Preparing Silk for Painting

I've recently taken up silk painting after taking a class by Louise Noel Howes at The Brewery Arts Center in Carson City (  I absolutely love the process of Serti silk painting and the amazing colors that silk can yield.  The Serti method often refers to the "fences" created by resist (sometimes called gutta) that hold the colors in.  Without the resist the dyes would flow freely as watercolors do.  I love to draw basic line drawings and later fill them in with color so this process is right up my creative alley.  I am by no means an expert, but here is my process after only two months of practice so I'm sure things will change.

All of my products have been purchased at Dharma Trading Company (

I enjoy geometric, centrally based designs, so tracing the design onto the silk in imperative.  If you chose to do freehand designs this step is not necessary.  I begin by drawing a design or template on a piece of paper that is equivalent in size to the piece of silk I'm using.  I currently use 8mm silk scarves in a variety of sizes, 17x17 & 21.5x21.5 being my two favorites.

After my design or template has been drawn on paper I tape the paper to a large table or work-surface.  I then take my ironed silk (my scarves come folded with heavy creases, otherwise ironing may not be necessary), and lay it on top of the design and tape all around the edges.  You want to ensure the template and the silk are taped tightly so that your design or silk do not shift in tracing.  I then trace the design lightly onto the silk with a standard pencil.  These lines cannot be erased and will just be covered with resist or dye, so don't go too crazy with them.

Once the design has been traced onto my silk I am ready to stretch my silk.  The process of stretching silk is important because when stretched the silk is much easier to work on.  Stretching is also important to keep the silk from touching your work surface.  I use adjustable plastic frames made for stretching silk, purchased from Dharma Trading Co.  Once stretched I am ready to apply the resist.

In this project, and most projects, I use Dupont brand Gutta Resist in black.  The black is iron set and leaves no "hand" or raised feel on the silk.  The next step is trace all of my pencil lines with the gutta.  I squeeze my resist into an applicator bottle and use size .5mm-.9mm tips.  In this step it is critical to ensure that all lines fully penetrate the silk and meet eachother.  Again, think of the resist as a fence that holds the colors in.  If there is a gap in the fence the color will run out and ruin your design.  I start my designs in the middle and work my way out carefully.  I find it helpful to take breaks so that the resist can dry and I don't smudge it while working on another section.  Once the resist is fully dried, about 15-20 minutes maybe?, it is time to iron.  I lay a towel on the table, as my ironing board is not large enough for the whole scarf and frame.  Iron your silk on a low (silk) setting for a few minutes and the resist is set.

Now the silk is ready for painting!!!


 (Here are two silks that are ready to be painted)