Silk painting is an ancient art form, first developed in China when it was reserved for the Emperors. Today, it makes a fun and relaxing hobby. Hand painting scarves can create beautiful, wearable works of art and thoughtful gifts for friends and family. Silk painting can also be used to create focal elements in card making, wall hangings, pillowcases, bags, pocket squares, neckerchiefs, and other decorative projects.
In this tutorial, a beginner’s guide to silk painting, we show you how to make your own silk-painted scarf. First, you’ll learn how to dye the silk and create a mottled texture. Then you’ll learn how to use gutta to draw your outlines, and paint your design using silk paint. We’ll show you how to fix the colour so that it won’t fade, and even give you a free template, so you can make your own koi carp silk painted scarf. We also share expert tips and tricks so that you can get the most out of the hobby.
Do you like this article, a beginner’s guide to silk painting? Why not check out some of our other beginner’s guides, right here on Gathered. If you’re into painting, why not try your hand at glass painting with our beginner’s guide to glass painting, where we show you how to make a sweet wildflower glass (there’s a free template for you to download), or how about learning how to paint a stunning watercolour galaxy?
If you’re looking to boost your craft stash, we’ve got you covered. We’ve rounded up the best watercolour paints and best acrylic paints, or if digital art is more your thing, we share our expert opinion on the best drawing tablets for beginners.
What is silk painting?
Silk painting is the traditional art of painting on silk. It dates back to at least the 2nd Century, but may be much older, as silk has been cultivated for more than 3,500 years.
The silk is stretched on a frame or embroidery hoop, then using a resist (called a gutta outliner), the outline of a design is drawn onto the silk. Once dry, the design is rendered using silk paint, before being ironed to ‘set’ the paint and gutta.
Buy a silk painting kit!
This silk painting kit has everything you need to get started, including ten 45ml pipette bottles of silk paint in yellow, tangerine, magenta, raspberry, iris, violet, cyan, gitane blue, turquoise, silver, grey and ebony. It also comes with two 20ml tubes of water-based gutta in colourless and gold, as well as a palette, brush, sponge and 50-page booklet with creative ideas for projects and workshops.
The gold gutta is made with the traditional formula, while the colourless gutta is specially formulated to be removed with water. It also comes in a brilliant desk-top drawer set made from sturdy kraft card, so it looks great on your craft desk! These inks are all mixable, and each bottle is fitted with a pipette to ensure you only use what you need.
Where to buy silk painting supplies
As silk painting supplies are fairly specialist art materials, they’re not necessarily available in all craft stores. We’ve put together this list of suppliers who stock silk painting materials:
Top tips for silk painting
- Stretch your silk and keep it taught while painting.
- If you’ve found a design that you like, because the silk is see-through, you can trace the design directly onto your silk.
- By ‘fixing’ each layer of colour in your silken masterpiece, you can use different techniques and colours on top of each other.
- Experiment by using inks in spray bottles, and spritzing the fabric to get watercolour effects on your material.
- Sprinkle salt onto freshly soaked silk to get a mottled effect.
- Wear gloves! Silk paint will stain everything it touches (don’t say we didn’t warn you).
- If you don’t have an air-vanishing pen to draw your design, use a soft pencil. 4B is ideal. The pencil will gradually fade as you wash your silk.
- Keep a wad of tissue handy to absorb excess paint and gutta while you are working.
- When using the gutta, make sure that you fully enclose your shapes. Otherwise, when you come to paint the silk, the paint will bleed outside the lines.
- Check that your shapes are fully enclosed (no gaps) by turning the silk over. It’s easier to spot gaps from the other side.
- Use a cocktail stick to drag the gutta around on the silk, and smooth out air bubbles (which we don’t want).
- Once your masterpiece is complete and dry, iron for 5 minutes to fix your artwork.
- If you don’t iron it, or if you don’t iron it for long enough, the gutta will peel away when wet. This is useful to know if you’re using the gutta in a similar way to the way you would use masking fluid in watercolour art. Learn more about how to use masking fluid in our tutorial, how to paint watercolour pebbles.
- Create a marbled effect by dabbing different colours of silk paint onto the silk. The colours will naturally spread out on the silk and blend together where they meet.
- Once dry, silk paint tends to be quite light. You can build up the brightness of the colours by adding more layers of colour.
How to do silk painting
You will need
- Silk paint and brush
- Glass bowl
- Air-vanishing pen or soft pencil
- Embroidery hoop
- Your exclusive silk painting templates
How to dye silk
If you want to try silk painting and want instant, easy results, we think you’ll like this. By using the scrunching technique, you can achieve beautiful, mottled results in just a few minutes. Experiment with different colours and ink concentrations, and you’ll soon be confident whipping up your own mottled scarf in no time.
If you like this, then be sure to check out our guide on how to tie-dye a t-shirt!
First, set up your workspace. Silk painting can get messy, so if you can try to work on a plastic tray to keep all the drips and splashes (relatively) contained. In this project, we’re going to dye the silk a beautiful aqua colour.
You’ll need to wear gloves for this project – silk paint will stain!
PEBEO makes silk scarves especially for painting, so it’s worth picking one of these up if you can. Take it out of the packet, and iron it on a low heat if you wish. We’ll be ironing it again later on, so it’s not strictly necessary to do it at this stage. The silk folds up very small, but once out of the packet it looks much larger! This is the 40 x 150cm scarf.
Take a small glass bowl, and half-fill it with cold water. I’m using ordinary tap water. Take your silk paint and add a few drops into the water.
Keep adding drops into the water until you’re happy with the colour. To see whether the colour is dark enough, take a paintbrush, dip it into the water and test it on a piece of paper.
I decided to add a few more drops to make the colour a bit darker.
Once you’re happy with the colour, submerge your silk in the bowl.
Make sure it’s wetted all the way through and leave to soak. I left this project for around two hours (while I had dinner), but 5-10 minutes would usually be enough to get a good coverage.
Remove the silk from the bowl and gently wring out the water.
If you just want to dye the silk, then stop here. Lay the silk out flat and leave it to dry.
Creating a mottled background
While your silk is still wet, spread it out on a flat surface like a tray.
Pinch the silk to create wrinkles or ‘waves’ and leave it in this position.
Sprinkle some salt onto the silk. We’re using coarse-grained sea salt, but you can also use ordinary table salt.
Leave your silk-and-salt combo to dry on a tray. If you don’t have a tray, lay some cling film down on a surface and leave it to dry on that. The silk paint will stain the surface it’s left on, so just be aware of that if you feel tempted to leave it in the bath – you will end up with a blue tub!
Now dry, dust off the salt to reveal a mottled effect to your silk!
Fix the colour
Before painting the silk further, we need to ‘fix’ what we’ve done so far. To do this, iron the silk on a low heat (most domestic irons have a ‘silk’ setting) for around three minutes.
Hand wash the silk in a bowl of warm, soapy water. Use a non-biological detergent and gently move the silk around in the water.
Pat the silk dry, then iron on a low heat while the silk is still wet.
How to stretch the silk
The easiest way to stretch your silk ready for painting is to use an embroidery hoop. Place the inner (smaller) hoop underneath your silk, and the outer (larger) hoop on top. Tighten the hoop to pull your silk taut.
Trace your design
If you want to create your own koi carp scarf, download your free koi carp templates:
Otherwise, find another design that you like – or you can draw your own freehand onto the silk.
Using a pencil or an air-vanishing marker pen, trace the outline of the koi onto the silk. If you’re using an air-vanishing pen, the ink will completely fade within two days, or you can wash it out instantly with water.
If you use a pencil you can achieve a finer line, however, it will not disappear completely from your silk. When the project is finished, the pencil line will be (slightly) visible on the rear of your silk.
Painting a design onto silk
With your silk on the frame, use a gutta outliner to go over the lines of your fish.
You’ll need to squeeze the tube as you draw, so it’s a good idea to keep a sheet of scrap paper or kitchen paper nearby to clean the nib every now and then.
Make sure that for any area you intend to paint, there are no gaps in the outlines or the colour will bleed out.
NB: At this point, I noticed that the wood on the embroidery hoop was pulling slightly on the silk, so I covered the embroidery hoop in cling film to stop it from snagging and potentially laddering.
Continue in this way until you have outlined as many fish as you want on your scarf. I’ve gone for three fish on either end of the scarf, six in total.
Squeeze a few drops of silk paint into a palette. Using a paintbrush, dip it into the paint and start painting the silk. Start by using dabbing motions until you get used to how the paint spreads then it touches the silk.
Keep a roll of tissue nearby to absorb the excess ink from the brush.
You can use the colours individually, or a few at a time to create a marbled look. To do this, take it in turns to dab the different colours onto the silk. The paint will spread and naturally blend together where the colours meet.
Once you’ve finished painting, set the silk aside to dry naturally. If you want to speed up the process you can use a hair dryer.
Iron the silk on the reverse of the pattern to set the colour.
If you want to remove the gutta, wash your silk again in warm, non-bio soapy water, then rinse. The gutta will peel away quite easily and cleanly leaving just the painted areas.
Congratulations! You’ve made your own DIY silk-painted scarf.
Silk painting kits and supplies
If you’re a beginner, water-based silk paints are often the easiest to work with. They’re generally fairly thin and can be set by ironing with a hot iron. There are other types of silk dyes on the market that produce a more vivid colour but require either steam or a chemical fixative to fix the colour.
We’ve picked out the best silk painting supplies to help you along in your new hobby!
Javana Silk Painting Starter Kit
These highly pigments silk paints are water-based, so they’re ideal for beginners, and will paint onto silk, cotton, viscose, linen and some types of blended fabric. The colours are mixable, so you can create secondary and tertiary colours from the five colours supplied. The kit also comes with a brush, pins to mount your silk, two tubes of gutta, and templates.
Silkcraft Silk Painting printed gutta outlines
Create adorable silk-painted woodland animals with these handy gutta outlines. The designs measure 10 x 15cm, so are ideal for creating small, framed works of art. Or, once you have finished painting your outline, simply mount onto a folded A4 piece of card to create a lovely handmade card.
Pebeo Setasilk Initiation set
This is a great option if you already have brushes and gutta and just want to try out the craft before committing. It comes in 20ml bottles of yellow, magenta, violet, cyan, chestnut and ebony, and is great value for money.
Nevskaya Palitra Silk Paint Set
These silk paints can be used on a variety of fabrics, and includes nine 50ml jars in lemon, red, orange, black, violet, deep blue, light blue, deep green and light green. The bright colours are highly pigmented and have a high coverage, but this set does not come with a gutta, so if you want to use the outline technique you’ll need to buy that separately.
Pebeo Setailk set
This collection of water-based colours is vivid and intense, and will easily paint on all types of silk. There are ten different colours, each with a handy pipette for decanting exactly the right amount of ink.
Silkcraft Silk painting printed gutta outlines: Wildlife
These Silkcraft books come with lots of brilliant designs to create your own silken masterpieces. These botanical florals are timeless and make lovely card toppers or scarf embellishments. There are five different designs, and you could also use them in other crafts, like stained-glass painting, or batik.
Pebeo Setasilk Gutta: Pearl White
Gutta comes in a wide range of different colours, and the colour of the gutta used can affect the overall design of the silk painting. For a more subtle effect, try using a lighter colour, like this pearl white. Or, for a design that more closely echoes that of stained glass, go for something bolder like black, silver or gold.
Coarse Sea Salt
Sprinkle salt onto wet silk to create a mottled effect. Experiment with different-sized grains and amounts for different effects. You can use ordinary table salt, or sea salt as we’ve used in this tutorial.
55 x 55cm silk scarf
You’ll need something to paint on, and this silk scarf from PEBEO is a very affordable way to practise your new craft, before working up to something larger. Use it as a canvas to test out different techniques and keep note of which techniques you like best before moving onto a final piece.
40 x 150cm silk scarf
This is the size of scarf we used in this tutorial!
Embroidery hoops are an easy way to stretch your silk during painting, but also to frame your work afterwards. You can pick them up from most craft stores, and often come in packs of different sizes, like this one which ranges from 13cm to 20cm in diameter.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our beginner’s guide to silk painting. For more brilliant craft tutorials, check out our beginner’s guide to batik art, how to tie-dye or our beginner’s guide to acrylic paint pouring.