project: cheshire cat silk scarves

i set out to make a batch of cheshire cat scarves, because that’s what my agent, jennifer, has got an order for. some lovely person liked the sample i gave her and ordered one. so, cool. i was done with my last project, the encaustic painting of jupiter, which i still insist qualifies as pigment on fabric. i had not yet begun on my next painting, which is going to be an interior portrait of my sewing area, which i only now after months of treading thru piles of junk have gotten around to organizing. and is it organized, i am so proud.

i went and found my pattern that i had used to make the sample jennifer was carrying. actually, jennifer was carrying around a color chart that i used with my last silk painting class. it even had the color-formula numbers all over it, and the guy still liked it.

i was looking on the internet and saw another version of the disney character, this one when he’s in the process of disappearing. i’d forgotten about that, so i went out and got it and did a slight redraw that ended up with jim completely reconstructing the disappearing tail. thanks jim.

it was strange actually using my silk painting materials. it had been a couple-few months of not using them, when the table stayed set up but i never went near it, when i was getting used to encaustic painting and ignoring everything else including the housework (let it get dusty)

i did the first painting very rusty. and i had a lot of material problems. my materials had gone kerflunk. my water-based gutta, formula unknown, i mean proprietary, had broken down and was coming out all lumpy and watery. it spread out a whole bunch on the silk and made thick goopy lines. very dissatisfactory. can’t sell that. so i popped four scarves in a row off the clips and dumped them into the sink and hot water. then i found something else to use as water-based resist. it’s called presist and it comes highly recommended. it tastes like detergent, but it’s got a funky formula and you wouldn’t want to eat it. well, it breaks down with time, as well. useless, it was, i threw it out.

i’d been threatening for some time to do it the eastern way, and brew up a batch of some sort of starch. rice starch is what’s i’ve read, but you won’t believe how complicated it is.

i tried tapioca starch because that’s what i found at the indian grocery store in decatur. i boiled it up like cornstarch pudding, and it got admirably sticky and viscous. i stuck it into a little plastic bottle with a metal tipped nozzle. i stuck it down in by-now practiced hands – thin, smooth, perfect.

then i laid down some dye along the tail, purple like in the cartoon. and it bled right thru the line. well, that sucked. completely changed things. so i put clear water all around the dye and just let it bleed out and dry.


so i went over all the lines with school gel, which i’ve been told works real well. and it did. a nice bead of glue, works like a charm. what the hell went wrong with the tapioca starch, anyway? those streaky bits on the background are humongous pieces of salt. i tried for a dark green background by adding a bunch of black to yellow and some blue, but it never got beyond mid-lime.


then my kid saw the first one and suggested putting purple in the tail as a shadow, and i switched to a blue for the body and started playing around with making a rainbow out of the other stripes.

the original color chart used each pair of stripes as another color in the rainbow, each mixed using a precise number of drops of yellow, cyan, and magenta. i liked the effect.

but i abandoned the school gel, and that was a good thing, because i can’t remove the glue from the scarf, no matter how hot the water or how much i scrub. grrr.

i found some old water-based gutta in little bottles that my students had used. they must have refilled them from their own supplies, because it was still good, and i collected all the little bottles together and outlined the rest of the scarves using the fresher resist. i guess my stuff was a few years old. but tht just underpins the necessity to do it all myself, and not rely on expensive materials with shelf lives. cheap materials with very short shelf lives is better. cheap being good. free is better.

with the rest of the scarves, five total, i tried to fade out each stripe into the next color, but something funny happened with it every time i tried.

i also tried to make the blue fade out to way-pale toward the tip of the tail, but it never ended up that way. the blue is very strong.

i tried to lighten the blue stripes at the top and ran a thread of black along the bottom of all the stripes, as well as shadowing beneath the chin and around the arms and paws.


it’s really fun doing this. it’s like any design, most of which i’ve adapted from somewhere, my favorites being designed by jim. i’ve got a bunch of outlines that look good, and i can go progressively nuts or more refined, whatever, as i do four or ten of a subject.


my kid gets the first choice. my buyer gets second choice. i’ll give one to my sister for her birthday, and with luck will have one more left over for awhile until i have to do another batch.


this last one got nicely dark green. i didn’t use salt, which attracts dye to it and obscures teh fact that each little area you put dye on gets an edge immediately, and you can’t put on dye fast enough over a large area to keep it from being streaky and uneven, especially in colors with a lot of black in them, which is the only way to get a dark shade of anything in silk painting. i know that in watercolor and oil you can avoid black, but with dyes you can’t be subtle. it’s partly because you’re only working with three colors and dark. it’s partly how dyes go on versus how pigments go on. i haven’t figured it out and i’m not scientific but there are resources if you’re interested.

the background went on streaky and the only thing i could do since i wasn’t using salt was to add more water and scrub the damned thing to obliterate the hard dark edges. so all the darkness migrated to the edge of the drawing and the sicdes, and that’s fine. worked pretty well.

this being the fifth scarf, i didn’t do it in the batch of the other four because i steam four at a timein my stovepipe steamer. i saved this for another batch of four, but i got so tired of inking in little lines that i did a bunch of nebula scarves instead, and didn’t want to steam them with a cheshire cat in case the cat end up with big splotches of blackest space bleeding thru the newsprint. nonono.

next, going from kitch to an interior scene – my sewing corner.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s