed the salt grains, the pattern continues to work and so the picture looks a bit different again when the silk is properly dry. You can see this clearly illustrated by comparing the photo on the left with the final image on the video.

This technique is great for combining with other techniques such as embellishing your work with metallic resist. If you’d like to see how to do this, have a look at my video ‘How to Embellish a Silk Painting with Gold Resist or Gutta’.

You can also add wonderful accents with dilutant or alcohol. I hope to be able to demonstrate the techniques soon to you on video as well.

One of the prettiest things you can with this technique is to create a stunning silk scarf with vibrant colours. Just make sure you remove all the salt grains before rolling up the silk ready for steaming as there will be unsightly marking after steaming if you don’t.

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried this out before or are thinking of trying it out. What did you paint and how did it turn out?

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14 Responses to How to do Silk Painting – Salt Technique

  1. wendy Hickey says:

    hi i used a natural salt with a mixture if small and large grains ,the effect was great but my silk stayed wet after i removed the salt and its spreading all over the silk, will i have trouble when i steam? i will give it 24hours to dry and after that ????

    • Fiona Stolze says:

      Hi Wendy

      Sorry I didn’t get notification of your question. Often if you have used salt on your silk, there are little puddles left afterwards, especially if your silk was very wet. Don’t worry. Just let it dry properly overnight and steam as normal. You just have to take care that you remove all of the salt grains before you steam. It should otherwise be okay. Next time, if you are concerned, use a cotton swab and dab away any excess water on the silk.

  2. Hafeeza says:

    Luv the salt on silk tutorial

  3. nita says:

    post script
    The pellon was to be used instead of newsprint. I figured this is more pliable and less bulky.
    I do appreciate your advice
    Nita L

  4. nita says:

    Dear Fiona
    I want to thank you again for helping me. I am 84 yrs old and have dabbled in dyeing for many years trying everything. I love to dye natural fabrics, and sew one of a kind fabrics for my wardrobe

    I did not fully explain that the reason I washed my painted silk is-
    I dyed it too dark.

    I am experimenting with iron on freezer paper for stenciling and painting.
    Also I read that light weight pellon for wrapping silk to steam fix the color
    I would like to know what you think about this before I take the time to proceed
    Thank you very much
    Nita L

  5. fel says:

    hi there,i really fall in love with the painting technique,what i really need to know now is ,can i use other paints ? can i apply this technique with cotton too?

    • Fiona Stolze says:

      Hi Fel – Glad to hear you’ve fallen in love with this technique. I am a silk specialist so am not sure how cotton would react to the salt.

      If you are painting on silk you need to use the paints especially for silk which are then fixed by ironing from the reverse for 3 minutes. You can then wash the silk and the colours don’t bleed out again.

      If you are using dyes the fabric has to be steamed. You must use special silk dyes for them to work on silk and other protein fibres such as wool. Other dyes which are developed for cottons and rayons will not work on silk.

      Theoretically you can paint on silk with anything but you will not be able to fix them into the silk afterwards. I’ve seen people paint with acrylics and other sparkly paints but you then have to be careful not to get the fabric wet in any way.

      Hope that help. 🙂

  6. Adi Campbell says:

    So enjoyed your video – my son has decided to use silk paintng for his o level course work. Please can you let me know what type of silk i should buy- we live in Zimbabwe but will be in India next week so can get there. Please can you let me know how to steam the finished product
    Thank you
    Adi Campbell

    • Fiona Stolze says:

      Hi Adi

      Great news that your son wants to do silk painting for his o level. I would suggest just getting some simple habotai 8mm or pongee 8mm (medium quality) to bewgin with. Buy some silk paints and you can fix them with the iron from the reverse for 3 minutes. If you buy steam fix dyes you have to steam and doing it yourself can be a bit of a risk if you are new to it. Hope that helps. 🙂

  7. RIVKA says:


    • Fiona Stolze says:

      Try using one of those little hand vacuums. I used to have one and it worked a treat. Very fine salt will tend to stick anyway. I don’t know what chemicals they put in there. There are some for sure. The larger salts come off much more easily. Especially the ones specially for use in silk painting. When salt is so fine and powdery it just sticks to the dyes as you have experienced. The grains are so fine they just absorb all the dye and get soggy and stick to the silk surface. Then what you can do is just completely let it dry and use clean toothbrush to gently get it off. Hope that helps a bit.

  8. Moira Taylor says:

    Hello I have a a very artisitc client that I am working with.
    She has had many health issues and as part of her therapy I would like to include, the silk scarf making.
    She has described a frame from past creations that I am desperatly seeking.
    I can have this wooden frame built i just need direction as to what t his frame consists of and dimensions.
    Nobody seems to know what I am talking about within our area leeds & Grenville Ontario Cananda.
    Could you please advise.
    Thank you
    Moira Taylor NLP life coach

    • Fiona Stolze says:

      Hi Moira

      Wonderful that you’re doing silk painting with your client. As to the wooden frame, there are many forms it could take. The simplest version is to make frame from 4 lengths of wood nailed together and then attach the silk with hooks and rubber bands.

      There are also frames with big notches in them and you can interlink the pieces to adjust the length that you need.

      Then you can attach nails all along the inside of the wooden frame and run a rubber band along there. The silk gets suspended inside the frame using hooks again which get hooked into the long rubber band on the frame. I’ll have a look and see if I can find a link to a tutorial for one of these on the internet for you.

      I hope that one of these options is what you’re looking for. Please contact me and I can make sure you get a link.

      Thanks for asking.

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