Silk Banner Painting
Silk Banner Painting for those of us who “aren’t quite Laurels yet”
Silk Pennant banners are a great way to identify your camp, local branch, or household. Making them turned out to be pretty easy for us as “non-Laurels”, but it took us a while to find the right set of steps and materials to achieve success. There are many ways this type of project can be accomplished; this is merely what worked well for us. The materials are easy for newcomers to use, and cheap to acquire. Most people will be able to complete this type of project in 4-8 sessions.
Annotated List of Materials
This project used a surprisingly large amount of pieces, and we made several mistakes in our purchases. Here is the annotated list.
We had several false starts here. There are two basic types of paint that you will be using for this project. The first is the resist or “gutta”(rhymes with Buddha), and the second is the colored paint or dye. For the Resist, we used the Jacquard brand of water based “Gutta Resist” in Black. The smaller 4oz bottle is plenty.It is also available in Clear (looks white when it is being painted). Gutta is also available in metallic gold and silver, which may suit your project better. Simple black was great for us.
For the paints/dyes, we used the Jacquard brand from the “Dye-Na-Flow” family. The 2.25 oz bottles are a good size to start with, and accommodate a 1” foam brush well. This type of paint is much thinner than the gutta, so be prepared.
As will become clear, the silk must be suspended on a frame. If your project is small enough, you can simply use an embroidery hoop. We were working on pieces that would end up being 3ft by 5 ft, so we had to make a frame. You can buy a ready-made frame as we did to start with, but ultimately we went to a wooded frame that we constructed.
Cheap wood can usually be found at a local hardware store for $1-$4 per 8ft x 1.5" stick. It might be known as “Bender board”. We just hammered our pieces together with simple nails. The frame doesn’t end up taking a huge amount of stress, and need not be “clear knot free hardwood”. If I was starting a new set of banners, I would probably strongly consider using lengths of ¾” PVC Schedule 40 pipes, as easy 90 joints are available inexpensively. We used simple office style “push pins” to stretch the fabric onto the frames. The worked pretty well, but it was easy to knock them out, during the painting process, as we moved around the frame edge. We also used painters “blue” tape, as a quick way to connect the fabric onto the frame. This worked surprisingly well.
“China Silk” or “habotai” in the 5-8 “momme” weight. Remember, you want this to flow in the slightest of breezes, so typically pick the lightest weight silk you have access to. Colors will be more vivid on true silk than other alternatives. Another option, preferred by many, is to use a synthetic fabric known as “Silk Essence”, commonly available for about ¼ the price of true silk. The paints won’t absorb as quickly into this fabric, so it will require slightly more brush work. It tends to be a brighter white, and change color less as it ages. This means the whites will stay whiter over time.
We used cheapie chisel tip “foam” brushes that were 1” wide. We suggest buying at least 4, as we rotated brushes between sessions. These are available at your local hardware store, or art supply shop. They tend to be much cheaper at the hardware store, for effectively the identical item.
For the “Gutta”, you need small squeeze bottles (3-4 oz size), with metals tips. We found that the 9mm size metal tips worked best for us. You can buy these separately, but they are in fact merely the tips to 9 mm technical lead pencils. You may be able to buy the 9mm pencils (including the tips) for less than specialty art stores will sell you the just the tips… The smaller 5 or 7mm tips definitely work, but especially when you are starting, having a solid thick line for your gutta will make everything much easier.
Paper towels A big table Old newspapers Paper plates “Butchers paper” or craft paper suitable for tracing Synthrapol detergent for Pre-washing the silk (available from Dharma Trading Company)
Decide on a design. Hopefully this is what started you down this path in the first place. The basic rule is to think of the project in a “cartooning” style or stained glass, with a heavy outline, and then filling in the borders with your colors. We did our project with just the black gutta, and using the various colors. Don’t forget the “white” is basically a freebie, since you are most likely going to start with a white piece of silk.
Using your butchers paper or craft paper, sketch out your design in full scale, so that you can trace it later onto the silk. Alternatively, you might be able to print this out from a computer, and either tile the pieces of paper together, or use a plotter, which prints on large format paper. This took us several sessions and helped reinforce that we were definitely not Laurels. We suggest going over your final design in a thick line, using a sharpie marker, to make it easy to trace. This will also get you used to the level of detail that you can create with the 9mm tip and the gutta.
Now is the time to pre-wash your silk.
There are many possible pre-treatments, but we used the “Synthrapol” detergent from Dharma Trading Company, with good results. You don’t want to find out the hard way that there was something mixed in with your batch of silk. Air/line dry your silk once it is pre-washed.
You can now overlay the silk onto your design, and trace it onto the silk. Use a soft pencil, with a light line. The silk does not need to be stretched on the frame when you transfer the design, in fact it is probably easier if it isn’t…
Get your silk ready for painting by getting it stretched onto your frame. It should be pretty tight, but you don’t need to be able to bounce quarters off it. Don’t worry about keeping it square, or even across your designs, it really won’t matter.
Here’s a tip from Artus Quintus of the West Kingdom: make yourself a little funnel from scrap paper to make transferring the gutta from the shipping container to the little squeeze bottles. Gutta is thick and gloopy, sort of similar to diesel fuel. It otherwise pretty challenging to get the Gutta into your squeeze bottles. And if you discover a great technique, please share it!
Arm yourself with your squeeze bottle of Gutta, and start applying it to the silk, following your pencil lines. Artus strongly suggested that we start in the center and work out. This is so that you are less likely to accidentally touch or smear a wet line of gutta. Gutta is sort of an unusual material to work with. Give yourself plenty of time, and allow yourself the mental space to really focus on the lines. They need to be really solid with no gaps, and the more uniform in thickness they are, the better. Drawing a straight line with the squeeze bottles is harder than it might look. If you have any doubts about your ability to lay down the Gutta, here is a great way to practice: When you are buying the silk, see if the fabric store has silk scarves of the same weight as the silk you are buying. These make great test samplers. It is also really easy to work with a scarf in a standard and inexpensive emmbroidery hoop. They make it really easy to get the silk tight, and ready for practice with the gutta. If your project is small enough to fit within an embroidery hoop, it is your lucky day! And don't forget that the embroidery hoops come in all manner of shapes and sizes including rounded rectangles.
We found it best to have an additional long straightedge to use as a guide that we could follow with your hand that is holding the bottle. We found it easiest to make the gutta painting its own session, meaning we stopped after the black gutta had been completely painted. We were nervous about making sure that it had been completely dry before we went to the next step. We were extremely lucky that the location where we were doing the project had no pets or small children around, so we were able to move the stretched frame into another room, and let it dry overnight. It is a little fragile in this state, so take whatever precautions are necessary.
The next day, we started in with our first actual color. In our design, this was a golden yellow which was in the middle of our design, and split the design into 3 distinct fields, so we started here, trying to again work from the center outwards.
The paint goes onto the silk very quickly!
It has a different feel than the Gutta process, but you still need to keep the same presence of mind, and focus to detail. Using the foam brushes, you are more using the foam as a way of transferring the paint to the silk, than a more traditional painting coverage stroke. Due to the way the silk wicks the paint from the brush, you might find that you need to add more paint to your brush than you initial think is necessary. As in most painting techniques, every brushstroke will be visible to some degree, so use some strategy when you are filling in wide areas. For us, it was helpful to have more than one person working on the larger areas. Since the “Dye-Na-Flow” paint is so thin, it is very easy for it to drip without you notice it. As a precaution, we suggest keeping a plate with paper towels in it, in your non-brush holding hand, and developing a very serious discipline of holding your painted loaded brush over the plate at all times you aren’t actively painting. One drip in the wrong area, will really be a problem. Again, we were nervous about mixing wet painted areas together, so we did each color as its own session. The sessions weren’t long, but the time does add up. For our 2nd banner, we did use a hair dryer, to allow us to get in several non-bordered colors on the same session.
We let the whole piece dry on the stretcher overnight, then prepared to heat set it the paints to the silk. There are many ways to do this, and the traditional technique is to steam it for several hours. We were also shown a way using a clothes iron, with a lot of steam. Apparently, the steam setting technique is the key to the most vivid colors. Ultimately, we used a simpler technique, which is accessible to almost all of us. Simply put your painted silk into a clothes dryer on high for 1 hour! Do put in several non-critical towels or rags, to help keep the silk moving around. We put in a damp washcloth, as a way of adding some moisture which could hopefully add some steaming action to the process.
At this point your banner should be ready for use. In our case, we were working with a triangular banner, on a rectangular piece of silk, so it needed to be cut to shape, and then hemmed. We used a serger to complete the edges with a non-fraying stitch.
In our case, the banners are made to be flown above a large baronial pavilion. As such, it is going to be at least 15 feet away from where anyone can see it up close. Small details are lost at this type of distance. In our case, this is a good thing
Gutta is an odd substance. Laying it down with the squeeze bottle is an unusual process, and it is harder than it looks. We strongly suggest at least 1 practice session with the Gutta. You can buy silk scarves that are great practice pieces, and just set it up with an embroidery hoop. Practice drawing circles. The goal is to end with the same thickness of line as you begin with. You will get a feel for what it takes to make complete segments with no gaps for the paint to bleed out of.
Check with your local heralds, for whatever your local/kingdom convention is for laying out your designs. We also suggest looking at other peoples banners at events, to get a feel for different types of layouts.
Don’t expect this banner project to be the last one you ever make in your life. It’s not so much a craft, as a lifestyle!
Silk will age and fade over time. Whites will yellow slightly.
We purchased most of our materials from the Dharma Trading Company, although you should be able to get most of the materials locally if you would rather do so.