How to make your own dressmaking fabric by painting on silk

Happy New Year – I am back! We were away for Christmas and New Year, without access to the internet.

What do you do when you can’t log in? It’s a challenge, I can tell you!

This is what I did

  • read some books
  • enjoyed our new home in the Cotswolds
  • spent time with the family
  • went to the gym/pool, often with the family
  • did some knitting
  • and painted a piece of silk for Brenda, which I will write about later.

Anyway since I showed a picture of what I made for Brenda on Instagram a few people asked how I did it, including Stitched Up Sam. I often use hot wax but this is not essential, and it involves a piece of equipment that not everyone has (or dangerously heating candles on the stove – not recommended). Below I explain how to do it with the minimum of special equipment.

I am absolutely not an expert but I have done a term of silk painting at the Mary Ward Centre, and I have made lots of painted silk linings. Two years ago one of my SWAP dresses was made from painted silk. If you search painting on silk images you will see lots of professional looking work and art. My way is the quick and dirty way.

As you can see from the photos above I am far from a proficient painter. I just choose some colours I like and sort of daub them on. I was thinking of peonies when I made my dress fabric, although Clarinda Kaleidoscope asked me if they were peaches. I didn’t even plan out the flowers on this one – you can see how they are sort of randomly spaced. I was very aware with the bodice that I didn’t want blossoms on my bosoms, so I avoided that – but the design is not well-balanced.

I have improved a bit since this effort and made a nice, small piece of painted silk on another occasion. I intended to use this for my SWAP last year, but that plan fell by the wayside.


You will need

  1. A piece of natural 100 per cent silk. Any silk will do – I have used habotai, crepe, satin and stretch silk with elastane. White or natural cream is the best colour but you could use a pastel shade if you want. Get at least one metre. You can cut out or draw out your pattern pieces first if you want to get the design to work perfectly (eg pattern matching or motif placement). But I will assume you are just painting the whole thing.
  2. Some silk paints eg Setasilk, Javana silk paints. You can make every colour from Red, Blue and Yellow. But I find black is useful for darkening. To make colours lighter don’t add white – just dilute them more. You can get these paints on-line or (in the UK) Cass Art shops stock them.
    Setasilk silk paints
  3. At least one decent quality paint brush. I have two – a fat one and a thin one
  4. A paint mixing tray or just some little pots
  5. Some water
  6. Something to cover the table and an apron. It can get a bit messy, but the paint will wash off floors etc if you get to it quickly. When it dries it goes sort of rubbery, but can be rubbed off.

The process

  1. You could work the design out first, but I can’t be bothered. I just choose the colours I like and then go on instinct. If you choose the colours you like to wear you are not likely to go wrong. You can always make a small handkerchief or headscarf practice first.
  2. You can mark your cloth with pins, washable fabric pens or tacking. This makes it easier to plan the pattern placement. I find getting the midline in (where you would normally fold the fabric for cutting on the fold) and then regular spaces is helpful. With Brenda’s fabric I just kept folding it in half to get the markings in a sensible place – that way there was no waste
  3. Some fabric may need washing first. I don’t normally bother.
  4. I start by putting one motif in a specific place eg midline at the markings. Then add a similar or different motif to its left or right or whatever to build up a balanced pattern.
  5. Start with the lighter colours, and let them dry before adding the next colour. Or not. If the colours are wet then they bleed into each other, which is a nice effect. Another thing you can do is wet the fabric (with a paintbrush) and paint onto this. This creates a sort of water-colour effect which is very pretty.
  6. If you are doing this on a table under lights it will dry fast so by the time you get to the end it will be dry enough for the next colour
  7. The proper way to use the paints is to dilute them. But I am lazy and I like strong colours so I often use it from the pot. This also ensures consistency of colour.
  8. If you mix colour you will get a more muted look. You can create greys and browns but if you want exactly the same shade throughout the piece you have mix it up in advance.
  9. When painting say purple, I start with blue with a dash of pink or red, paint with this colour, then add more red so the purple gets redder. This means I have several purples creating a nice, varied effect.
  10. That’s it. Just keep going until you like what you have created. I like to leave some white in a design, but you don’t have to. If you don’t like the effect you just keep adding more colour. For example with Brenda’s i messed around a lot with the brown/turquoise section to create a sort of malachite look.
  11. Once you are happy with the design you need to fix your paint by ironing with a hot iron, according to the instructions. I think it take maybe ten seconds? I just keep going over it for a while and it seems to fix just fine.

I hope this is helpful. Let me know if you have any good tips, or if you have a go.

28 Responses

  1. Christine

    Can’t wait to have a go at this! I have all sorts of ideas running round in my head now from the designs to what to sew! Need to get some silk paints asap!!! Thank you for the helpful advice!

  2. Giorgia

    I see! Thank you very much for the explanation K. I guess I need a little practice with watercolours before, to achieve the idea I have in mind. Unfortunately my creativity stops dead when it comes to drawing!

  3. Vancouver Barbara

    Oooooh Silk Painting! How I used to love doing that. Yours is inspiring. Maybe in 2017. I liked the French dyes that needed steaming. Steaming – that was the hardest part. Sennelier, I think that was the brand.

    Changing topics completely, this refers to “The Madcap” hat from Schiaparelli. This is yet another iteration. Seam at back of head à la Koos van den Akker. Check out “from katherine tilton’s studio” blog then go to The Pussycat Project for the knitted version.

    • fabrickated

      fabrickated January 3, 2017 | Reply | (Edit)
      Yes I have seen dozens of “pussy” hats in bright pink that Americans are making to greet the new Trump Presidency. I fancy one myself!

  4. karen

    Kate, I recently purchased some silk saris (1 white, 1 very pale shade pf green and 1 gold to purple (batik?) with bead work on it. This gives me some fabric to try different things and I will have to order some silk paints. I am not artistic, but, can afford the fabric to do a little experimenting. Thank you for your tutorial. I have it bbokmarked for the appropriate time. Glad you enjoyed your holidays with the family.
    Warmest wishes in the coming year.

    • fabrickated

      Thank you Karen. I should think the very pale one will work well. With deeper colours you can get some special fabric bleach called discharge paste that takes the colour out. Then you can paint the cloth. It is quite effective.

  5. Anne

    Gremlins! I lost the comment I tried to make. So quick recap.
    Thanks for the interesting tutorial which I’ll save (but in all honesty probably won’t use but I can dream)
    I love the small piece of painted silk.
    Glad you got into Rainshore and hope you had a good Christmas /New Year.
    Happy New Year!

  6. Hélène

    Thanks for the tutorial Kate! As for the laundry, does it need a special treatment? I guess it’s fine to wash it by hand in cold water, but have you experimented putting a piece in the washer-dryer to see how the colours stand?

    • fabrickated

      No special treatments needed. Most silk can take high heat with both water and iron. I use it alot for linings and garments and it goes in the washing machine. I use the silk specific cycle but any wool cycle should be fine. The colours don’t appear to fade.

  7. Buttercup

    Happy New Year. I’ve never tried silk painting but its something I want to have a go at this year. Thanks for the step by step advice. I love your blog.

  8. Kerry

    Happy New Year, Kate. Thank you for sharing your version of silk painting your own fabric. I like your gung-ho style with the painting, it works, and looks great – very reassuring for us control-freaks!

    • fabrickated

      It’s funny but most silk painters try to produce high quality, exacting paintings, using gutta and very carefully applied paint with tiny brushes. I don’t really like this stylised flower/landscape type painting. I also haven’t got the patience or technique, you are right! This is to reassure those that cannot draw or create a likeness can create beautiful work without having to be very accurate and precise.

  9. Elle

    Happy New Year Kate! I love your painted silks–there’s something so joyful about them. Each time you’ve posted about them, I find myself enlarging the photos and smiling at their exuberance. I’m eager to see what you’ve created for Brenda.

    • fabrickated

      Thank you Elle. For me silk painting is a relaxing and exciting process – I go on instinct rather than plans. And if you put the colours you like together it looks really nice. I still have to do a few things to Brenda’s cloth but I will reveal it in a few days.

  10. Hila

    Happy New Year. Thanks for this tutorial. I have some silk habotai that I bought after being smitten with your pink and blue silk dress – alas my courage vanished by the time my silk arrived. I have a spark of an idea to create the lining fabric for my yellow moto jacket by painting the habotai…… You are such a well of inspiration Kate.

    • fabrickated

      Now that is a great idea – a special lining for your jacket. Or you could make the fabric for your colourful dress. By the way if you are struggling to find yellow leather Storm leather in Hackney is great. They have a website and are very helpful. Let me know if you are ever in London – I would love to go and look again.

  11. The Material Lady

    Great timing Kate! I had just found a length of white silk in my stash which was bought for a client (no payment up front which was a mistake) who promptly vanished when she realised she couldn’t actually afford her grandiose plan (despite an estimate being given!). This is exactly the sort of thing I want to try more of this year so thanks for the tutorial.

    • fabrickated

      Oh gosh Kim, how very annoying. But white silk is such a great product. You can paint it, dye it in the washing machine, do tie-dye, indigo or shibori, use it for underwear, blouses, dresses, linings, scarves and slinky skirts and trousers. If I only had one type of fabric in my stash it would be white silk. I hope you find time to do some silk painting in your retirement (I will believe it when I see it!)

  12. Sheree

    Really pleased you wrote this post Kate. Funnily enough I experimented myself a short time ago ( before this post) and although pleased with the result wasn’t confident that I was doing it the right way, as most info on line makes it far more complicated. Now I am happy to have another go – thanks.

  13. Stephanie

    My eyes are always bigger than my stomach so I would like to try this, but I am already so short on time. You may have given me an idea…

  14. Jenny (the lilac cat)

    Thanks for this and I like others this will be bookmark it. Somewhere deep in our loft is the gear for this. I remember when I did a class on it we were encouraged to use a large frame and stretch the silk over it. Not practical for the size you do. But it was a great craft for kids as they could daub away and then you put a small piece in those cards with apertures – they always looked beautiful. But for me not being a dressmaker I think the painted silk fabric would look wonderful in a framed purse or sewn pouch. I think a loft rummage is required!!
    As an aside I’m glad you have had such a great time settling into Rainshore and enjoying your family there. I guess that was always the dream.

    • fabrickated

      Yes Jenny! That was how I learned to do it, and I do have a frame. But I just find the precision thing so tiresome I worked out ways to do it without stretching, gutta, wax etc. I cannot do the very detailed accurate painting but I find the free style approach more attractive for clothing fabric! Also I often just paint the pattern pieces, but if I paint a whole metre or more I use the off cuts for things like little bags etc.

  15. Brenda Marks

    Thank you for the tutorial. I’ve never tried painting silk, but you make it sound entirely possible to achieve some decent results. I continue to be impressed with your skills! : )

  16. Jenny Lark

    I have followed your Silk Adventures since the start and loved your linings particularly. Perhaps I will have a go at it this year, although, like Stephanie my eyes are often too big for my belly. Your instructions are very clear though so I will look out for some white silk. Change of subject – have I missed a post on Rainshore? Perhaps you have posted on Instagram, which I don’t follow, or perhaps you are planning a post soon. I hope it is as wonderful to live in as you planned. BTW I see you have several commenters called Jenny so I am going to change my ‘handle’ to Jenny Lark. Sometimes I read a comment by Jenny and wonder if that was me! ?

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