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The painting. How is it done?

Updated: Nov 21, 2020

A central element to all my designs is the handmade painting which decorates the plain silk fabric, be it taffeta, organza or satin and adds character to each garment.

The base for painting is very important as well, not just a personal preference. For the painting to adhere to the texture, this must have certain qualities, like a resilient fiber to support the paint and the distortion that it may cause. It will also have to behave well when steaming which is required to fix the paint and bring the fabric weave back to it's original shape and to be non stretch, so that the painting does not develop any cracks in time.

Once these conditions are met, the trial and error phase begins. Mixing and matching the paint types with the different fabrics and different colors of fabric is something that does become more intuitive in time, but it still requires testing each time. Some paint may look wonderful on a fabric...and on another not even show or even look dirty. Opaque white will look lovely on many colors of organza, but look plastic-like on taffeta. A bit of shimmer will complement a taffeta but look like glitter on organza. And yes, often times the best solution is mixing the pigments to achieve the look you were going for and sample making becomes a necessity.

hand painted silk taffeta with gold
Gold painted leafs on silk taffeta

When it comes to fabrics, silk taffeta allows for very intricate work and you can modulate the paint to bring forward the highlights and fade it to form the shadows. While this principle is applied to all fabric painting, taffeta can be treated as a canvas. If you are so inclined, painting a detailed portrait on this can be an achievable goal.

When painting a dress made of taffeta, I can finish the dress and set it on a mannequin. Because of its thickness and of the underlining, paint won't go through to the lining (although in the case of light colors, I may opt to attach the lining after).

This is great because I can see where I will place each element and even use some chalk or pins to mark the places where they should go, especially helpful when painting a symmetrical distribution or developing a new pattern.

When painting silk organza, a different approach is required. First off all, the fabric needs to be stretched at all times, while you paint and until the paint dries. I personally find it best to do this by using an embroidery hoop and doing most of the painting flat on the table. Otherwise you have to hold the hoop until the painting dries each time to avoid any marks on the rest of the dress and this can take quite a long time. But this is also an unavoidable thing when completing the paint located at the waistline and this step is indeed very time consuming.

hand painted silk organza
Painting the train of an organza gown

After placing the sewn fabric on the mannequin, I use chalk to mark the areas that will be painted and then take all the fabric, place it on the table and set to work. Also a daunting task because after almost a week of painting, you still don't really have a dress and you can continue to sew it only after you are almost done with this step.

Painted silk organza is indeed lovely and if you play with the consistency of the paint, you can achieve interesting effects.

hand painted kimono
The painted back panel of a silk kimono

Another fabric that is a good base for painting is silk satin. This will also have to be stretched while painting and a hoop may leave traces. An embroidery frame may be more suitable but it is a bit more complicated as you have to trace and paint the pieces before cutting them and completing the garment.

I use this technique to paint the kimonos as they are made from larger pieces of fabric and I can create a more elaborate design on the back panel.

All in all, painting on a fabric requires a lot of patience and a steady hand, as all touches of a brush that are made on it are permanent. The second or third layer of paint when retouching will dramatically improve the aspect of the painting and give a more finished look. This is also achieved with the final steaming, when the paint becomes part of the fabric's fibers and looks more vivid and smooth as it is finally integrated in the whole garment.

Until next time,


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