I often get asked by people which is the most suitable silk quality to use for silk painting. What I am sharing with you here is based on my personal experience over the years.
Generally light-weight silks are used for all silk painting and crafts. You would look for a medium-weight or heavy-weight if you wanted to make some quality, long-wearing clothing, such as a bride’s dress or a suit. I will be looking at silk weights in another post.
To answer the question in this post, the most important thing to know would be what you are intending to make. My personal favourite for wall hangings and other pieces which are meant to hang free and “float” is definitely pongee. It has that lovely wafting effect and is almost see-through depending on which quality you use. When you buy printed silk scarves, they are often extremely thin and this doesn’t allow for the same colour intensity as thicker ones. When I paint silk scarves, I don’t use anything under 8mm (momme – see upcoming post) and actually prefer to go for a 12mm for extra quality and still be able to use gutta.
The mandalas that I mount and frame are all painted on satin silk, the Queen of Silks. It rightly deserves that name as it has an illustrious sheen, literally outshining all other silks I have worked with. When I have steamed a silk mandala, I don’t rinse the silk out until the bleeding stops, as with other items which are to be worn. This is because it is to be framed behind glass and so there will be no liquid, steam, etc coming into contact with it, nor will it be in contact with skin or other light-coloured fabrics. The disadvantage to washing out satin silk is that it slightly loses the beautiful sheen and most importantly, if there are any tiny creases, I cannot remove them with the iron. They simply “iron in”. So, for me, this is definitely not a quality to wash, only dry clean. Other types of silk can be washed by hand with care at your own discretion, although most manufacturers’ instructions (including mine) are for dry-cleaning only.
My personal favourite for clothing is crepe satin. This is a combination of satin silk on the top with a crepe backing. You can tell the difference when you have satin silk and crepe satin side by side. On the reverse, the satin silk is smooth and matt. The crepe satin, on the other hand, has a twisted weave. The advantage is that this quality is easier to drape and has a more elastic feel, not nearly so rigid as satin silk. My cushions are made with crepe-backed satin which makes them slightly softer.
An alternative to crepe satin is crepe-de-chine. This has the twisted weave on both front and reverse and doesn’t have the sheen of the satin. However, it is an ideal choice if you want to make gorgeous scarves, blouses, shawls, etc. It feels lovely against your skin.
Now, one or two words of caution. If you are intending to paint on these qualities, I would recommend you watch out for the thickness of the silk you want to work with. I have painted on different qualities over the years. My speciality is using gutta, the resist technique, which I will talk about in another post. After a bit of experimentation I came to the conclusion that the thicker qualities don’t allow the gutta to fully penetrate them, leaving gaps, so that you end up with a messy piece of work due to bleeding of colours. I wouldn’t recommend that you work with anything thicker than 12.5 for this reason.
I would also recommend that you wash any pongee or crepe-de-chine before you paint it and sew a garment, and this will avoid any disappointment due to shrinking. Silk has a tendency to shrink and that is one reason why people often find that their artwork turns a bit wavy after fixing due to the fact that the gutta lines don’t “fit” the shrunken silk any more.
You can pick up lovely offcuts of silk in bridalwear workshops. I would recommend only painting on them using washes of colour rather than attempt any resist and then cutting and sewing them into the desired article. Please refer to my upcoming post on silk weights for further details.
If this post has been of use to you, please let me know. If there is anything further to this you’d like to know, just ask below. If there is no comments box, click on the title of this post and one should appear. I look forward to hearing from you.