Diversity is the spice of life – and it is this that sustains my passion for what I do.
Since working with natural dyes and contact printing I have discovered more about the wide variety of silk fabrics because silk takes up plant dyes so beautifully. In fact the botanical dyes almost seem to nurture or condition the silk and make it’s lustre even more exquisite. Here are a variety of silks I use and a bit about how each one works for me in the natural dye and eco printing process.
Silk chiffon is a sheer fabric with a crepe-like texture. It has a soft, more matt surface and a beautiful drape. Eco-prints on it have a watercolour quality and colours are slightly subdued compared to other silks.
Raw silk or silk noil – cutch, cotinus, maple leaves, coreopsis
Raw silk is made from the short fiber left over from the silk spinning process. It has a gentle drape much like linen, a nubby texture and no lustre. However I like it and use it a lot because it takes up dyes really nicely and eco-prints are clear with possibilities for interesting colours not seen in other silks. (like the blue greens I arrived at in the piece shown above). Another quality of this fabric is that it has a beautiful gentle smell and it reminds me of the silkworms I used to keep as a child growing up in South Africa.
Silk charmeuse is stunningly luxurious! It has a beautiful buttery lustre and a sensuous drape. I have found that eco-prints can appear almost blurry on this silk and not always consistent, but natural dye colours can be beautifully rich. No doubt about it though, this silk is shimmery shiny and everyone loves it.
This is a really lovely silk to work with. It has a crepe like texture but more subtle, like suede leather. The lustre is soft, pearly and mysterious and the drape has some weight to it. The detail of prints on this fabric is really amazing – some of the prints that it produces appear photographic.
I think this is the silk I am drawn to the most – crepe de chine – also shown in my first image in this post. It has a softly textured surface which gently catches the light. There is a substantial weight to this silk but it drapes gracefully and luxuriously. The lustre of this silk reminds me of the gentle glow of the wax bloom on grapes and plums. I enjoy the detail in the ecoprints on this fabric and the surprising variety in colour, especially it’s affinity for purples and pinks and warm pastels. Prints can sometimes appear like painted watercolour and other times with startling detail.
This is the only silk blend I have tried with natural dyes and because it is also a protein fibre scouring and mordanting are the same as the other silks. This soft lightweight fabric has a textured surface which makes for a more watercolour effect in the plant prints. It has a beautiful soft drape and not much shine from the silk, but it has a richness as it catches the light. Sometimes there is a 3D effect of prints on this fabric which is an interesting quality – you can see this in the rose leaves in my photo.
Silk habotai, also known as ‘china silk’ is a fabric I have used a lot in the making of my reusable food bags so because I had it around I started working with it first when making eco-prints and natural dye experiments. It is a classic silk fabric with silky shimmer and drape. It can be surprisingly versatile and strong. As you can see in my example above it can be screenprinted with delicate lines that don’t bleed (I have used walnut and logwood here) prints can vary from watery to very clear – a drier eco-print method can facilitate a clearer print. I use it a lot for accents and ruffles on big shawls as it is very lightweight and economical when you need lot’s of fabric. The image below shows a lighter weight silk habotai with a more watery effect.
Last but by no means least is this amazing silk fabric. Flat crepe silk has a shimmery shine which is almost luminous. I wrote about this piece in my last post ‘Madder and Mother of Pearl’. The way that the plant colours interact with this silk is sometimes astonishing. They seem to make the fabric glow from within. It actually has a very subtle texture like crepe but the texture has been flattened – hence the term ‘flat crepe’. This silk drapes somewhat like the charmeuse, with a soft buttery coolness.
Some of the silk I would still like to try are pongee, dupioni, silk velvet and one of my favourite blended fabrics which I used a lot with fiber reactive dyes: hemp silk.