SILK PAINTING

Marian modelling 'Hopi Dance' red dress.

‘Hopi Bird Dance’ Patchwork dress in red and cream linen, black viscose, paisley polyester, and hand painted silk panels

Red linen 'Hopi dance' dress, back view with cream linen and black viscose panels.
Red linen ‘Hopi dance’ dress, back view with cream linen and black viscose panels
Red linen, paisley polyester centre panel, lower panels in hand painted silk.

Red linen, paisley polyester centre panel, lower panels in hand painted silk.

Side view red linen, and black viscose dress, with front and back panels tied at sides.

Side view red linen, and black viscose dress, with front and back panels tied at sides.

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When I coordinate found fabrics to recycle together into a new look garment, I enjoy imagining a new decorative design with them; to contrast with the many plain cottons and linens I use. Hand painting designs on silk is the obvious solution, taking inspiration from the existing colours and any print coordinated with the plains. I was busting to get back to silk painting which I’d developed as a technique in my first Devon workshop back in 1995!

When designing, one has to start from somewhere; taking a few elements and putting them together. I began again, exactly where I had left off, with the inspirations I’d had for the last paint on paper furnishing design I’d done. I’ve always been intrigued by Native American design and recently found images of abstract bird designs of the Hopi Indians applied to pottery. They reached a height of decorative abstraction, distorting their bird designs to fit over any curved pottery surface; a brilliant applied design.

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I have kept these ‘curved’ surface designs almost exactly as the originals, but applied them to a two dimensional surface of Habotai silk. It was an obvious decision to put feathers around the Hopi birds but I needed another element. I decided on a selection of Native American quotations intended to stand out in cream.  However, I wrote them with a water based guta resist, and they were mostly blurred or lost during the steam fixing process; so I embroidered over them. By happy accident this gives another texture, although time consuming. A spirit based guta may work better next time.

Silk painted 'Hopi Bird design' on bib and apron of Pinafore Dress.

Silk painted ‘Hopi Bird design’ on bib and apron of Pinafore Dress.


For the first Hopi Bird design I kept to the natural colours from the pottery inspirations; beige, orange, terracotta and brown, adding a stronger pink. I teamed the final piece with brown cottons and viscose from recycled skirts to make an unusual but charming pinafore dress showing off the silk design in the bib top and apron.

Brown Pinafore dress, pink, orange, and brown silk bib and apron.

Brown Pinafore dress, pink, orange, and brown silk bib and apron.

Brown pinafore dress, layers of brown cotton and viscose, with pink, orange and brown silk Hopi Bird design.

Brown pinafore dress, layers of brown cotton and viscose, with pink, orange and brown silk Hopi Bird design

The second Hopi Bird design uses only stylized birds; in red, beige and black on base white scheme to coordinate with a red linen skirt and black viscose trousers I wanted to use for a long dress.   

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The third Hopi Bird design in white, green and orange, has a grey background, to coordinate with several grey cotton and linen skirts I wanted to use to make a pinafore dress with front silk panel. I wanted to incorporate experimental texture printing, and used dried corn cob leaves glued and varnished to cereal packet cardboard to make a printing pad. Their fibre formation, of quite pronounced ridges, left natural looking printed lines, and although I used an epaississant thickener with gutta, the end result after steaming was mostly a blur, but its still a background texture, which was needed. Again the words were lost after steaming, so I embroidered them.

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I’m looking forward to developing designs with world wide ethnic art including birds, abstraction, and symbols of other indigenous native cultures. 

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