Sourcing materials for silk painting

I have had a number of enquiries about painting on silk, especially in terms of materials and supplies. If you are interested in making colourful silk for a special blouse or dress this is a most satisfying and relatively easy technique. I posted how to do it here.

Finished piece

So, in order to encourage those who are thinking about having a try, and to satisfy those who already do it but want to do it on a larger scale, I will share the benefit of my experience.


I have bought quite alot of silk from Cheap Fabrics. The Habotai silk costs about £10 p/m. The satin, the crepe and dupion is £14-£16p/m. In my experience this is very good quality silk at the best possible price. You can find cheaper silk fabric but it is much lighter weight and not, to my mind, worth it. They also stock an expensive Duchesse satin fabric – £40 p/m. I might buy this for an evening or wedding dress. For stretch silk satin I purchased it from McCulloch and Wallis, but they don’t seem to have it any more.

Basically you need to buy natural silk if you want your colours to work well. But of course you can experiment with coloured silk which can be interesting if you paint with darker colours. Also you can use discharge paste to take the colour out. The negative of natural silk is that it can be creamy/yellowy. Strong colours will cover this up, but if you want really white you may find the satin is brighter white.

I imagine if you are in other countries you will find a good supplier of similar products.

Silk Paints

I use iron fixed colours. There are other types – steam fixed – that you fix in the oven/microwave. I haven’t tried this product but there are excellent colours available. Do let me know if you have experience and recommendations with this.

The brands I have used and rate are Marabu, Pebeo Setasilk, Javana.

silk paints
Seta silk

You can get small 45 gms bottles of silk paint in craft shops. So long as you buy a clear red, yellow and blue you can make most colours, especially if you get black as well. You can get lighter colours by watering them down. But I buy 250 grm bottles in a fair range of colours as I love making painted silk. A good supplier of large bottles of silk paint in every colour is the Silkcraft website. Silkcraft also sells silk for painting on, which I haven’t tried. If you choose the Habotai go for at least 8 or a higher number. The lighter weights are really not very nice for dress making.

Paint brushes

I think I bought two sable Marabu brushes when I started. I am completely  happy with these. One is thick and quick and one is fine and used for more detailed work. There are also Pebeo brushes available. I have also seen this product recommended – EFCO round synthetic brush size 8. I also have a 1″ brush that I got from Homebase that I have used for both silk painting and for wax. Ideally you should not mix the brushes you use use for wax, and the brushes you use for the silk. You can clean the wax with boiled water but it is not that effective.

Wax (optional)

You can use a resist (in this case hot wax) to protect the fabric and prevent the silk paint dying it. You can use the wax to create a pattern on the white fabric before you start, or to protect sections of work as you build up the colour. Very nice subtle effects can be achieved with wax and other types of resist. But it is not essential and I would not both with the batik techniques at first unless you have already used them for tie-dye and shibori work.

I have a wax pot, which I love. It costs about £45 so only worth buying if you love working with wax. You can warm wax in other kinds of vessels, but it is probably highly dangerous. You don’t need to use hot wax batik methods, but it is an extra layer of fun if you do. You also need to get quality wax granules although at a push you might be able to use candles. The idea with the wax is that it has the right balance between flexibility (including bees wax) and crackability (paraffin wax). The mix is about 30% bees wax and 70% paraffin wax, but you can mix it differently if you wish.

wax pot
Wax Pot

Gutta (optional)

Wax needs a wax pot, wax, brushes or tjanting tools. Gutta also works as a resist. I requires no heat and is relatively clean and tidy (but it is not the same as wax which I love using).

Pebeo Gutta

Pebeo is a nice brand you can use straight out of the tube. It is a bit like putting icing on a cake. The gutta seeps into the silk and creates a barrier that you can paint within, and it stays in permanently. You can use it to create effects or to write on your work – just a signature or message, or even a kind of graphic effect. Then there is the washable gutta that creates a barrier while you are working but washes out (don’t forget to fix the colour with your hot iron first. As I did when I copied the Dali lobster – argggh!).

Frame (optional)

It is normal to use a frame. The basic idea is to stretch the silk across a frame, and hold it in place with pins that will not ruin the fabric. The tightness makes it easier to paint carefully and for no runs or mess to occur. But you can mock one up by using an old picture frame and specialist silk pins.  I find the whole process time consuming and annoying, especially if you want to do a big piece of cloth, so I don’t bother with this stage at all. If you paint on a flat surface (in the picture above I have a large piece of fibreboard), protected with newspaper, you will get some bleeding and seepage but this can be managed by letting the colours dry before you apply the next colour. I also like the bleeding effect rather than creating outlines with gutta and then carefully colouring in, like making a picture.

silk painting
Silk Painting frame





8 Responses

  1. ellen

    Super helpful info–thanks for posting! That large piece in the picture is just beautiful. Also, belated birthday greetings–your post the other day was heartwarming.

  2. SJ Kurtz

    US artistes can do business with Dharma Trading. They have everything, decent prices, excellent customer service, great tutorials AND product safety information (something often overlooked by hobbyists – dust mask and eye protection, even if it’s just goggles and a bandana, are first on your item list).
    And all the best returns of the birthday!

    • fabrickated

      I was wondering about what to say to US readers Stephanie, so thank you for the recommendation. I find the Dharma Trading site very exciting although the costs of import are just too high. Thank you again.

  3. Jay

    Lovely post – info rich! I used to do a fair amount of batik, and used procions, which did work well on silk,though other specialist products may have advantages.I used to heat my wax in a tin in a saucepan of boiling water, again, not ideal, but doable, with care not to drop your wax on the flame or leave the pot unattended on a naked flame. Gettin the wax out is the hardest part, what method do you use?

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