wrap-up silk veils and scarves

okay i’m done with my projects in silk painting for now.  they’re all steamed and washed and ironed and sitting in ziplock bags waiting to be addressed and sent off.  wee hah.  and they didn’t fade as much as they could have.  the paisley scarf fared worst as far as fading goes.

above is the entire scarf.  as you can see, the yellow faded right away, so everything is a bit bluer than i would have liked.  it’s not deadly, but it’s an example of what can happen when you mess with dyes.  they do strange things.

in the details, you can see where all the dots and little lines i put in with sugar syrup stayed white, but also, in spots, did strange things when the water and dye mixed.  this isn’t the best case to show you, however, because i went out of my way not to splash water around, and the sugar syrup technique loves flooding.

here’s the large veil.  as you can see, there’s no black, really.  it’s all dark colors, but it’s full of light.  about this particular veil, a quote from the woman who ordered it.

Every Christmas, all over the world, bellydancers participate in something called Secret Habibi (Habibi means ‘sweetheart’ in Arabic).  It’s basically a Secret Santa type of thing.  Each dancer fills out a generic list, such as favourite colour, hobby, scent, etc.  One of the items is called Top Secret Item of Desire.  These are never fulfilled, or are fulfilled rarely.  Example: one year, I wrote something like ‘a Mitsubishi 3000-GT’.  Anyway, under someone’s Top Secret Item of Desire, she wrote: I would LOVE to have a veil painted like the Milky Way. So, that’s the reason why.  Only rarely are those particular wishes fulfilled.  Back at Christmas, I bought her a book on the art of Brian Froud (who did Labyrinth and the Dark Crystal), and told her I was sending her something else.  I’m sure she’s forgotten all about it by now, so I am hoping that she really likes her surprise!

the detail pictures show how many of the stars – blobs of sodium alginate resist – didn’t show up.  i must have put a thousand dots in with resist, and because i went over the silk again and again, eventually most of the dots got wet, dissolved, and flowed out and around.  but some survived. and there are lots of white dots when you look up close.

here is the smaller of the two attempts.  i’m not sure which one i like best.

milky way veil 3

to finish with the bellydancing veil, after it air cured for a couple of days, which means hanging over the shower curtain, and then being gathered up and moved away from the water when somebody took a bath.  it was a bunched up mess when it came time to lay it flat and wrap it up for steaming.  first i needed help to unstick the thing.  it’s a real benefit that silk is so strong – they used to make parachutes from silk.  once you get sugar syrup all over silk, and crush it together, it takes a herculean effort to get it unstuck.  you can see by the creases how hard it is to unstick.  like when my sister put gum in my hair one night.

so i went a little crazy trying to get it unstuck and lain flat on the newsprint.  you need to wrap these things in layers of newsprint so that when they bleed, they don’t bleed onto the next layer of silk on the roll.  tho in this case it hardly matters.

after three tries and lots of wasted paper (because i had to tear the paper back off in order to start over) i had a  bundle that i could fit into my steamer.  the problem was that the silk didn’t roll up straight, and it’s already as wide as my steamer will take.  so i had to keep rolling it again, trying to make it straight.  in the end, i wrapped the roll in a piece of kraft paper and used masking tape to hold it together.

i put a hole in one end of the kraft paper, and ran a special-purpose clothes hanger thru it, then hung the bundle inside the stovepipe steamer i made.  topped with a towel, and with a few inches of water inside, the whole thing will boil and steam for a good 4 hours.  because there’s so much silk inside, i feel i have to steam it extra long time.  it’s all superstition, of course, because i’m not the repeatable science type, and am just hitting it with everything i got, like the idea of spraying it with vinegar.  how am i supposed to know what works?  i’m going to try everything…

so, while i’ve got my stretchers out, and my dyes, and some spare silk, i think i’ll make another one.  this one is much shorter, say 70″ x 18″ or so.  but i can still do a milky way on it.  there’s nothing like a blank canvas to start the creative juices running.

this is the first application, put on with a brush.  you can’t see the dots of sodium alginate, and i’ve mixed up a nice medium brown and laid out the edges of the darkest clouds in a sort of underpainting.  then i put more star dots on top of that.  you can just see the barest indications of the lines in charcoal.  this time i’m mainly going to show the lower left corner of the scarf.

light blue, and then more dots of alginate resist, to reserve the stars.

then some light red spattered on with an old toothbrush, and then i start in with the darker purple i used at the end of the last scarf.

and more darks, and more dots.  this stuff is slathered on with a toothbrush, some of the splotches the size of a quarter.

now i’ve come in with sugar syrup, to reserve the lightest areas.

and i’ve gone thru and wiped the syrup with my fingers, smudging it on the surface so it’s not so linear.  and more black with the toothbrush.  at some point i came in with black in the brush and carefully lined the edges of the scarf with black.  have to be careful here because these are rolled edges, and it’s easy to leave the underside white.

here’s after spraying it with vinegar water.  note how all the hard edges have softened.

this is another part of the scarf, and it’s right after i sprayed it.  you can see the black running from the top half down thru the light areas.  it’s beautiful to stand and watch this process, it keep spreading and running, tho, so you’ve got to be ready to come in and lift it with a dry towel, or hit the fan on to dry the whole area quickly.

after it has dried, and this is a different area, so it’s hard to see the difference between how it was.

however, i can show the process again, from the end of the table.  and after letting the whole thing cure for a few days (until i finish the next one) i will steam it, and we shall see how it comes out.  it won’t be the same.  i wish i could paint them and never steam them, because they’re so much more beautiful before all the dye washes out…

milky way veil 2

in the last post, i did a lot of setup.  washing, stretching, putting down thousands of sodium alginate dots to represent stars later on.  then i took charcoal and outlines the shapes i could determine within the starfield.  humans make patterns out of random collections of objects.  i saw loads of figures in the milky way.  and someday i might just go ahead and draw in the figures i see, rather than draw in vague abstract shapes that remind me of figures.  today i’m starting the painting.  this sequence actually lasted two or three days, i’m not sure at this point.  but my feet hurt.

first down was some diluted yellow.  you can barely see that.  it dried, and then i put on some diluted magenta.  it’s still wet, and you can see the water spreading out around the spots, while the dye is staying in place better.  i’m putting on these colors with a toothbrush, thumbing tiny or large drops of color onto the silk.  what i’m doing is putting on the lighter colors first, as you would for watercolor.  you reserve the whites, which i did with the resist, then you put on the lightest colors of all, and work over them toward your darkest colors.  this works exactly the same way in silk, but more in the beginning than the end.  it’s really easy to get muddy colors in watercolor, and almost impossible to do in silk painting.  that’s because pigments are ground up bits of rocks, and dyes are chemical mixtures  (or maybe just way more ground up rocks, who knows at this point).

now comes the dilute cyan, and i’m seeing that i put it on over the still-wet magenta.  putting a color down over wet silk gives a different effect, a different rate of spread, than putting it down over dry silk.  and any silk treated with certain things won’t let the dye spread at all, or even catch into the threads.  it might be a science, but i treat it like an art, and get a different result every time.

and here’s the first black, diluted.  all the colors have been diluted so far, way diluted. because even when they blend all together, they’re going to be a light gray.  if you look closely at all the preceding photos, and the following one, you’ll see the tiny dots of more resist being applied over the fresh dye.  this way there’re going to be yellow stars, and blue ones, and red ones, and black ones, and purple ones, and brown ones and green ones.  all over the place.

now this corner of the veil that i’m showing is not one of the light parts of the scarf.  those are in the middle.  this corner is a mid gray, sort of bluish. it’s a mid gray when you’re seeing it from a distance.  it’s all colors when you look at it close up.  that’s what makes this kind of painting so difficult.  there’s no scale, so you don’t know how to judge it.  if you look at it from one distance, it looks like the worst piece of crap.  and if i’m lucky, looking at it from another distance conveys the exact image i had in my head when i decided to paint it.

that dark blotchy stuff near the top of the picture is sugar syrup.  i use it as a resist, but it doesn’t behave like the alginate resist – it moves.  it’s thick syrup, so it flows, and when you get it wet, it flows in really cool patterns.  so it makes a totally different kind of resist, and looks particularly good in nebula paintings.  i put it down over a red splotch and some almost white areas so they would stay the colors they are and not turn black as i continue dumping darker colors on it.

here is some more sugar syrup. this is to reserve some of these nice mid grays while the rest of the place gets splattered with stronger and stronger black.  i’m still putting down dots even over these colors.  that’s because not all the resist is going to stay.  a lot of it is going to dissolve into the dye, and go away.  so i have to keep putting it on just to hedge my bets.

at this point i have switched to brushes, and i’m using a large one to put in ever darker blacks.  you can see the darkest part, to the right, is brushstrokes rather than drops and splatters.  i’m trying to make the central band of clouds in the milky way as dark as i can.  it’s not showing up very well in these photos.  and it’ll wash out, no matter how good it looks when i’m thru painting it.  that’s the bad part about silk painting.  it washes out.

the shiny stuff on the right is sugar syrup twinkling.  i’ve been flooding the place with blacks, and reds, and blues, in great amounts, hell even some yellow just dumped on there, running down the middle.  not that bad, i’m exaggerating slightly.  but it does get vigorous near the end.

and this is the last bit here, who knows what i’ve just put down, but it’s the last step but one.

here i’ve gone and gotten the whole surface wet, sprayed it with a mix of half vinegar and half water.  the vinegar is there to try to help the dye set into the silk.  i have so much trouble with my dyes fading, and i’m sure it’s because they’re old and i don’t keep them cool, and they’ve deteriorated.  so i’m making the whole thing acidic, and when i steam it hopefully it will make the dyes set nicely.  we’ll see.

what the spray does is to make everything blend and move.  it might have looked nice if i had left it without spraying; see the picture before that for what this looks like.  but by getting it wet i’m making the sugar syrup run, and this produces fluid motion in the dyes that i find fascinating and attractive.  so i always tend to run water over the syrup, and i tend to use the syrup in order to then violate the resist.

you can’t control anything when you do art this way.

this is the finished veil hanging out to dry.  the part you’ve been looking at is the lower left corner.  right now it’s a completely different veil than it’s going to be once it’s set and washed out.  the sugar syrup and the resisted dots don’t show up at this point, and a lot of the colors will fade out when i wash it.  we’ll see.  it’s got to rest for a couple of days, and then i’ll steam set it, and it’ll rest for a couple more days, and then i can wash it out.

next up: a much smaller milk way for a present, and after that a bunch of feraminafora!  stay tuned.

project: milky way dancing veil

i just finalized a commission that was originally planned for last xmas.  but these things happen.  it’s really cute; a bunch of belly dancers around the world get together and play secret santa with each other.  and one of them selected me based on a belly dancing veil i did for my friend asha.  and asked specifically for a picture of the milky way.  and i can do that, because one of my favorite things is to paint nebulas and galaxies.

this is the reference photo.  it’s beautiful, and doesn’t it just look like a dragon?


my plan is to put in the starfield with resist, then pain in the light colors, then put in more stars over the colors, and paint in the dark stuff.  sounds confusing at this point, but i’ll be describing it step by step as we go along.

this veil is 45″x108″  that’s three yards of heavier silk.  it will make a nice substantial flow when it’s waved around.  and this is my stretching solution.  when you’re working with silk painting, it’s necessary to suspend the silk away from all other surfaces, because the dyes will run and bleed if given even half a chance.  so i got two stepladders out of the attic, and used two 48″ stretcher bars, bungee-corded them to the sides of the ladders, then  threaded spring clips onto rubber bands, and tied them evenly along the stretcher bars.  the veil is suspended from the spring clips.  but i soon found that i couldn’t apply the resist, or indeed draw in my sketch with charcoal, while it was suspended.  there’s way too much wobble.  so i got out my handy-dandy door panel, put it across the two tables underneath the veil, and took the veil off the stretchers to lay down on the door surface.

so much better.  you can see what’s left of the charcoal resting on the reference photo.  the lines are basic forms i can see in the photo, indicated only very generally with the charcoal.  it will wash out of the silk when i’m all finished messing with it.  it’s really hard for me to tell exactly what area of the reference photo i’m trying to transfer to the veil.  most likely it’s the mid-lower right.

this is most of the veil fitting over the door.  i had to smoosh out my lines and redo them several times, especially at the beginning when it went off at the way wrong angle.

i’ve mixed up some sodium alginate resist and put it into a squeeze bottle with a metal tip, and here is what happens when i go around using it to fill in the stars inside these forms i see in the reference photo.  these are the stars that will turn out white.  the colored stars will be when i come in with the resist over dyed areas, and then overdye the surrounding areas.  it all looks rather crude, but this is only the first stage.  it’ll turn out brilliant, mainly because it’s designed to be seen from far away, and in motion..

more stars, pouncing with the tip of the resist bottle while squeezing lightly.  it sounds like rapid fire flea scratching from the more highly wound of the small dogs.

doing a fresh area.  i had to keep filling in all i could and then letting it dry, peeling it up (the resist sticks to the table), repositioning it, and filling it in some more.  this is definitely the right hand side of the reference photo, because there’s the right seam of the veil.  the white stars are thickest in the lighter areas of the galaxy, near the horizontal midline, but they’re surprisingly thick toward the edges where the dark gunk clears out, and even there are stars peeking out of (in front of) the dark gunk.  so i didn’t feel too pressured to get the right density of stars in any particular place.  i just held the thing up to the light to find the bare spots until all parts of the veil were covered with stars.  this is partly insurance.  some of these little resist dots won’t end up resisting.  i’m going to be putting many layers of dye over these little dots of algae.  the dye is going to absorb in, or the resist is going to dissolve out, and loads of these little dots won’t end up visible in the final veil.  so it’s okay to put in too many at this point.  i can always scrub areas with dye to mostly dissolve the resist.  what i won’t be able to do is to bring back stars after i start dyeing.  and actually that’s not true, because i can always come back with thiox and bleach the stars back out.  but i won’t go to that length, so i’ll hedge another way.

tomorrow i will start dyeing.  i’m not sure if i’ll use a splatter, a sponge, or a brush to apply the color.  i’m going to start with the very lightest colors, as you would for a watercolor.  i’ve already reserved my whites using a mask, which is what resist is.  now i’m going to go in with light blues and light violet and light orange-yellow, and a nice light reddish brown.

i’ve got to say how happy i am to be turning my hand back to visual art using fabric.  for six months now my creative energies have been going to a completely intangible form of art – at this stage.  i’m writing a novel, and haven’t even begun the writing part of it because i’m still doing research and working on the plot structure and chapter outline.  but there’s nothing visible going on except whatever document i’m working on at the moment.  with this commission, i can tear myself away from my literary efforts, and concentrate on making deep meaningful statements with color and form, rather than words and mental images.