project – aurora scarves

i recently was asked to help edit the translations on a book about northern lights. and was very taken with one of the photos, so i decided to make a few scarves of the photo.


i ordered a dozen scarves from dharma trading company, mixed up a batch of sodium alginate resist, and began. after steaming the first batch of scarves i noticed that the yellow was very weak, and basically washed right out. so i started mixing my own yellow using the mx powdered dyes. i’ll be doing more experimentation with this process in the coming months, but for now i’ll just show you the process on the 5 scarves i managed to complete.


okay. the first thing i did was to put into grayscale and enlarge my reference photo many times, and tile it onto a bunch of sheets of paper until it was the size of my scarves, which i think are 72″ long. i taped them up, outlined it with a sharpie so i could see it thru the silk, and pinned the whole thing to the back of a scarf. then i slapped it onto my light box (thanks elizabeth) and used my resist to outline all the black marks.


you can see the pattern on the top, on many sheets of paper. on the bottom is one of the scarves that i have just finished putting hte resist on. it’s a scarf i’d already started painting that i didn’t like, so i washed it out and started over. so this is what a scarf looks like if you don’t steam set it. everything but some of the red and blue just wash right out.


for the details on the mountain i used several tints of black mixed with some red and yellow to make a nice brown color. and since i don’t care about things like that, i turned the frame vertically and let it drip off. adds texture, yeah.


here you can see my mixes of colors for the mountains. they go from kind of dark to watery clear, just by adding water. if it’s going to be t his watery, tho, you want to add a few drops of rubbing alcohol to aid in wetting the scarf, else it’ll just roll off and not take.


here’s the scarf with the beginnings of the sky put in. this one happens to be one of the silk and wool scarves i did first, as special presents for my friends in iceland, and they don’t take up the dye like regular habotai scarves, so i thought it was particularly ugly. the colors just didn’t run like they ‘should’.


so i sprayed the whole thing with water and added more color, and some salt, and it turned out much better.


this is the beginning of another scarf, this time on habotai, which is what i usually work on. i’m putting in the sea in roughly 12-inch lengths, pausing to sprinkle rough salt on it, and going on. you can see the watermark right in the middle where the second section starts, and you can start to see the dye being drawn by the salt. it’s still wet when i took the picture. above, on the white, you can see the resist.


i did the sky in a variety of colors, using lots of salt. i put in the acid green color (looks like yellow here) and hten some darker green on top of that, but it was still ugly, so i took lots of dark green dye on my brush and flicked it onto the scarf, trying to be accurate in my aim (haha). and more salt. you can see that it’s still wet because of the dark spots inside the green drops.


at this point i turned the frame vertically and sprayed the hell out of it to get everything wet and running. this is a delicate moment, and it’s really easy to make it run too much and spoil things, so it has to be watched. btw, when the scarf is wet like this, the salt will remain on it even when it’s vertical, so it can still draw the dye.


and this is what it looked like once it dried. i probably turned it upside down while it was still wet, too, and more than likely added even more dye.


but the whole thing turned out looking pretty good. unfortunately, something happened. read on.


however. once it was steam fixed and washed out, most of the yellow came right out. and by this time i was using an old bottle of yellow that was horribly weak, so i added some powdered dye to it, soaked the scarves in vinegar and let them dry, and then went over them with yellow, steamed them again, and was a lot happier with them. unfortunately i don’t have an after picture for it.


i’ve been experimenting with different ways of setting the scarves. for the ones i had to recoat with yellow, i put plastic over my ironing board, got a towel really wet, and put the scarf on top, put a piece of kraft paper on it, and steam the hell out of it. then i roll it up and wrap the towel around it, put it in a plastic garbage bag, and stuck it in the microwave. for 3 minutes. and 3 minutes. and then screw it, for 6 minutes. and when i took it out, there were scorch marks on the paper. and scorch marks on the silk. which means it’s ruined. i was so depressed. this is what happened to my scarf that turned out so well (second from the top).


here’s a closeup to torture myself with. the scorched parts are very ripe, meaning they are brittle and shred with the slightest pressure. i went ahead and poked holes into the scorch marks with my finger, just to make sure. but nope, they were ruined.


so, unwilling to throw anything away when i don’t have to, i cut them into pieces, cutting around hte scorch marks, and turned them into a bunch of snot rags, which only i use, everybody else being addicted to kleenex. and now i have a full drawer of snot rags (it being winter and my nose dripping constantly). so there.

and in all i have 5 scarves in this pattern, which i’m saving to use as fundraisers in iceland, else that or gifts. i am ordering another dozen scarves and will do some more, and these will be my experiments in using powdered dyes.

because i’m sick of using dyes somebody mixed up and won’t say what’s in them and sell them at a great profit. and these dyes you can’t ship to iceland without huge expenses, and since i’m going to be teaching a workshop, i might as well teach people how to do every part of this on the cheap. because that’s what kind of artist i am.


One thought on “project – aurora scarves

  1. Wonderful that my photograph inspired you, these lights where very weak but somehow so magical. Loved the scarf you sent me, the most beautiful color of aurora;-)

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