Setting Colors in Silk


Silk paints and dyes need to be fixed permanently into the silk to allow it to be washed, dry cleaned and to prevent it from fading in the sunlight. The fixing process sets the dye or paint into the silk. If the dyes and paints are not fixed the colors will all run when it is washed and they will fade in the sun. Unfixed painted silk will watermark and stain if it comes into contact with water. So I suggest you keep your painted silks in a clean polythene bag before you fix them. The method of fixing you use will depend on the type of colors you have used. It is extremely important to check the method of fixing when you buy your dyes.

Silk Dyes must be fixed into the silk by steaming (not just a steam iron) or with a liquid fixative depending on the make. If you use the latter then follow the instructions on the bottle. Silk Paints are fixed using a hot iron.


IRON FIXING for Silk Paints

This is the easiest method of fixing and is used for silk paints.

Simply wait until the silk is completely dry.

1 Remove it from the frame and iron with a hot dry iron on the reverse side for about 3-4 minutes.

If you have painted a 3 dimensional silk item such as a silk lampshade you can fix this using a hair dryer on the hot setting. This takes about 15 minutes and you must be careful not to burn the silk.

After fixing the colors are permanent and the silk can be washed and dry cleaned.

Protect your ironing board when you are fixing the silk as sometimes the gutta reprints on to the board especially metallic gutta.

 Silk Paints
Are fixed by ironing or using a chemical solution. Silk dyes and silk paints are very different. Read the manufacture’s instructions for your brand.

STEAM FIXING for Silk Dyes

Silk Dyes require steam for fixing, not just a steam iron but actually wrapping the silk up in paper or muslin and steaming it on your cooker in a steamer. It is easy to steam small amounts of silk at home on your cooker. However if you are going to paint a lot of silk lengths and yardage it is better to send it to a steaming service. Your silk painting suppliers should be able to tell you where your nearest service is. Sometimes the dry cleaners have a steam box which they will let you use. Professionals usually invest in their own steamers which come in either vertical or horizontal designs, and are very expensive.

How do I steam fix my silk on my cooker?

To steam your silk at home you will need a vegetable steamer, fish steamer or whatever you use to steam in your kitchen. If you have nothing the cheapest buy is a bamboo vegetable steamer. A double boiler saucepan will also work..

1 Lie your silk flat on some absorbent paper (not kitchen towel) or a muslin cloth. Brown paper with no wax coating, lining paper or Kraft paper are all suitable. You can also use old newspaper (Don’t use recent papers or the black printing ink will come off onto your silk).

2 Roll the paper and silk gently with the silk on the inside. Tuck the ends of the roll in towards the center and roll together to make a small package. Seal with masking tape.

Rolling the silk, and preparing for steam fixing.

3 Place the package in the steamer and steam for 40 minutes.

The package must not touch the sides of the steamer. Make sure that the water in the base of your steamer cannot touch the package. Also be sure the water does not dry out before the 40 minutes is up.

The most important thing to consider is that your package of silk must not get wet. I always put a layer of foil under my package and a small lid of foil just covering the package so that any drops will not ruin the package of silk. The drops of water just roll off the package and back into the water. Protect your package as much as you can but do not completely seal it up in foil as the steam needs to get to it.

After steaming remove the package and unwrap your work. If you have used metallic or colored gutta it is best to unwrap the package while it is still hot as when it cools down the gutta sometimes sticks to the paper.


After fixing (especially steam fixing) you will notice how vibrant your colors have become. Rinse the silk in warm soapy water to remove any excess dye and also to remove water based gutta. Some colors run more than others and it is not unusual to have excess dye washed out at this stage especially navy blue and red.

After washing I always iron my silks while they are still damp. You can iron your silk with a steam iron or an ordinary iron on a medium setting. If your silk has metallic or colored gutta on it, make sure you iron on the reverse side.


If you ever use solvent based gutta on your work you will need to remove it by either soaking it in white spirit or having it dry cleaned. Do check before sending any of your silks to the dry cleaners that the colored or metallic gutta that you have used can be dry cleaned, check on the bottle for the manufacturers instructions.

(Things have changed alot since I first wrote the. Now a days many dry cleaners use different methods and might not work to remove solvent based gutta. ) See class on materials for more on this.

with Francine Dufour Jones