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My Gather & Prep Processes For Reclaiming Silks (Part 1 of 3)

My processes for gathering and prepping reclaiming silks for use 
in silk paintings and other art projects (part 1 of 3)

I've had several people ask me what steps I take, when I find a silk item that I want to use for my art. Since you've asked, I thought I'd tell you (I'm always happy to share!).
Silk chiffon overlay
Silk Dupioni

First of all, I usually find my silks at thrift stores and garage sales.  I have found a few on Ebay (that I was willing to pay for) and I've even had a couple of artist friends provide me with some new silk remnants (which is lovely because then I don't have to worry about prepping the silk for use).

(These are pictures of just a few silks which I've found at various thrift stores)   

1) The VERY first thing I do while in the store, is decide IF I can even use the silks I find.  It's important to know how you want to use silk!  Are you painting on it, sewing with it, twisting it, decoupaging it, (the list of options - of things that can be done with silk, is probably quite long!).  For example, the various types of silks respond in different ways to the various techniques I use when painting on silk.  Charmeuse is always lovely and (I think) gives one of the richest-looking paintings possible.  But it can be difficult to use resists with because it is so thick. If you do a lot of resist-work, it may not be the silk for you. On the other hand, chiffon is super-thin.  It tears or pulls if you apply too much pressure with your paintbrush - so it may not be the best if you really like to scrub paint/dye into your silk.  And additionally, I have learned that some silks are not much fun to work with when it comes to mounting the silk after it's been painted.  Originally, I would buy every silk I found.  Now I'm quite a bit more choosy.  
Silk Broadcloth
Silk Crepe

2) Once I have decided IF I am able to use the silk I've found, then I decide HOW I might use it.  I will admit to just buying silk because it's a type I know I will use (like I will ALWAYS buy lovely cream charmeuse).  But sometimes I find a piece that is oddly colored, or has pleats, or perhaps it has a ton of seams (which means either very small pieces of silk for painting, or incorporating the seams into the painting some how).   I usually gravitate towards the lightest-colored silk I can find because painting on silk always looks best when done on white (or as close to white as I can find).  Knowing how you want to use silk will help you decide if the used-silk item you've found, will work for your project.  

3) Then I take a look at the cost of the silk item.  Is it affordable or on sale? Or is it super-expensive simply because it's a name brand?   While I do love to recycle and use reclaimed items in my art as well as other projects, I also know what the basic prices are for brand new silk - and I personally will not pay more for a silk item, than I can get brand new silk.  Keeping those prices in mind helps me control my expenses!  Trust me, it is smart to do your research!! 

Which brings up one other point - KNOW YOUR SILKS!  It is easy (especially when first starting out) to accidentally buy man-made items and trust me, they do NOT dye or paint the way silk does!!  I will have more information about how to tell if silk is real in another post!

Anyways, having gone through steps 1-3, I purchase my silks and happily take them home to hoard for future usage!  

Did I say that I hoard silks? - yup!  Although it is a bit dangerous for my pocketbook to do so!!   I say this because I find that I usually have more silks in storage than I remember buying..and that's a good chunk of money wrapped up (literally) in something I'm not using right now.  But I have noticed a trend that has me inclined to hoard good silks whenever I find them.  The trend can be good or bad depends upon your point of view.  

As I mentioned above, I tend to buy my silks at thrift stores.  I USED to find them EVERYWHERE.. for cheap!  The trend that has me hoarding silks is - I'm not seeing as much used-silk available these days...and prices are really rising. I am going to attribute that to the general public starting to participate more in recycling and up-cycling - and to other like-minded individuals realizing that thrift stores are great sources of natural materials (which they are!).  But this trend of disappearing-quality-goods, also means that stores are becoming savvy and starting to hold back the better goods for sale online or for companies they've contracted with.  Everyone recycling is making me change my own recycling and business practices.  Is that bad? Not if the recycling is having a positive impact on our world.  Is it bad for my art? well... maybe.... I am certainly becoming more resourceful and creative about how and where I obtain my silks.  

My next post will deal with prepping reclaimed silks for use with art - silk painting in particular.    


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