How to Clip A Scarf Into A Frame for Silk Painting


There are many ways to stretch a scarf for silk painting. The object is to gently stretch it taut into a frame and lay it flat. That will give it stability while you work and keep it from sagging and touching your table top. The dye will be able to penetrate underneath the clips so you’ll have even dyeing all around the edges, and the scarf won’t touch the stretcher bars so no dye gets transferred.

There are several kinds of frames and clips, and ways to attach those clips to your frame. I’ll be showing you two of my favorite ways to stretch a scarf for painting.

In my ebooks, we use wooden stretcher bars for artists canvas and rubber bands attached to bulldog clips. Bulldog clips are the kind used for name tags and lanyards. You can also use plastic coated wire clips or binder clips. You can use any kind of clip that will hold your silk without tearing it.

If you’re using a stretcher bar frame like we used in MySilkArt eBook 1: Silk Painting Basics for Beginners, your bars should be about 6 inches longer than your scarf. In the ebook we use 22-inch scarves and 28-inch stretcher bars (they are not adjustable). You need a couple of inches between the edge of the scarf and the bar to get your hand in so you can work the clips.

But if you plan to paint scarves of different sizes, it’s better to use an adjustable frame.
This is the method I use most of the time. These are adjustable wooden stretcher bars held together by bolts and wing nuts. To find out how to make and use these, check out my previous blog from August 2013, Making and Assembling an Adjustable Silk Painting Frame.

When you assemble your frame, give yourself an inch and a half to 2 inches of space all around the scarf so you can reach in and work the clips. In the video, we’re using a 36-inch square scarf and I’ve assembled the frame for about a 40-inch square of space in the middle.

You’ll be attaching bulldog clips to string, which will be wrapped around pins pushed into the frame. Start by placing stainless steel push pins along where the scarf will go from corner to corner, about 5 inches apart or so. Don’t use plastic bulletin board pins, they will fall out. Get heavy duty stainless steel push pins, available where silk painting supplies are sold. I found mine at Go around and give each pin a tap or two with a small hammer to make sure they’re in securely. Place a small block or jar lid underneath the top bars of the frame to give them support from the bottom while you hammer. Don’t hammer the pins all the way in, just enough to make sure they don’t pop out.

Now you’ll need to cut your cotton string into pieces about 20-22 inches long. Use string that has texture so that it can grab onto itself when you wrap it around a pin. If the string is smooth, it will slip and won’t work. Use twisted cotton twine.

Bend the string in the middle and push it through the hole in the clip, then pull the rest of the string through the loop and pull it tight. Tie a knot in each end to keep it from unravelling.

You can just leave the strings in the clips forever, that way they’ll be ready to use the next time you want to paint a scarf.

Next, you’ll clip in the corners of your scarf. Start by attaching the clips on one corner and try to keep the scarf in the center of the frame. Now wind the string around the corresponding pins, letting the string overlap itself on the pin a few times to hold it. Let your loops stack on top of each other up the pin shaft. Don’t tie a knot in the string, it will hold because of the friction of the string. Believe me, you don’t want to have to fool with knots on every pin, this would get very tedious and it’s unnecessary. This is a fast and easy method that works. Do all four corners. Adjust where you need to to center your scarf in the frame.

Now do the same thing along one side of the scarf; attach the clips to the silk, then wrap the strings around the pins. Keep the clips on just the hem. Go to the opposite side and clip it in. Then do the other two sides.

Your scarf should be stretched taut but not tight. You just want it suspended above your work surface without sagging, not stretched as tight as a drum. You’ll probably need to place blocks under each corner before you start painting; the silk will get heavier and sag as it gets wet and you want to keep it from touching your table top. You can also rinse your clips when you finish and take your scarf out of the frame; this will keep any dye that got on the clips from transferring to the next scarf you paint.

Thanks for watching, I hope this was helpful. Happy silk painting!

  • Lyn Bristol

    This is great!!! I have been using rubber bands and safety pins to keep my fabrics together, with lots of rubber bands (well, they do burst). I will definitely try this method, even with my PVC stretcher frames: I change the width poles depending on the project I am working on, but I also use wooden stretcher frames as well. Now to find a way to tie the strings effectively on to the PVC poles!! I know I will find a way.

  • pglose

    Hmmm. It might work to clip the strings to your pvc pipes? Just wrap them around the pipe, twist them together, and put a clip at the twist.

  • Diane

    I currently use rubber bands and Lyn is right, occasionally they do break. Think I will try out the string. Thanks again for another great idea.

  • Stevie Black

    Great site here, but the thumbtacks and bulldog clips are a difficult mix to get the tension measured correctly. And then there’s the need to change for slightly (or greatly) different sizes? And what about damage to the edges of the silk; whether hand-rolled, machine-edged or raw?

    Adriana Mederos, a Venezuelan artist/designer, has come up with a truly innovative solution to hooking the silk in multiple places easily and with NO damage -and- getting the tension exactly right for each and every piece. Check out the blog post I did about her process and see the photos of her hanging system here:

    Looking forward to following the discussions here. Thanks for the forum!

    Stevie Black

    • pglose

      Hi Stevie! Thanks for sharing your questions, comments, and the link to your blog post. To answer your concerns about the pushpin/clip method, you should use bulldog clips or binder clips and NOT alligator clips (alligator clips are often used in electronics). The alligator clips have zig-zag teeth and could possibly tear your silk. If you are using safety pins, like in your blog images, you need to be extra careful not to stretch your silk too tightly before painting. I have been using bulldog clips for 18 years and have never had any damage to the silk edges. Measuring the tension is easy; provide just enough tension on the silk in the frame so that it doesn’t sag down onto your work surface.

      The flexible cording used in your blog images looks like a great idea, but is the frame adjustable? The advantage of the string/clip method is that you can adjust your frame to absolutely any size you need with complete flexibility. You do have to pin, clip and adjust each string individually, and that does take some time, but wrapping the textured string around the pins instead of tying knots helps cut the time in half. It’s just a time-consuming process, like most other steps in silk painting.

      A good compromise might be to attach that flexible cording all the way down one edge of each individual stretcher bar, with clips threaded on; that way your frame is adjustable to any size and you get the advantage of pre-attached clips. I just might try that someday! There are so many ways to stretch silk for painting, depending on materials, workspace, and preferences. Thanks for sharing your fresh ideas! –Pamela