How to Stretch Silk for Painting

Before you paint on silk, it must be gently stretched and attached to a frame.  It’s then supported horizontally; most people put it on a table or another kind of support like sawhorses.  There are many different types of frames for silk painting; you can do some exploring on the internet.  If you’d like to see how to make my homemade adjustable stretcher bars (the ones used in this video) refer back to my blog “Making and Using an Adjustable Silk Painting Frame”.

Cut or tear your silk to the size you want for your painting.  Tearing the silk separates it right on the weave, so you get a very straight cut.  That’s nice when you’re pinning the silk to your stretcher bars; it’s easy to see if you have the silk aligned straight on the frame.  I’m aware that in certain sewing circles, tearing fabric is frowned upon.  If you’re going to sew something from your dyed silk, you might want to cut it instead of tearing so the edges look nicer.  I like tearing because it doesn’t damage the silk, and my edges never show since I never sew!

If you are painting a scarf with hemmed edges, you’ll have to clip it to the frame instead of pinning it so the dye can get to the edges of the scarf.  That’s another blog for another month (I don’t think I’ll ever run out of topics to blog about!).

Stainless Steel Push Pins

Stainless Steel Push Pins

Use stainless steel push pins to pin your silk to your wooden frame.  Don’t use the plastic bulletin board push pins; they’re not strong enough to stay put while you’re painting.  The stainless ones have a longer point and are heavy-duty.  They’re sold where silk painting supplies are sold.  I ordered mine from Dharma Trading Company (I am still using the same box I bought back in 1996!).  A box of 100 is about $10.  Here’s the link:

Dharma Trading Company Push Pins 100 Count

Center your silk onto your frame and line up the edge along one side of the frame.  Start with one of the longer sides of your silk.  The silk should overlap the bar by at least 1/2 inch.  Pin the silk to the frame, starting in one corner and placing the pins about 4 to 6 inches apart.  Keep the silk lined up straight along the stretcher bar; the edge of the silk should be parallel to the edge of the stretcher bar all the way down the side.

Use one hand to lightly pull the silk taut as you pin.  Don’t pull it so tightly that the silk strains against the pins.  If you do this, the pins can distort your gutta lines.  The object is to keep the silk from sagging and moving around while you paint it, so it should end up gently and evenly taut on the frame.

When you finish one side, go across and pin in the opposite side.  Keep the silk square on the frame.  If you can, place the pins directly across from each other (this isn’t crucial but I find that it works the best).  I like to start in the middle and pin out to one end, then the other (again, this is a preference and isn’t crucial).  Finish up by pinning in the two remaining sides.

You can use wide masking tape instead of pins to attach your silk to the frame.  It will stick to the silk and the wooden stretcher bars and has worked well for me in the past.  This can be a little tricky; I’ll do another blog someday to show you how.

Go around with a small hammer and give each pin a tap or two to make sure they’re pushed into the frame.  Don’t hammer them in too far or you’ll have to use pliers to remove them, and they’ve been known to come apart in these instances.

Now, you’re ready to do some gutta work or get right into some fun silk painting!

  • Mary Netherton

    Good to know tearing the silk is ok. I would have cut it, taking much more time and probably not as accurate.
    Thanks, great information!

  • Edna Marzano

    Parabens, muito boa sua explicação.