How to Steam Fix Silk Dyes for Best Results

I was very recently asked a question about steam fixing silk dyes and this prompted me to write the present article. We’re not talking here about iron fixing as that is quite a straight forward process and needs no further explanation. It’s the French dyes which need to be steam fixed and that’s what we’re going to be looking at here.

One thing that is important to remember when you are painting with silk dyes is that both your gutta (if you have used any) and your dyes themselves will need to settle into the silk fabric, so it’s really recommendable to leave your work on the frame until the next day before attempting to fix it. This will ensure your work is completely dry. As the fixing process takes around 3 hours, it’s best left until the next day. That is the main reason why I offer to steam fix any work done by my workshop participants and to send it on to them a few days later.

But what about the actual steaming itself? How is that done? Well, I have always used a professional steaming device to do this. Mine is a horizontal one and has a roof-shaped lid as you can see in the photo here. The advantage of this is that any condensation can easily drop down to the sides and past the silk without harming it. I find it fantastic and haven’t had a piece of ruined silk in all the years I have been painting. It is electric and has a thermostat, ensuring a constant temperature all the way through. You may well have seen vertical models which are basically the same but most of them have to be used on top of your cooker on or electric plates.

These professional steamers are quite costly and the average hobby person will not be wanting to make such an investment. You can, of course, look on the internet to see where the nearest steaming service is. Many artists offer to do this for a reasonable fee per metre of silk plus postage. But there are ways of reaching similar results by making up your own steaming device at home. It is tricky to do it with constant good results and there is always the risk of drops of water getting onto your silk and spoiling it.

If you are attempting to do this at home, you will need a vegetable steamer of a decent size. You can wrap your silk artwork up by laying it flat on a piece of muslin and then on blank newspaper (or similar quality) and carefully rolling it up, taking care to seal the ends. You will have to fold in the ends to make a little parcel so that it will fit inside your steamer. This is where the difficulties start because ideally the parcel should not touch the sides. Your package really needs to be suspended freely in the steam for best results. Also, be careful not to package too much because then the steam won’t penetrate the wrapping in order to effectively fix the dyes. There are many artists who have developed their own methods for doing this so you might want to use your search engine to have a closer look. I have read time and again of disappointments when, despite this, condensation ruins the final effect of the silk.

One thing to bear in mind is that creases and marks tend to get fixed into the silk. So if you are not very careful in wrapping it up, it can come out with some permanent creases in it, depending on the silk quality. Satin silk is particularly sensitive so take a bit of time to ensure a smooth rolling up.

When you have steamed pongee or habotai (often used for wafty, translucent scarves), it is quite easy to rinse them in lukewarm water until the bleeding stops. Satin silk loses part of its sheen when you do this, so be warned. Also, make sure that you only swirl it about in the water and then lay it flat on a tea towel or the like to dry, as any squeezing or wringing will result in creases which will often not come out again. Ironing creases in satin silk often just irons them in. I paint my mandalas on satin silk and since they mostly get framed behind glass, I do not wash them afterwards. They just get ironed carefully and pat in a safe, dry place. Anything that is intended for wearing gets thoroughly rinsed.

When I prepare my work for steaming in my electrical device, I use a length cut off from a huge roll of blank newspaper which I have specifically for this purpose. One end of the paper is taped to a metal pole. I then begin to roll up my silks, taking care that both the paper and the fabric are completely flat and straight. I also allow for a good few inches space at both ends of the tube as well as at the start of the roll and the end. A few pieces of masking tape hold the roll closed. I then suspend it in the steam bath, close the lid, set the thermostat and leave it for 3 hours. When the time is up, being careful to use oven gloves or tea towels, I open the lid, lift out the pole and package and lay it down on the floor on plastic sheeting to cool. After a few minutes I unroll it and let the pieces of silk cool at room temperature. They look gorgeous, really glossy and translucent. Mmmmm…..the best part.

If the paper is not too messy, I recycle it in the next steaming. Any bleeding on the paper depends on how concentrated the dyes were when you painted and how liberal you were in your application of them.

And you don’t ever have to worry about overdoing things. When you are steaming your artwork, the process completes and if you forget about it and go off to do something else, leaving your silk in the steamer for even double the time you intended to, this doesn’t have any adverse effects. It’s not like overcooking veggies in the steamer. πŸ™‚

You might find it worthwhile searching for sites that sell steaming devices because there’s nothing to beat them in simplicity and magnificence in results. I never have to worry about whether or not my work will turn out good . I paid more for mine because it is electric however you can get the version that you can warm up on your cooker for quite a bit less. You could also watch out on Ebay to see if you can pick one up at a good price.

One last word on this topic. There is also the “microwave” method. This is how it works – If you have painted a silk scarf in the wet in wet technique, you place it on a plate and put it in the microwave for a few minutes to fix the colours. You can only do this if it is very wet and there is no gutta. Since I originally posted this article, I have delved into this area and found it to be quite enjoyable. What you can make with it is very limited as the silk needs to be very wet before you pop it in for ‘cooking’. If it’s too dry, it’s just going to singe and burn…not very nice. I’ll be exploring this more and hope to have something in writing quite soon. πŸ™‚

So, good luck with your work. I hope this article helps. Let me know how you get on.

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49 Responses to How to Steam Fix Silk Dyes for Best Results

  1. Robin says:

    First off, thank you for sharing your knowledge so willingly. I appreciate it.
    Now to my problem and question. I used silk satin, 10mm and Jacquard red and green label dyes. I have a food steamer and don’t know what temp. it reaches but the dyes have stayed vibrant. My problem seems to be certain colors traveling so from one of your responses above I think it must be that the rice steamer not heating up quickly enough. Do you think it would help if I started the steamer, got it going full strength and then put wrapped silk in? I also plan on posting this question on FB Spin site and with your permission your response.
    Thank you in advance.

    • Fiona Stolze says:

      Dear Robin

      Glad you are finding my posts of use. The quick answer to your question is yes. Bring it to the boil, make sure there is ample steam and then carefully insert the package. I would recommend you buy yourself a little thermometer so that you can keep a check on the temperature but if you can actually see steam coming off then the water is hot enough. Also top up the water regularly so that there is ample steam.

      Also some dyes tend to migrate more than others. Many silk artists have problems with black doing this. My experience has been that the darker colours do this more so purple can be a culprit too. πŸ™‚ My scientist husband tells me this has to do with the chemical composition of the darker dyes.

      Generally though they can start to migrate when the water just isn’t hot enough to produce steam which will immediately begin the fixing process. Get it hot fast and keep it that way.

      I always use Dupont and don’t tend to have problems with migrating colours with the exception of black a little bit. I would recommend getting hold of some of them if you can.

      And with regards the FB Spin site, I’d rather you didn’t share my response there.

      I hope things work out for you Robin. Do let me know how things go.

      Warm wishes


      • Robin says:

        I will try your suggestions and appreciate the quick response. I haven’t tried Dupont and just began with the Jacquard, so maybe in a bit. I will keep all info here on your site.
        Again, thank you.


  2. sonali kakar says:

    Dear Fiona
    Thank you for the super fast response. I steamed only one scarf but I think I overwrapped it. I used two layers of thick cotton cloth and then 3 layers of aluminium foil. I steamed another one with 2 layers of thin cloth and 4 layers of foil. This time it was much better. The washout was not as much.
    None of my scarves had a faded look although I did lose the patterns made by salt in one after rinsing.
    Do you think I am overpainting or the dyes are too concentrated. I made a stock solution of 0.5oz dye in 8oz water and mostly used this concentration.
    How much water should I use to rinse after steaming (should I rinse in running water?).
    Unfortunately professional steamers are not available here in India. Will probably have to get one fabricated.

  3. sonali kakar says:

    Dear Fiona
    Your videos have been so educational.
    Iam a beginner just entering the worldIof silk painting. I am using Jacquard acid dyes to paint some scarves. I steamed them using a rice cooker for 1.5 h. Then rinsed them in cold water. There was a lot of washout especially of blue colour.
    I did not rinse in vinegar water. Is it necessary to do the first rinse in vinegar water?
    Is the steam time ok?
    I did not pre soak my fabric in vinegar. Would it have made a difference.

    • Fiona Stolze says:

      Hi Sonali

      I’m glad you’ve been enjoying my videos. The whole subject of steaming is tricky is you are using a homemade steamer. But first of all the question is – were the scarves washed out looking, ie. faded? Or was there just a lot of dye coming out? Often when you use too much dye, the excess comes out in the wash but the finished product is vibrant. If they looked faded and too pale, then you didn’t steam them correctly. The reason for this could be one of very many and it’s hard for me to say exactly what was wrong.

      It had nothing to do with vinegar.

      The steam has to be able to penetrate the package and if it doesn’t, the steaming doesn’t occur. Also it is very important to get the temperature up high and quick and to sustain that for the steaming to be effective. Often the water isn’t hot enough or takes too long to heat up. Or gets cooler inbetween. This can all affect the process of steaming.

      This is why I don’t teach steaming as there are so many things that can go wrong. I recommend buying a stove-top or plug-in steamer for this reason.

      I also steam my silks for a minimum of 2 1/2 hours depending on how much silk I have. It sounds like you had quite a few scarves, so a longer steaming time might have helped.

      I’m sorry not to be of much more help but hope this gives a bit of insight.

      Warm wishes


  4. Kim says:

    What brand is your electric horizontal steamer and where did you get it from? I cannot seem to locate an electric horizontal, only vertical.


  5. Kaja says:

    Hello Fiona,
    thanks for your helpfull posts! However, I still have a question – I use Dupont steam fixated dyes. Manufacturer only says : steam fix for 1-4 hours depending on the thickeness of fabric or number of layers. That’s all I have been able to google so far. My question is – do I need to add acid, such as vinegar, into water which I pour into the steamer? Or would just pure water steam be sufficient? So far I have always added vinegar into the water, but it really destroys the metal pipe from which I made my steamer of, and I started to ask myself whether the vinegar is neccessary. Yes, I could do some experiments, but I prefer to ask first.
    Have a nice day and thanks!

    • Fiona Stolze says:

      Hi Kaja – the quick and simple answer to your question is no vinegar in the steaming water. And I normally steam maximum 3 hours. You may get away with aruond 2 hours for just one or two pieces. It depends on how thick the roll of paper and silk is.


      • Kaja says:

        Thank you for lightning fast answer! You have just made my life a bit easier πŸ™‚
        Happy holidays, cheers !

  6. Amna says:

    THANKS a bunch for your kind help, Fiona πŸ™‚

    Sorry i didn’t mention that, my country is Pakistan and its just that here products and paints etc. don’t always come with instructions or a guide and your suggestion seems quite helpful, I’ll definitely go for it.

    There is still one little thing i want to ask about silk paint-fixing. I searched around more on this subject and many articles say that after ironing it is necessary to hand-wash the fabric in soapy water, rinse it thoroughly in water and then iron it again, for better fixing results.
    please suggest if ironing is enough or should i also go for the washing technique?

    P.S Thank You for sharing the link πŸ™‚

    • Fiona Stolze says:

      Hi Amna

      If you are creating a wearable and have iron fixed the paints into the silk, then I would highly recommend washing in shampoo, rinsing thoroughly, rolling up in a towel and then ironing from the reverse. If it is wall art, then you needn’t worry about washing the silk. I hope that helps.

      Warm wishes


  7. Amna says:

    the article is a BIG help Fiona. πŸ™‚
    especially the microwave thing. i find it the easiest and the most convenient in countries like mine where you don’t get things easily. iam making cushion fabrics on satin silk, pure silk and a silk called “shamoos” in my country and ive been using various tie n dye techniques with silk paints. the results are quite satisfying, however, im not sure what type of silk paints they are and what fixing method they require. What i can share with you is that they are available in liquid form (ready to use). although i do iron my fabric after painting so i need to know if that is enough or should i do something else?

    this is my thesis project for home interior products and im done with the painting and dying of fabric but i was really looking out for the best guide regarding the fixing. im looking for something that does not require a steamer or outside-help as im doing this at home plus there are not many resources or places here in my area which can be a help. if you’ve find something more about that microwave-fixing then please guide me as i really need to finish my thesis . That will be so kind of you πŸ™‚

    • Fiona Stolze says:

      Hi Amna

      I am glad you found this article interesting. I’m not sure what country you live in and so can’t give any tips on where to best get supplies. Regarding the silks, normally silk will be pure silk. The satin silk has a special weave and is not a mix of fibres. The ‘shamoos’ is called ‘charmeuse’ and is satin silk. It has a beautiful sheen.

      The label on your silk paints should tell you what to do and what make they are. Paints need to be ironed for 3 minutes on the reverse to fix them. Dyes need to be steam fixed.

      Only wet silks can be fixed in the microwave not dried piece of art. If you try to microwave dried pieces, they will burn.

      Check out my video on YouTube on using the microwave method.

      Check out YouTube for other videos on how to steamfix silks painted with dyes without using a professional steamer.

      I hope that helps a bit Amna.

      Warm wishes


  8. nita says:

    Deqr Fioana

    I have been dabbling with dyes and painting.

    I sew my clothes of natural fibers.
    I am experimenting with spray starch on silk to make the silk lay flat, then apply freezer paper to garment pieces.
    When I painted it took about 1/4 the paint as usual as the dye absorbed back into the silk. The color was too dark so I washed on delicate, cold water and some of the color washed out
    Do you have any suggestions?
    I want to make a horizontal steamer out of S Steel. My son in law is a commercial welder. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Fiona Stolze says:

      Dear Nita

      I would need to know a bit more about what you are doing to be able to make any meaningful comments. If you are using dyes you must steam them afterwards or else they just wash out again. It’s not clear from your message if you are steaming the fabric. If you use paints, you can iron them from the reverse for 3 minutes to fix the colour on your silk. There are many tutorials on YouTube showing you how to steam your silk using a vegetable steamer and newspaper. I would have a look there. Basically the colours wash out again when they haven’t been properly fixed and that can have many reasons.

      As for making your own, I’m really sorry but I can give no advice on that. I bought my professional steamer from Germany many years ago.

      I would suggest practising with many small pieces just for fun to see how to best fix your colours before making larger pieces. Good luck with it all.


  9. Gill Whitehead says:

    Help please. Does anyone know of a method for fixing the microwave Sinotex Quick Colors if you don’t have a microwave. I gave some of these dyes to a friend for Christmas and have discovered that she doesn’t have a microwave! I read somewhere that you could steam fix them but I can’t see how this will allow the dampen, scrunch, dye and microwave methods that produce random patterns that I have used myself. Rainbow Silks website says that these dyes can be steam fixed but doesn’t go into details. As a novice to silk painting I’d be very grateful for any suggestions.

    Many thanks


    • Fiona Stolze says:

      Hi Gill

      You can wet the silk and apply the dye as you do for the microwave. Then you can do a quick steam fix. Put some water in a pot on the stove and bring it to the boil. Lay a wire mesh over the top of the pot, lay the wet silk on top of the mesh, then cover the mesh and silk with some aluminium foil and tuck it under the mesh all the way around to seal in the silk. Then the steam can rise and penetrate the silk. Leave it for about 15 minutes and then take from the mesh carefully with ovengloves. Wash under running water to remove excess dye and towel dry. Then iron from the reverse. That should do the trick. But make sure you only use wet silk. It doesn’t work when the silk is dry. Let me know how it goes.

  10. Hello Fiona,

    I wanted to write back to you and let you know that I think I have sorted out my steaming issues :). Here are the things I modified to get steaming to work. This may be useful to any viewers who may have read my question and had similar problems –

    1) I was timing the length of steaming incorrectly. I did not account for the time it may take water to come to a boil in the steamer, which in my case is upto 30 minutes. Now I am timing my steaming from the time I put the silk bundle into the steamer and leaving the parcel in there for an additional 3.5 hours (30 minutes towards boiling water). Presently I am leaning towards a longer steaming time while I work towards making all the others variables constant (i.e. amount of wrapping, quantity of silk, thickness of silk etc)

    2) My bundling is now as follows –
    * Inner core = cotton sheet followed by a layer of newsprint (I found the cotton sheet or newsprint by itself were not enough to stop condensation from entering my inner most silk layers)

    * Silk layers = silk with a layer of newsprint above and below (I found dye on both layers of newsprint after steaming like this and this make me think perhaps I will need one more layer of newsprint each above and below the silk to ensure dye does not travel to other scarves)

    3) Water temperature – I never got around to buying a candy thermometer to check the temperature of escaping steam. Still mean to do this!

    4) Washing – Dye still washed out of the scarves but water ran clear after about 2 minutes. My first wash was a cold vinegar soapy wash, second wash was warm water wash.

    5) Ironing – I ironed the silk while still damp and no dye residue transferred to the iron.

    I am happy to report that this was a positive experience :). Thank you for your advice! I will report back in case something new occurs!


    • Fiona Stolze says:

      Glad to hear you’ve got your steaming to work now. As I said, the length of time doesn’t really make a lot of difference. Once you’ve given it about 2 1/2 hours there’s not really much more that’s going to happen, contrary to popular belief. Make sure you are seeing steam within half an hour – quick and hot. πŸ™‚

      Bear in mind that the previous owner of your silk steamer only used one layer of paper to wrap her silks and steam them with success so don’t get too attached to using lots of layers. I only use one layer myself. And with great success.

      And remember you can unwrap the silk straight away and wash them. They are acid dyes, not fibre reactive and don’t need to cure. They get steamed instead.

      Keep a light touch in all of this.

      You might also want to watch this YouTube video on wrapping up little silk parcels for steaming.

      All the best.


  11. Susan says:

    I have been steaming silk for over 20 years and have only once or twice had a problem. Recently I steamed 3 scarves rolled with one layer of kraft paper between each scarf. One scarf had black areas that, closest to the outside of the roll, jumped the gutta. Did I paint too much dye on these spots or maybe the homemade steamer was not hot enough right away. I am doing the same design a second time and I don’t want the same thing to happen. What do you think?

    • Fiona Stolze says:

      Hi Susan

      Black dyes can be very unforgiving and many silk painters report that they bleed during and after steaming. My experience has been that it tends to eat into the resist lines as it seems to be very corrosive due to the chemical make up of the dye.

      I would always steam a silk with black dye separate from other pieces and take care when painting not to use an excess near the lines. Different brands will react differently so it might be worthwhile buying black in a few different brands to see how it works.

      The bottom line is that you’re not really doing anything wrong in that sense. Hope that helps.

  12. Thank you so much for your super quick response Fiona!

    Silk painting holds such an allure and I know silk dyes will deliver my ideas onto silk so beautifully, but my gosh the learning curve is so steep :). Anyway I have resolved to keep trying this year until I figure it out.

    From your description I think I will attempt wrapping the bundle a little less. Now that I think about it I had 3 brown paper layers on the inside, then the silk, then another two layers (one brown, one newsprint) then more silk and finally another brown paper layer. I will attempt another steaming with far less paper. I do hope this is my issue!

    With regards to regulating the temperature of the steamer… The base of the steamer looks like it has an immersion heater type device (a long U-shaped element) welded into the tube. I was told by the lady that I purchased this from that she would just plug it in and go from there. Your advice to have a thermostat installed is very valid and I will look into it.

    I have contacted the seller of the steamer again to find out what temperature the steamer might be reaching and in her response to my steaming issues she mentioned that she only wrapped with one layer of newsprint between silk pieces. So that again is leaning towards over-wrapping on my part.

    Do you find any condensation on your outermost paper layer in your horizontal steamer? I was fearing that would penetrate through to the inside and so added the extra paper layers.

    I appreciate your help very much. I don’t think newbies can get anywhere without the help of wonderful and sharing artists such as yourself. You are right! There are many variables that can change the dynamics of the steaming. I am hoping to figure this out sooner rather than later πŸ™‚

    Best regards,

  13. Hello Fiona,

    I have crossed paths with you on Etsy πŸ™‚ Your mandalas are so so pretty! I got your website while browsing through Joanna Reed’s blog. I asked her the very same question and decided to gain some insight from you as well…

    So far I have only painted with silk paints. This past year I have been experimenting with painting with silk dyes and running into lots and lots of trouble :(. I am hoping you can shed some light on my current steaming issues.

    I am still working with Jacquard Green label while I try to understand silk dyes. I was lucky enough to find an upright rocketship type steamer locally (although it is about 20 years old) and tried steaming my scarves in that. The steamer comes with an inner core around which I wrapped my scarves as follows. I wrapped the steamer core itself with 2 layers of brown kraft paper. My scarf layers were wrapped as follows:
    1) Brown kraft paper
    2) Next silk on top and
    3) Then 1 layer of newsprint on top of that.
    I wrapped these layers as a whole around the steamer core. I had two such scarf layers around the core.
    The final layer was a brown kraft paper layer.

    I painted on 14 x 72 silk crepe de chine scarves. I don’t know the weight of these scarves because they are cut out of yardage from a local fabric shop. But I would say they are not very thick.
    I first steamed the bundle for 2 hours and then an additional 2 hours. I noticed lots of condensation on the topmost kraft paper layer but on peeling back this layer the inside layers seemed fine. They were damp (not wet or dry). There were no watermarks or condensation marks on the silks. Some excess dye had leaked into the kraft paper but the scarves themselves were fine.

    Then I cured the scarves for 2 days before washing and this is where my troubles start :(. Even after rinsing for well over 5 minutes lots of dye has washed out. The colors are still bright, but muted. I did a cold water, followed by hot soapy water, followed by vinegar cold water wash. All of the design elements such as salt design, watermarks etc. stayed. It is just that lots of dye washed out. I couldn’t believe I kept washing the scarf for so long and still there is dye.

    Next I wrapped the scarves in a towel to remove excess moisture and proceeded to iron. Even though the water was not completely running clear but more of a very light pastel colour, I wanted to test out ironing the scarves. This is the most surprising part! As I ironed it appeared that dye was collecting onto the iron itself (as if I were ironing on gutta with lots of dye). I can even make out pigments on the iron and these smudged back onto the scarf.

    I have been reading and researching online about silk steaming for well over a year and was so fearful to try it out. Now that I am trying to conquer those fears I am finding out it is a very rocky road :). From what I have read I am suspecting the following –

    1) Temperature in my steamer is not hot enough – this steamer has a base with an electric element built into it which cannot be regulated. Further the top cone of the steamer has a whole in it to let steam escape. It almost looks like a chimney where you can see steam escaping occasionally.
    — I am unsure whether this opening needs to be blocked?

    2) Collectively I steamed for about 4 hours and this is with Jacquard green label. I can only assume my wrapping of the silk pieces is incorrect. But I don’t think I wrapped too much?

    3) I overpainted my scarves and that is the dye I saw wash out – but then that doesn’t explain why the scarves are muted in color now.

    Still fighting this uphill battle. Would you have any pointers for me? I greatly appreciate your help.


    • Fiona Stolze says:

      Hi Kavita – thanks for stopping by and asking a question. And glad you like my mandalas. Steaming is the one thing that causes a lot of silk painters grief and to be honest, any difficulties can be due to a number of things.

      Without standing next to you watching, it’s a bit hard for me to say with certainty what has caused the problem. But I’ll share some ideas I have.

      One of the biggest things is reaching the right temperature quickly and maintaining it. Get it hot fast and keep it that way.

      Steam being released from the steamer is not a problem. I have that all the time with my vertical steamer. Don’t try to block anything. It’s fine.

      I normally use only one layer of paper and just put a little bit of masking tape on top to hold the roll in place. But my steamer is horizontal and the roll is steamed easily and evenly. With the vertical steamers you have the added issue of the steam having to travel up the device. That is why it is essential to have it really hot and keep that steam coming.

      I often discover that silk painters have used cheap dyes and this can be a reason why they don’t bond properly with the silk during steaming. You have been using Jacquard Green Label dyes which are a reputable brand so that won’t be an issue.

      Another thing I point out is that the fabric can only absorb a certain amount of dye depending on what quality it is. Any excess will simply flow back out after steaming as the silk can’t hold it. This can look very dramatic when you try to wash the silk and can appear to be much more than it actually is. From your description it sounds as though you really did have large amounts of dye coming off the fabric even when ironing.

      I would conclude from this that the dyes haven’t been properly steamed. I only steam around 2 1/1 – 3 hours max. Steaming for longer won’t improve things unless you have huge quantities of silk around the core, in which case a longer steaming time will ensure that the steam penetrates the core properly.

      Excess wrappings can make it more difficult for the steam to do its job. Many believe that adding more paper will protect the silk from condensation drops but it can also slow down the steaming process. I use less and have never had problems with silk being spoiled by water droplets.

      You had no signs of condensation on your silk so can be sure that it was well wrapped. Maybe too much? You can experiment with a bit less.

      You also said that you can’t regulate the temperature on your steamer. So how do you turn the heat up? You need to be able to regulate the steamer otherwise you have no way of knowing how hot it gets. Mine goes shooting up to around 100 degrees and is regulated with a thermostat. It took a few steamings initially to get the exact setting I needed for it to work well.

      My guess is that this is the main reason for the difficulties you are having. If the temperature is a bit too low, it will not be heating up fast enough to reach an optimum temperature and isn’t able to maintain a good brisk steaming. It’s 20 years old and maybe just not doing its job properly.

      If you didn’t pay a lot for your steamer, I would seriously consider looking for another one. Or see if you can get someone locally to add a thermostat to it for you. That would make a big difference. The other option is to wrap up parcels in newspaper and steam your silk in a vegetable steamer on the stove.

      I hope that helps.

  14. stephannie says:

    Hi there i am interested in buying a professional silk fabric steamer and am struggling to source one online, could you tell me where i might find one at a reasonable price? or what make is the one that you use?


    • Fiona Stolze says:

      Hi Stephannie – steamers are generally quite pricey. Unfortunately the electric horizontal one I have is no longer manufactured. I’m not sure what part of the world you are in, but you can source a stove top horizontal one from Meru in Germany at If you live in the US, contact Jacquard as I know they have a vertical one. I think it is electric. Hope that helps.

      Warm wishes

      • Fiona Stolze says:

        And of course, you can always keep an eye out on eBay. Occasionally artists are ready to sell their steamers and you can maybe pick up a bargain.

  15. Lynne Taylor says:

    Hi Fiona,

    I had used the same water wash on this one (same as I did with the first piece) but the hard lines on this second piece stayed put, didn’t move at all!

    THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!!!!!!!!! I am so very grateful for your help!!!

  16. Fiona says:

    Hi Lynne

    Thanks for giving me all that information. I get a much clearer picture of what you are doing now. πŸ™‚ Okay, so let’s look at what you are using. A fairly light-weight habotai. The lighter the weight, the less dye we need before the fabric reaches saturation point. All surplus dye flows out either onto the paper during steaming or during the wash after fixing.

    You are the first person using Silksational dyes who has contacted me. I had never heard of them before but looked up the website. I see they are not acid based dyes like Pebeo or Dupont. They are water-based. I will ask around on the forums what experience other people have of them.

    However, I don’t think the actual dyes have anything to do with this.

    What exact instructions for steaming come with these dyes? I noticed you said you set the steamer to around 180 – 190 degrees Fahrenheit. That is about 82 – 87 degrees celcius. My steamer is always much hotter than that, 95 approx. So I’m guessing that maybe has something to do with it. Mine is electric so I have precision and don’t need to keep watching that the temperature is right. I don’t lose anywhere near 1 litre per steaming hour in condensation, so it sounds like quite a lot of liquid is escaping.

    You say this is the first steaming session you have done. That means you have no other steamings to compare this one with.

    As to the thicker lines. Based on my experience, this is what I would say. Your dyes air dryed on the silk. You then applied some water which caused what we call a hard edge. There was a build-up of dye in that area since the dye wasn’t flowing so freely. There was resistence from the first layer of dye. You had been using the dyes neat from the bottle (undiluted) so they were already strong and now had a further layer.

    Now if you are steaming the silk and the device doesn’t heat up quickly and get to the right temperature to start producing steam to begin the bonding process, the dye can ‘move’. Many painters experience fuzzy edges or smearing of the dyes. This seems to happen more with the darker dyes and where there is a build up of excess dye. Blacks and purples are prime candidates for this happening but the more pastelly the shades, the less the likelihood of it happening.

    My gut instinct is telling me the steamer isn’t hot enough and so the steam isn’t being formed quickly enough.

    I have been painting and steaming for over 10 years and my dyes don’t fade, wash out or get fuzzy because the temperature is well-regulated. I maintain that this is key in the process.

    So I would suggest raising the temperature slightly and make a small sample piece adding water just the same way you did before and then you have a control. This will give you good insight.

    And here’s a tip for the painting: when you have applied dyes and want special effect, don’t wait until the dyes dry. Apply some water or alcohol onto the still wet first layer and then you will get the effects you want. When the dyes have dried, you are unlikely to get lighter areas and hard edges can form easily (which is fine if that is what you want). πŸ™‚

    Do let me know how you get on. Good luck.

    • Lynne Taylor says:

      Hi again Fiona,
      I have since steamed a top which was made from Charmeuse 16.5 mm and it turned out well, no enlarging of the hard edge. Interestingly, after unwrapping this top, or the previous fabric length, there was hardly any dye that had bled out onto the paper.

      With the Silksational dyes, the steaming instructions only say: “Steam dye paintings for 1-3 hours. Full strength colour and larger paintings need longer time than pastels or small paintings. Also, the amount of silk wrapped on a roll for steaming will determine the length of time required in the steamer so that the steam has sufficient time to penetrate all the layers. Rinse the painting in plenty of lukewarm soapy water to remove unfixed dye”. (I use Synthrapol in pre-washing silk, and rinsing afterwards.)

      With the steampipe, I could turn the temperature dial up to the maximum level, which means the water in the urn would be at a constant boil. With my thermometer inserted at the top of the steampipe, the heat level pointer stops at 87C (190F) so when the pointer reaches that level, and stays there, it will then be in the lap of the gods as to how high my temperature is .. I’ll just have to keep the faith πŸ™‚ … but at least I will know it will certainly be hotter than 87C.

      What you said about the steam not building up quickly enough, and fuzzy edges/smearing, makes so much sense to me … sounds as tho this is the most probable reason for my widening edges … my silk has become slowly damp as the steam temperature builds up, so the silk hasn’t had the sudden impact of high steam temperature, and the water washes were impacted because they were a lighter density than the dyes.

      Thank you for your tip about the alcohol or water to the still wet silk. I’ll try that on my next painted piece.

      I’m going to put all your info into a ‘Fiona File’ for brilliant reference πŸ™‚

      With your steamer, your condensation runs off the roof and back into your steamer … with my pipe, it runs down the insides of the pipe into a tray, and also gets absorbed by the towel at the top of the pipe. But, because I lose so much water over the 3 hours (about 2.5 litres), it’s a mystery to me where it goes … when I unwrap my paper parcel, it’s never soggy, quite dryish really. I feel I’m wrapping my silk OK (3 paper layers on top of the silk before rolling, and then this parcel rolled up again in paper and taped, ends sealed … so I end up with about 3 or 4 layers of paper in the outer wrapping. Perhaps I’m not using enough paper, and the water/condensation is soaking into my silk, also adding to the problem with the hard edge. Next time I could try adding more paper to the outer layer of the parcel .. unless wrapping in too much paper causes a problem?

      I belong to a textile group here in Sydney … I think a good topic for one of our workshops could be “How to Successfully Wrap Silk for Steaming” πŸ™‚

      Fiona, I am SO grateful for your help, thank you so very much.

      cheers, Lynne

      • Fiona says:

        You’re so very welcome. I’m always happy when things get solved. πŸ™‚

        Oh, and don’t worry too much about extra layers of paper. I use a minimum. I think this is more about the temperature. Keep in touch and report on your progress.

  17. Lynne Taylor says:

    Hi Fiona,
    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us. I am a brand new silk painter and am still on a steep learning curve. I bought myself a length of ducting to make my own steaming device. It sits over a tea urn and I cut out sections at the bottom of the ducting so I could see the water level and also have access to the temperature dial.

    I have just steamed my first length of silk (which was an abstract design). Until I read your informative article on How to Steam Fix Silk for Best Results, I thought I must have over-steamed the silk because all the fine watermark lines aren’t fine lines any more, as if I had added more water to them and they had spread, so that what was a fine line is now about a 1/8″ wide line … it is still an interesting design, but not what I wanted. Is it normal for things to change like this? I am hesitant to steam my next length of silk until I find out whether I have done something wrong with the first length.

    I will be very grateful for any advice you can give me please Fiona.


    • Fiona says:

      Hi Lynne

      Thanks so much for asking about this topic. Believe me, you are not alone with this problem, as the steaming seems to be the area of most difficulties with both budding silk painters and those who have more experience.

      Firstly, there are several questions which need to be clarified before we can see what is causing this.

      What type of silk are you using and how thick is it?
      What type of dyes are you using?
      Are you using some type of thickening agent so that you can paint the fine lines?

      Then we need to look at the steaming process itself. Vital to the process is that the temperature is high enough for sufficient steam to be produced and for this to be sustained during the 2 – 3 hours you are steaming for. If the water is not hot enough for any reason, the chemical bonding of the dye with the silk fabric will not happen and the dye can start to wander and get washed out.

      There is always a good reason for any of the mishaps we have, so if you could be so sweet as to give some more details as above, we can then look at this more closely and eliminate what is causing this problem, making it a thing of the past for you. πŸ™‚

      • Lynne Taylor says:

        Hi Fiona,
        Thanks for answering my query so quickly πŸ™‚

        I am using 10mm Habotai. The dyes are Silksational steamfix dyes which I buy already made up (ie not in powder form) I don’t use a thickening agent.

        I used the dyes full strength … but to get a more interesting ‘look’, after the dyes dried I dipped my brush in water and applied the water to some areas of the silk … as the water spread on the silk, it ended up with a fine line of darker colour at the edge of this water wash … it was this edge that thickened up in the steaming process.

        I insert a meat thermometer at the top of my steam pipe, and try to maintain a temp of 180-190 Farenheit … when the temperature reaches 180/190, the thermostat on the tea urn switches off and the temp falls to about 160, then the thermostat kicks in and up goes the temperature again … so, throughout the 3-hour steaming process the temperature goes up and down between 160 and 190 constantly.

        In the steaming process I lose almost 1 litre of water per hour in condensation .. some of this (not a lot) drips out the bottom of the steampipe, some is collected by the towel at the top of the pipe.

        That’s about it Fiona.
        thanks again for your help with this πŸ™‚
        cheers, Lynne

  18. Jaent Walker says:

    Thank you so much for your fantastic website. It manages to fill in the gaps in the knowledge which I just can’t find in reading books on silk painting, however well done. Your help gives me the courage to keep trying to produce work of which I am proud. Your site just makes all the difference. Thank you again.

    • Fiona says:

      Hi Jaent
      What a lovely comment. I’m so pleased that you find this blog useful and that it inspires you so much. That’s what it’s all about and it makes it worthwhile when lovely feedback like this comes through. Many thanks. πŸ™‚ x

  19. Pearl says:

    Hi Fiona

    I am looking to buy a silk steamer. I would like to make one regarding the cost factor but dont wont to risk the condensation factor which I have had happen when experimenting in the past. Would you mind telling me where you bought yours.

    • Ruth says:

      I have taught college art and art history.. I have been reading a lot of your writing and enjoy reading and editing. Your knowledge is wonderful and thanks for sharing.
      When I started silk painting, Fiona, there were so many secrets.
      I tried to find out about it in the 70s and was “road blocked” so I kept painting and did a lot of printmaking. I have only had 2 days of a 3 day course but have been doing art for a long time.
      I am just amazed how the silkpainters and SPIN share, answer questions etc. It is so amazing to me since I had trouble finding assistance and help in those days.
      When I visited my daughter in Switzerland, on my way back we went to London to go to some shows. She had new twin sons and left them with her husband and we went to London for a little fun and rest for her.
      I poked around in some book stores looking for a book of Jane Venables, an English silk painter. I got the no. of the out of print book and came home and had my bookstore to do a search. They found me a copy of her book in Arkansas State.
      I took that book and taught myself.
      The workshops that are available now and blogs like yours is absolutely fabulous that someone can make contact with you, read your writings and go from there. I want to meet you if I come back to England. Two other people that i know I would like a lot, Angel Ray and Mia Johns.
      Mia lives in N.Carolina near my brother in law.
      Thanks, Fiona and wish you the best. Ruth Conner, Edina MN. USA.

      • Fiona says:


        I deeply appreciate the comments you have made here. It’s very sweet of you. It’s always lovely when people get in touch and express their appreciation. It makes it all worthwhile. Thank you. πŸ™‚ x

    • Fiona says:

      I replied to you by PM, Pearl.

      • Arati says:

        Hi Fiona

        Love your videos they are so helpful.

        I too would like to know where to get a steamer like yours, please?


        • Fiona Stolze says:

          Hi Arata – glad you like my videos. Unfortunately my steamer went out of production many years ago. Try contacting as they make a vertical steamer you might be able to buy.

          Warm wishes


          • Arati says:

            Hi Fiona

            I found Dharma Trading’s instructions on making my own stovepipe steamer… just wanted to check – could I use a cardboard postal tube as the centre for my roll of silk to steam? Or will the steam not penetrate?


            Hi Arati

            I just realised you are talking about the central roll and not the outer one. My steamer has a metal pole and I wrap my paper and silk around that. It’s hollow and gets very hot. My guess is that the cardboard will not stand up to the heat and damp and certainly wouldn’t get hot as the metal does. I would use a metal pipe as suggested in the instructions.

            Warm wishes


  20. […] listed a few pros and cons of the homemade version in my article called “How to Steam Fix Silk Dyes for Best Results”. Please have a look and let me know if you have any questions we can look […]

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