Yes you read that correctly: you can dye silk scarves using tissue paper! But don’t do as I did and race down to the $2 Shop to buy up lots of different colours of tissue paper – the dye in these is usually designed to be colour-fast (although some may not be so you can test them out). You need to use a special tissue paper called ‘Bleeding Tissue Paper‘ or Art Tissue where the dye is specially formulated to ‘bleed out’ when wet. See info on where to purchase below.
Once you have located the right supplies, the process of dyeing your silk scarves really couldn’t be easier – although I share some of my learnings from this.
- Choose the colours you want to use and tear up the tissue paper into a range of different size pieces (or cut into uniform piece if you prefer).
- Lay out your silk scarf onto a flat surface (covered with plastic). You may want to wash the scarf first to remove anything that may affect the dye. Washing or wetting the scarf first will also remove the fold lines, although they can add to the overall effect.
- Fill a spray bottle with some water and add a tbsp of vinegar too to help set the colours.
- Place the pieces of tissue paper onto your scarf in your desired design/layout (leaving white areas in between or not as you prefer). You can lay the whole scarf out flat or fold it in half or multiple times as you wish.
- Put on gloves, then spray with water to soak thoroughly and let the colour migrate to the silk.
- Remove the spent tissue paper.
- Allow silk to dry and then heat set the colour. I used an iron on silk setting but discovered that this didn’t work sufficiently, 20 mins on low heat in the dryer seemed to work.
- Wash using a wool/silk detergent.
What did I learn?
I was delighted with my first attempt! I used a dark blue and 2 shades of pink/purple on a rectangular scarf (folded in half). The colours bled nicely (although the pale pink was a bit paler than I intended); where the tissue pieces overlapped the colours worked together to give different shades; folds and wrinkles in the silk left interesting patterns, and the darker colours bled nicely along some of the wrinkles as well.
My second attempt – not so much! This time I used a large square scarf and decided to go outside my comfort zone with red, orange, yellow and some splotches of pink and purple. The colour palette might have worked out if everything had gone to plan but it didn’t: the paler yellow and pink colours barely showed at all despite my adding an extra layer of tissue paper to try to build the intensity; the red and orange colours were so intense and bled so profusely that they drowned out everything else (and stained my hands as I forgot to put on gloves); and the scarf was much too big for the table that I had so it was difficult to fold it sensibly and meant that I ended up with a 2 part design. In hindsight, there was so much dye intensity that I could easily have folded it in quarters and dyed it all.
I was so optimistic for my third attempt – but no such luck! I went back to the easier to handle rectangular scarf and chose my tried and true colours of light blue, light green, mid green and a touch of the darker blue. I wet the fabric first to smooth out the wrinkles and layered on my tissue paper – it looked amazing! Once I removed the spent tissue paper and went to hang the scarf up to dry, it became clear that the lighter blue and green colours had not fixed to the fabric at all and were just running across the surface while the darker blue was stuck in place. Although it wasn’t what I had intended, I quite liked the resulting effect of pale limey green (with dark blue splotches) but when I washed it I discovered that ironing hadn’t help to set the colour at all and it washed out to almost nothing.
So my take out from this was that all the colours behave quite differently and it is a good idea to try them all out first before attempting anything precious. You can add extra layers of lighter colours to try to build intensity but you may need more than you think. Perhaps blending colours would give a better medium outcome. Next time I would use a bigger work surface so that I could spread the whole scarf out and be able to remove the more intense coloured tissue papers more quickly and try to blot off some of the colour before it took over.
Where to buy supplies:
I bought my silk scarves from Wah Lee’s Asian Trading Company – they have either plain silk or ready made into square or rectangular scarves with sewn edges, available as singles or in cheaper multi-packs. These are inexpensive and a great starting point for your creative projects.
In NZ I was able to buy Bleeding Tissue Paper from Creative Classrooms – available in 10 bright colours only, and yes you can use this to make art creations on canvas so it is perfect for kids projects as well. I would really like to have a wider palette of colours to choose from and have found that Dharma Trading in the US has (or usually has when not affected by COVID) a selection of bright, cool and warm colours and does deliver internationally.
Having watched a video of an artist using a broader colour palette and achieving a beautiful soft rainbow of colours, I would definitely try to access a different type of tissue paper if I was to pursue this more seriously.