Arati Devasher - Silk Painting

We asked UK Handmade portfolio member Arati Devasher to share the process behind her beautiful hand painted silk scarves. Be sure to check out the link at the end of the article to view a video of Arati in action!

About me...

I always like to say that I am 'a book designer by profession and an artist by inclination'... I make books that must be designed within certain limits, but I place no creative restraints on myself when I make my hand painted one-of-a-kind silk scarves and ties, drawings and paintings. I work in several different media because I enjoy them all, and not all my wishes can be created in one!

Arati Devasher

Learning to paint silk...

I've been drawing and painting all my life, so when I accidentally discovered first fabric painting and then silk painting, I was amazed at how similar it was to watercolour painting.... by experimentation, through books and much help from silk painters who blog and share their expertise (particularly Pamela Glose, Ron Gutman and Isabella Whitworth), I learnt how to paint silk using the traditional gutta serti method of creating outlines with a resist and filling them in with dye. This is the most common form of silk painting, and easy for beginners to learn while still being a versatile method in which experts can create complex designs. Creating outlines and filling in did not entirely suit my style of design, so I moved on to soy wax batik, which suits my artwork and style more, and that is the example I have used here. I am now also experimenting with Resistad, which gives me great flexibility in being able to 'draw' on the silk in the manner I would on paper without changing the 'hand' or feel of the silk. It's beginning to be my favourite medium even over and above hot wax batik. Another technique is to spray the silk with starch to restrict the flow of the dye and simply paint freehand as though it were a canvas. Salt, sugar, water and alcohol can also create patterns on wet or dry dye, so those are fascinating to use and can produce some surprising results. I now use all these techniques depending on the design I want to create... sometimes, I will use all of them on a single scarf. 

My process... hot wax and dye are applied in layers to preserve areas of colour and create a reverse pattern, similar to real batik which is done with paraffin, beeswax and immersion-dyeing.

I first wash and dry the silk and stretch it on a frame - sometimes I use fabric from a roll, but today I'm using a pre-hemmed scarf. I also add some soy wax flakes to a melting pot.

stretching the silk and heating the wax

stretching the silk and heating the wax

Then I add the first layer of dye to part of the scarf... I don't work from a pre-planned design though I do have a general idea of what I want to do in mind... I tend to 'doodle' on the silk as I go.

painting the first colour

painting the first colour

I add some salt to one end of the painted section, while it's still wet, in order to get some texture there. Salt attracts dye and creates an unpredictable pattern.

adding salt to create texture

adding salt to create texture

As I wait for that section to dry, I make a paisley pattern on the other side of the scarf using the hot wax. Wherever I place the wax, it will preserve the colour under it... in this case white... it's a case of working in reverse. 

adding wax resist

adding wax resist

I mix dye to create my own colours, using ratios of four basic ones – cyan, magenta, yellow and black – to create them all... 

mixing dyes

mixing dyes

Filling in colour in some areas, and adding layers of wax and dye, I create a complete pattern, repeating the process multiple times until I'm happy with the results... 

painting the silk

painting the silk

Making could take from half a day to several days depending on the complexity. 

Completed painting

Once I'm done making the pattern, the wax is removed by ironing between sheets of paper...

removing the wax

removing the wax

Then after 'resting' overnight, the silk scarf (or tie) is rolled in paper (usually with other scarves already made and rested) and steamed at a high temperature for a few hours in order to set the dye to be colourfast and washable. 

setting the dye

setting the dye

I then wash and iron, hand-hem if needed, photograph for my records and it's ready to wear! 

Green Eggs

Finding my work....

Website/shop: aratidevasher.co.uk

Newsletter signup: http://on.fb.me/1MrdZZf

Social links: @adevasher on instagram, twitter and tumblr

Email: aratidevasher@gmail.com

You can also meet me this festive season (and through the year) at various markets... listed at www.aratidevasher.co.uk/events and they include some in Hampstead as well as the Crafty Fox Market at the Museum of London, Docklands.

I filmed the making of a few of my scarves, and they can be viewed at.... http://www.aratidevasher.co.uk/process/silk-painting-process-short-films/

(Photographs by Yeshen Venema)

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