Using A Vertical Steamer to Steam Your Silk Paintings

See May, June, and July 2014 for video demonstrations on how to use a vertical electric steamer.  Steam-setting your silk paintings is essential for bonding dye to fabric.  Home made stove-top steamers are perfect for steaming one or two silk paintings at a time, but If you’ve been painting silk for awhile you might be ready to upgrade to a vertical steamer.  They’re great for steaming big pieces and large quantities of silk, and they’re virtually fool-proof.  If you don’t paint a lot of silk, though, it’s not a necessary investment.  Your faithful little stove-top steamer will continue to serve you just fine.  Another option might be to do a web search on home made vertical steamers.  There are several free, on-line tutorials that will show you how to make your own.

Vertical Electric Steamer

Vertical Electric Steamer

These vertical steamers are available on line, along with a stainless steel core (sold separately) that suspends in the middle and holds your silk wrapped in paper for steaming.  You can search “Vertical Steamer” to find out about specific prices and availability.

 

 

 

Vertical steamer base sitting on a black rolling platform

Vertical steamer base sitting on a black rolling platform

The bottom section contains a heating element.  You pour in water and the element heats the water to create steam, which beautifully and evenly sets the dyes on your silks.

Here you can see the bottom section of the steamer sitting on a black rolling platform that I had custom made.  It makes moving the steamer around much easier.  At the bottom of this post, you’ll find more pictures of the rolling platform.

 

 

Vertical steamer, partially assembled

Vertical steamer, partially assembled

If you want to steam smaller pieces, you can leave off the top section of the steamer when assembling.  The stainless steel mesh core I mentioned above does not come in this shorter length.

If you want to steam without the mesh core, you could wrap your silk and paper around a pvc pipe propped inside the steamer between the support rings in the top and bottom (I found this awkward, risky and not as effective as the mesh core).  You can also roll your silk and paper layers up into a tube shape and poke holes in the top of it to wire it onto the steel circular support ring that fits into the top of the steamer.  Using the mesh core is much easier and gives consistent professional results (I am not trying to sell steamers or mesh cores, that’s just my honest professional opinion).

 

SteamerLidParts

Here are the rest of the parts; white lid, steel support ring, and steel pin.  The pin attaches the core to the support ring.  The support ring sits in the top of the steamer and allows the core (containing your silk) to hang centered in the steamer a safe distance from the water.

 

Here are the pictures of the rolling platform for the steamer.  It’s made of wood, and I’ve never had a problem with it getting so hot that it could catch fire.  Be your own judge on that, if you do make one you could put a tile or other heat-proof surface on the top of it.  The wheels swivel, which makes it very easy to maneuver and roll around.  Also, you can see that it has a little “lip” on the top edge of it to keep the steamer from sliding off when I’m rolling it around.

This rolling platform comes in handy because I store the steamer in the studio but do my steaming in my living room, where it’s easier to load and unload the steamer because of the higher ceiling.

  • Diane

    After steaming my silk, I use a stove top method, my silk comes out with small wrinkles in some areas of the silk. I try to get these wrinkles out with ironing, but they don’t all come out. I iron with a dry iron, and I have even tried the steam setting. Do you have any advice?

    • pglose

      Hi Diane, Mist your silk with water from a spray bottle, let it soak in for a few seconds, and then iron on the steam and silk heat setting. You want your iron as hot as you can get it without smearing the resist lines. Place a towel or protective cloth on your ironing board first (this will prevent gutta from transferring and staining your ironing board), and turn your painting resist-side-down. Do a test corner to see if your resist lines are smearing before you iron the entire piece.

  • karren reyburn

    Hi Pamela, after a three year LOA from silk painting (to study my second love, oil painting) I’m back to the land of intense gorgeous colors….that don’t fade or dull. First thing I perused the web and your name came up so many times! I want to thank you for all the tidbits of concise information. I have a sample of your ebook on my ipad. Don’t feel like a beginner but if you think it will be a good “jump start” I’ll buy. I have a professional steamer but just painted a 5mm 36″x90″ scarf for a shibori I didn’t want to drag out the steamer for. This is so helpful. Thanks, again. Karren

    • pglose

      Hi Karren! I’m thrilled that the info I’ve shared has helped you get back into silk painting. It’s such a joy to be a part of helping someone build skills in such a gorgeous art medium. Thanks for the note, and have fun!

  • Catherine Wilmot

    I have a quick question about the steaming. I’m having trouble finding the correct paper to use, and the person I took a class from won’t disclose what type of paper it is. All she told me is that it’s from papers plus? Would you mind telling me what kind of paper I need so that the steam can penetrate it and I realize also
    you need to use newsprint to line the interface. Your help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you. Catherine

    • pglose

      Hi Catherine, will you be rolling and coiling up your silk for steaming in a pot, or will you steam it in a tube-shape inside a vertical steamer? If you’re rolling it up for a pot, like in my video blog “Steaming Silk on the Cheap” …link: http://www.mysilkart.com/steaming-silk-paintings-on-the-cheap/ … you can use just newsprint. Use two layers on top and also underneath the silk. I get my newsprint online at centralpack.com; it’s 24 inches wide. Try to find it locally if you can, shipping is a lot because of the heavy weight. If you’re rolling your silk up in a tube shape for vertical steaming, you can use two layers of newsprint on top of the silk, and brown builder’s paper underneath the silk to give the roll strength and protection. You only need one layer of the builder’s paper. Yes, the steam will penetrate the thick brown paper just fine (I steam for 3 hours). I get my builder’s paper at Home Depot near the paint department; it’s about $9 a roll. I show you how to roll it up in the blog here: http://www.mysilkart.com/using-a-vertical-electric-silk-steamer-part-2-wrapping-your-silk-paintings-onto-a-core-for-steaming/ …even if you are not rolling onto a mesh core like in the video, you can still make a tube with this silk/paper combination and suspend it inside a steamer; it’s rigid enough to hold up if you tape it well.
      Hope this helps!