Silk Banner Workshop – Part 2 – Painting and More Tips!

Making silk banners and flags can be exciting, rewarding and fun. In part II, we’ll continue information about how to make silk banners and flags.

Your silk fabric is prepared, your artwork has been traced with gutta, and your gutta has dried. I realized, after I had published the previous edition of the Silk Banner workshop that I may not have placed enough emphasis on how important it is to make sure that your gutta is PERFECT. What exactly do I mean by perfect? If the gutta lines are too thin the silk fabric dye may be able to “sneak out” of the area inside the gutta. Remember, this system works like a coloring book. If you want crisp lines and edges you have to stay inside the lines.

The gutta lines should generally be about 1/8 inch wide. Slight unevenness is not a problem, but any spots that are thin or any gaps MUST be repaired and allowed to dry BEFORE you use your dyes.

COLOR! – Now it’s time for color for your silk banner! I recommend small disposable plastic cups to hold small quantities of dye while you are painting. You can wash them if you want, but if they aren’t cleaning up well enough, you can always throw them away.

You can use regular paint brushes or disposable foam paint brushes to apply the dye. Have a selection of brush sizes to make it easier to control the application of the dye. The disposable foam brushes are really good for painting large open areas of color. Be sure to rinse the brushes thoroughly before you resuse them. I always check my brush by squeezing it gently with a WHITE paper towel. If there is any dye left in the brush it will show up on the paper towel.

This picture shows our work table in between uses. Note the two by fours on the table. They are NOT used while the artwork is being traced onto the silk fabric, but they are critical during the painting process. The dye will go through the fabric. If the silk banner is in contact with the table surface, the dye will run along the table and “escape” from the areas where you want it to be. This will cause blotches of color where you don’t want them. Note that the surface of the table is covered with a vinyl table cloth. Whenever a banner is removed from the work space, you need to lift it straight up so that any dye that is on the table top will not be smeared on to the banner where you don’t want it. You need to check to make sure that no dye is left behind on the table surface. Wash the table and dry it if you need to. Paper towels are your friend! Dye from the table will transfer to the next banner that you work on there.

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Patience is a virtue! Take your time and plan which area of the banner you will paint first. DO NOT RUSH! Do NOT overload your brush – a drip becomes a permanent “feature” on your banner. It is better to walk around the table or move the banner frame to give better access to all areas of the banner than it is to do a lot of reaching. Remember that if you move the banner frame for better access you need to lift it straight up and make sure the table surface is clean before you put it back in place on the table. If you want to you can cover portions of the banner that you must reach across with a piece of paper or plastic. Just remember that the dye underneath the paper or plastic MUST be dry, or you may transfer dye where you don’t want it.

Make sure your hands are always clean – hand lotion can add oils to the silk and prevent absorption of dye. Spots of dye on your hands can transfer to the silk where you don’t want it.

If you are painting a large area of color on your silk banner, it is preferable to keep a “wet edge” on your dye. That means try to keep all of the edge of the area where you are adding the dye damp with dye. If your environment is particularly dry, or hot, or both, this may not be possible. The result will be a slightly blotchy colored area. DO NOT FREAK OUT! Once the entire area is painted with dye, you can add a second coat. This coat will even out the intensity of the color and eliminate most of the variations. Remember, if you are making a silk banner or flag that is designed to be hung on a pole and blow in the wind, most mistakes will be “invisible” because the banner will be moving most of the time!

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Here is a silk banner in process at our last workshop.  Note the white PVC frame, the rubber bands with binder clips, and how nice and straight the edges of the fabric appear. Remember, having the silk fabric under even tension is a key to making a great looking silk banner. When the designs were particularly complex, or large, we found that we got better results if we allowed the banners to dry in between painting the different sections. In this case we knew that we were going to put our baronial colors around the outside of the silk banner (white, blue and green squares). This area of the banner was allowed to dry before the center design was painted onto the banner. In general, it is best to wait until an area of color is dry before you paint the area next to it. If you drip a drop of dye on a dry area it will generally NOT spread very far, and you may even be able to reduce the “damage” by blotting it gently with a paper towel. If the new dye is dripped onto an area of color that is still wet the drip with “run” quickly through wet dye and make a much bigger mess.

This picture shows a long banner in process. Each section of color was allowed to dry individually before the next area was painted. Note the frame and how the rubber bands and binder clips were used to hold the edges of the fabric in a nice straight line. Painting one section at a time also allowed us to make design decisions as the banner progressed.

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Setting the Dye – Once the dyeing of the silk banner is complete, the dyes have to be set.  Setting the dyes makes then “water proof. If you don’t set the dyes, they will wash out the first time that they get wet. I actually know some folks who spent a considerable amount of time painting some truly lovely silk banners, which they did not set. They took them to an event and hung them on poles. It rained. They watched in dismay as all of their beautiful handiwork “melted” off of the banners. You don’t want to do that!

Each type of dye will have specific setting requirements. Be sure to read your instructions THOROUGHLY before you use a dye or paint. The products that we used, Dye-na-flow silk dye and Seta-silk silk paint,  both need to be heat set with an iron. I have friends who have heat set dyes successfully in a clothes dryer, but I also have friends who have had problems with the dryer overheating the gutta. This caused the gutta to transfer to random locations leaving a black or silver mark.

I always use an iron to set the dyes on silk banners. The instructions for our products suggest that you let the dye dry for 24 hours and then iron each section of the silk banner for 2 to 3 minutes. The banner is placed face down on the ironing board. I prefer to place a piece of fabric, like an old sheet, under the banner. Use a pressing cloth – another piece of clean disposable fabric on the top of the banner. You should work in small areas, moving in a circular motion so that you don’t scorch the silk. The idea is to have each section of silk stay hot for a full 3 minutes to ensure that the dye sets correctly.

heat setting a banner

Once the dye has been heat set, you should wash the banner in hot water with Synthrapol. This special detergent will lift away any dye that has not bonded properly to the fibers. I usually air dry my banner.

Now all you need to do is attach ties to the edge of the silk banner and put the banner on a pole. There are many ways to hang a banner, and as we discussed in Part 1 of this article, how you are going to hang the banner should be a part of your design. The banners that we made were all designed to have ties put on an edge and then the ties were tied to a banner pole. This diagram shows just a few of the options that you have for hanging your banner.

banner example

Random tip. Say that you want to have a silk banner that is not a square or rectangle, or you have a piece of silk that is not hemmed. You want to have the freedom to do creative things, but you DON’T want to have to hand hem the edge of the silk. What can you do to keep the silk from fraying and have it look good? Gutta! This simple diagram shows the process.

Gutta seams

In this case I am simply creating two long thin banners.Draw two lines of gutta and cut between them! Obviously you need to let the gutta dry before you do any cutting. I also recommend doing all of your painting of dyes before you cut the banners apart. If you are simply putting an edge on a single piece, then just trace as close as you can to the edge of the fabric with the gutta. The gutta acts like a super Fray Check!

I hope that this blog inspires you to make a silk banner of your own. The Dharma Trading Co. website has plenty of ideas, tips, and tutorials, especially if you are looking for something beyond the basic “how to”.  I have included a couple of other pictures that I hope may clarify some of the previously mentioned processes.

This picture shows the square banner with the center area design painted in.

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Here is an example of a piece of art that we used for a banner. You can see that the artwork is simple with clear lines that have been traced with a magic marker. This was the art for the horse banner in the previous picture.

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Silk Banner Workshop – Part 1- Supplies, Artwork and Getting Started

I just love the look of silk banners and flags fluttering in the breeze. It doesn’t matter what kind of silk banner or flag that you want to make, the techniques are the same.

Silk Banner done like a Stained Glass window.

Silk Banner done like a Stained Glass window. (Photo credit: Jeff / Godfrey)

Our Medieval reenactment group recently held a silk banner workshop, and someone who could not attend asked for instructions. Well, we didn’t really have any “How to Make a Silk Banner or Flag” instructions since we were just all working together at someone’s house. I decided that I should write a set of basic instructions. Obviously these instructions will work for any sort of silk banner or flag, not just one designed to display heraldry. Silk flags can add a cheerful touch to your yard, garden, or event. It’s quick and easy to make your own unique silk banner or flag.

Gorgeous silk banner

Gorgeous silk banner (Photo credit: litlnemo)

Please read the instructions all the way through BEFORE you start!

First let me say that the process of making a silk banner is actually rather simple. It is  MUCH easier to show someone than it is to talk about how to do it. What makes the difference between an OK banner and a great silk banner is planning and attention to detail.  I am in no way affiliated with any of the suppliers listed in this article – they just have, in my experience, the best supplies for doing this sort of project.

The Planning You need supplies – silk, dyes, and special soap for washing out the extra dye when you are done “painting” your banner. The best source that I’ve found for these things is Dharma Trading –  www.dharmatrading.com  . They have lots of silk, either pre-hemmed, or in big rolls – your choice. We bought the pre-hemmed pieces, one less thing to hassle with. We wanted to make it simple so that everyone would be able to make a silk banner and use it quickly and easily. All folks needed to do was add some ties along the “pole edge” and it was ready to use. If you want to sew a “sleeve” for the pole to slide into on you flag, I recommend that you sew the sleeve, and test it with the pole that you want to use, BEFORE you place and “paint” the artwork.

The Artwork – You need to think about which direction the silk banner will be hung. If you are making a medieval-style banner, you need to decide whether you are going to simply place your heraldry on the banner, or whether you are going to use elements of your heraldry for a more artistic display. If you are making a modern art flag or banner, the same considerations apply to the design. Think about it. Think about the colors and how you will create them. Remember white is not painted on – it is left clean and dye free. You need to plan for that.

The ideal situation is to have full sized artwork that has good bold lines. The first workshop that I did I used a copy machine to blow up my pictures to the correct size for the banner that I would be working on. I made sure that all of the details showed clearly in the artwork. Trying to draw your artwork freehand is possible, but most people will be disappointed with the results. Either the artwork will be tiny on a big banner, or the art will simply not turn out well. At the last workshop I attended we had the advantage of having a digital projector connected to a computer. Artwork could simply be projected onto the wall and enlarged or shrunk down to exactly the size that was necessary for the size of the banner. The artwork was traced with a pencil onto a piece of white butcher paper. The pencil lines on the butcher paper were then carefully traced with a felt-tipped marker (I used a Sharpie brand medium point marker). This careful tracing allowed us to fine tune the design and make it really easy to see through the silk. I also brought a piece of artwork with me that I had printed out ahead of time. Avery Dennison, the folks who sell a zillion types of labels and such, make a banner kit, which comes with software. This software allows you to design banners with pictures and lettering. I printed out a picture using this software.  It basically divides the picture into multiple pieces of 8 ½ x 11” paper. When you tape the pieces of paper together you get a large picture, which is perfect to use as a guide for making a banner.

The Colors – We used Dye-na-flow brand silk dye for all of our colors. White is achieved by not painting the white silk and black uses Setasilk Ebony Black silk paint. If you use black silk dye you will get a dark gray instead of a true black. For true black you need to use the silk paint. We bought all of the traditional heraldic colors green, blue, red, purple, yellow (for gold), brown (for natural items), black paint, and then the white silk acts as silver. If you’re making a non-heraldic banner, choose the colors that fit your design.

The colors are contained to specific areas with gutta – a gooey substance that comes in a small tube. We bought the Pebeo black and silver Water-based Guttas in tubes. If you do not use gutta, or some other resist, you will get fuzzy edges on your lines. This can create a very lovely affect for artwork, and is used in blending and shading, but for simple heraldic banners we wanted crisp lines, so we outlined each color area with gutta – just like in a kids’ coloring book..

A Frame to Hold SilkOnce you have the colors and silk you will need a frame to hold the silk while you are painting with the dye. Our group has two sets of frames – one made of metal electrical conduit and the other made using PVC pipe. The frames are designed to fit specific sizes of silk pieces, with an area of about 3 or 4 inches open all the way around the fabric. The easiest frames to make are the PVC frames – you simply measure and cut 1 inch PVC pipe and slip on the fittings to hold it all together. DO NOT GLUE THE FRAME. If you glue the frame you will have to store it as a frame forever. If you just slip the pieces of pipe together you can take them apart to store them, which takes way less space.

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This is a picture of the basic PVC frame. This frame was made from left-over scraps from an irrigation project. The blue that you see on the lower right hand corner is dried primer from that project – it does not affect the ability to slip pieces together or take them apart for storage. This next picture shows an up-close of a corner. All you need are straight pieces of PVC pipe and 90 degree corners. They just slip together to make the frame, and pull apart for storage. The only tool that you will need is a PVC pipe cutter or a hack saw for cutting the PVC. If the ends of your PVC pipe are very rough or “hairy” looking you may need to us a little sand paper to smooth them off.

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Our larger frames, which were designed for use with long thin banners, are made from electrical conduit. These frames require the use of a pipe bender to make the corners. A long piece of conduit is bent with rounded corners, using the pipe bender, and then the ends of the conduit are joined with a conduit union. If you are building frames that will be used for a LONG time , such as in a Studio situation, these frames are very sturdy and should last forever if cared for. They must be stored carefully so that they are not bent and they can not be disassembled easily.

The silk fabric should be washed before using to make sure that there is no grease or other items on the fabric that might keep the silk dyes from penetrating the fibers. Once it is dry it will need to be stretched on a frame. The first time I made silk banners we actually sewed the silk onto the frames using a whip stitch with heavy sewing thread. It worked very well. We were able to get even tension on the silk and keep the silk taut, but sewing the silk to the frame is time consuming. The second workshop that I participated in we used large rubber bands (buy the big packs at a big box store or office supply store) and safety pins to stretch the silk on the frame. It worked well, but you need to be very conscious of the tension of the silk fabric.

My new preference for attaching the silk fabric to the frame uses large rubber bands hooked together with binder clips. This approach makes it easy for people who don’t have hand sewing skills. This worked really well because we were able to create very even tension on the silk fabric.

Getting the Silk Fabric Tension Right – If the edge of your silk looks like a series of tall waves, it means that you are putting the silk fabric under uneven tension. The problem is that when the silk fabric is released from the frame, the fabric will return to the natural shape formed by the threads. If the fibers in the fabric get too crooked it will affect your ability to create straight lines and accurate designs. Look really close at the weave of the silk – if the threads do not form an even pattern with the warp and weft of the fabric at roughly right angles to each other you may have trouble with your finished silk banner design.

frame and fiber diagram

Transferring the Design to SiIk Fabric – Once the silk is on the frame, lay the frame down on a clean surface (we used clean tables covered with a disposable plastic table cover) and slide the artwork under the silk and frame. Make sure that your artwork is placed exactly where you want it to be on the silk fabric. If necessary, tape the paper with the artwork to the table so that it lays flat and does not move. Once you have started to trace the design onto the fabric with gutta, it is VERY important to make sure that the frame does NOT slide around on the table surface. If the frame moves while tracing the outline of the design using gutta, you will risk getting gutta on the fabric where you don’t want it. You may also warp your design.

When you are ready to trace your design onto the silk fabric, take the top off of the gutta and carefully cut the tip off the tube to allow the gutta to come out. DO NOT squeeze the tube while you are doing this or the gutta will squirt out like thin toothpaste! Make the cut as small as you dare – you can always remove more of the tube tip if the gutta does not flow fast enough. You will be drawing on the fabric with the gutta – tracing the artwork through the fabric. WARNING! If the tube stops flowing do NOT squeeze harder while you try to draw. You probably have a small lump in the gutta. If you squeeze harder there is a very good chance that you will get a big blob of gutta that will come out all at once. So if the gutta slows down use a pin to clear the lumps. Check the flow of gutta carefully on a piece of paper before you use it again on the fabric. There is no way to remove gutta that is not where you want it to be! Once you have finished tracing the artwork on your silk banner using gutta, the gutta needs to dry thoroughly. Be careful to lift the banner straight up when you take it off of the table in case some of the gutta bled through to the back. You do NOT want to smear the gutta. Allow the gutta to dry until it is no longer tacky. We placed our banners in the sun outside to dry – the combination of a dry environment (Flagstaff, AZ) and the sun helped the gutta dry in about half an hour. If you live someplace that is damp, or the temperature is particularly chlly, you may need to allow the gutta to dry overnight to be sure that it is properly set.

DYES – Here is an exact list of the dye colors and other supplies that we bought for our silk banner project. I have used the same dyes at several workshops, in different parts of the country. The quality is excellent. Remember – for this specific project we were following the rules of heraldry, so we were limited to a specific set of colors. You need to consider carefully what colors you will need for your silk banner. This list was designed to allow about 18 people the opportunity to make 36″x36″ banners.

item

Product name

Color name

Size

Number

Black

Setasilk silk paint

29 Ebony black

 250 ml

1

Yellow

Dye-na-flow

802 yellow gold

8 oz

1

Red

Dye-na-flow

806 Brilliant Red

8 oz

1

Violet

Dye-na-flow

811 Violet

8 oz

1

Blue

Dye-na-flow

814 Azure Blue

8 oz

1

Green

Dye-na-flow

819 Bright Green

8 oz

1

Silver Gutta

Pebeo Water-based Gutta in tubes

11 Silver

2

Black Gutta

Pebeo Water-based Gutta in tubes

12 Black

5

Soap

Synthrapol Low Foam

1 qt

1

Silk

Habotai 8mm  silk scarves

20

Next time – Colors, setting the colors, and MoreTips on Successful Banner Making!

  • Silk Hanging Honoring the Elements
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