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So You Want To Make Your Own Vertical Stovepipe Steamer?

I wrote a post on my other blog several years ago, but was just asked to create a new document for the Silk Painters group on Facebook.  So I thought I'd share it here!

Making your own Stovepipe Steamer is relatively easy to do and certainly cost effective!  To buy one new (and made specifically for silk paintings) will easily cost you over $1000 bucks.... but making one yourself can cost under $100 (mine was less than $50!).

I've had several people ask: Why do you want a Stovepipe Steamer?  Can't you just use a pot and steaming basket on your stove?
Both are good questions!
Yes you can use a pot and steaming basket on your stove.  But I personally, don't care for the idea of the chemicals/dyes/etc being in my kitchen. They are NOT good eats (to borrow from Alton Brown). Plus if you use a steaming basket in a pot, you have to constantly watch the water levels.  And you don't have a lot of space, which means you're probably only steaming 1 item at a time.  And also due to the cramped space, you're having to roll your silk up in a long tube, and then roll the tube up into a coil - in order to get it to fit within the pot and steaming basket.  I've no doubt, I'd be steaming in creases which would be hard to get out. Which leads to why you want a Stovepipe Steamer...

A Stovepipe Steamer sits over a big pot of water.  So your water levels are easier to manage (and require less watching).  The stovepipe is nice and long.  This means you can simply roll up your silks and not have to coil them up.  Plus, because it's a much larger steaming area, you can roll up several silks at a time for steaming purposes.  So it's more efficient - which is always a bonus.
So what supplies do you need in order to make your own Stovepipe Steamer?

  • Stove Pipe (also referred to as Galvanized Duct Pipe) 4-6 feet in length (for example, Lowes has 10 inch diameter pipe in 5 foot lengths for about $15.00 in the U.S.)
  • A round Multi-cooker, Rice/Food Steamer with a removable lid & variable temperature control. For easiest setup, the cooker you select should be slightly larger in diameter than the duct pipe you are using.  FYI, I found mine at a thrift store for $5.00  
  • Insulation blanket (like those used around water tanks).  Fiberglass is best, but I used Reflectix because I am allergic to fiber glass (if you use Reflectix, you must use 2-3 layers of it around your pipe because Reflectix is not as good of an insulator as Fiberglass is!
  • Duct Tape 
  • Old towels 
  • A board a few inches longer than your duct pipe diameter. 
  •  A few rubber bands (not required, but helpful!) 
  • Chain and a couple double-ended bolt snaps (also known as dog-chain connectors) work great, but carabineers would work well too. 
  • A tall, narrow fabric bag (or you could make a chicken wire or plastic mesh holder) – I use a king-sized pillowcase which I cut in half and sewed up the cut-side.  The bag should be no more than 4 feet long and about 4-6 inches in diameter if using a 5-foot pipe (you would want a shorter bag if you’re using a 4 foot pipe!).  Note – 1 pillowcase makes 2 bags 
  • Some twine/narrow-rope (to run through the hem of the opening of the bag- so you can pull it closed.

·         In addition to those items, you'll also need a few more things to do the actual steaming:

  • A thermometer (a battery-operated, food thermometer works great)
  • Dowel rod, pipe, or other round rod/pipe about 1-2 inches in diameter and about the same length as the narrow fabric bag below. 
  • Newsprint (also known as packing paper) or clean, white sheets, or linen (or other washable cloth) 
  • Masking tape or painter’s tape 
  • Timer
You'll also need to use a few tools:

  • Metal Sheers or tin snips 
  • Leather Gloves 
  • A drill 
  • A sewing machine if you are making your own steaming bag.
  • A step-stool (to make it easier to place the steaming bag inside the stovepipe steamer)
  The Instructions:

  • ·         Get your pipe and put it together (unless you’re lucky enough to have that done in the hardware store) by pressing the flat/sharp side into the folded-seam side. (WEAR GLOVES!  THOSE THINGS ARE SHARP!).  Once the seam is closed, you may need to roll the pipe around and press on it to even out the roundness of the shape.  (picture courtesy of – please note, that you will probably want to do this step on the ground or on a very sturdy surface, it is not advisable to hold the pipe and put it together like the picture is demonstrating!)
  •  Next, make sure the duct pipe fits into (and stands solidly) inside the steamer/cooker.  If it does not, you will need to bend the crimped end so that the pipe sits snuggly inside the cooker. 
  •  Now that the pipe is sitting snuggly in the cooker/steamer, make a mark on it showing where the top of the cooker/steamer hits the pipe.   Also make a mark about eye-level (this is where the thermometer will go) 
  •  Take the pipe out and cut a hole in the pipe with tin snips (you will need to drill a hole first before the snips can cut the hole).  The hole will need to be big enough for you to pour water through it (I cut about a 3-inch square hole – and use a garden-watering-can to pour in water if needed during steaming) 
  •  Find the mark you made that was at eye-level.  Drill a small hole there (it needs to be big enough for your thermometer to fit through). 
  • Using tin snips (and wearing gloves!), cut 2 notches in the top (on opposite sides of the pipe) of your duct pipe, for your board to sit in. The board should sit down below the top rim of the pipe so that you can place a lid on top of the pipe.  The board is what you will hang the bag holding your silks from – it is important that the board or pipe is secure, if your silks fall into the water while steaming, it would be a tragedy! 
The top of my steamer with notches cut out
  • Place your board across the pipe into the notches.   
  • Then place rubber bands on the board where it sits outside of the duct pipe (this will help keep the board in place and prevent accidental slips!)  
  • Now wrap the insulation blanket around the pipe and attach with duct tape.  The blanket should be above the line where the pipe fits into the cooker/steamer.  Once wrapped, you will want to cut a flap over the hole where you add water, and cut a hole where the thermometer will go into the pipe.  I used duct tape to attach my insulation to my stovepipe.  I also used duct tape to cover the cut edges - because they are sharp and I am clumsy! 
  •  Next you will need to create your hanging bag. Cut up the middle of the bag (making 2 long, narrow cases).  Sew up to the hem to make your bag (but don’t sew the hem! The open hem can be used to slide a string through to make cinch-sack!)

  •          The last thing you will need to do is connect your chain to the board and to make sure your chain length lets the bag dangle down in the center of the pipe.  I also use a rubber-band to prevent the chain from slipping on the board.   The bag should be about a foot ABOVE the top of the cooker/steamer!  You DO NOT want the bag to get splashed while steaming!! 
The basic stovepipe steamer setup.
Using your stovepipe steamer:

1.       Fill the steamer/cooker with water and set the temperature so that the water is gently boiling (you want a good deal of steam, but little-to-no splashing!)
2.       Lay down 3 sheets of newsprint or fabric, then place your silk painting on it making sure the painting is not near the edges of the newsprint or fabric
3.       Place 3 more sheets of newsprint or fabric on top of the silk.  (you can place another silk painting and then 3 more sheets of newsprint, and do this several more times – so you can steam multiple paintings at one time).
4.       Once you have your layers of newsprint and silks (making sure they are nice and even, and the newsprint and silks should all lay flat!), make sure your last/top layer is newsprint.  Then place your dowel-rod on top of your layers.  Roll the entire layers of newsprint and silk tightly around the rod.  Use painter’s tape or masking tape to secure. 
5.       With the dowel-rod still inside the roll of newsprint and silk, slide the bundle into your steaming bag.  Once the newsprint & silk bundle is inside the bag, pull your dowel-rod out.
6.       You now need to attach your steaming bag to your chain (which should be attached to the wood bar that will hang across your steaming pipe!).  MAKE SURE YOUR BAG IS SECURELY ATTACHED TO THE CHAIN!  If the bag falls off of the chain during steaming, your silks will be ruined!!
7.       Wrap the bottom of the bag and the top of the bag with aluminum foil (this will prevent splashes from below and drips from above from falling on your bundle and ruining your silks!)
8.       Carefully hang lower the bag down into the pipe and position the wooden bar into the notches at the top of the pipe. 
9.       Wrap the steamer/cooker lid in towels and place on top of the steaming pipe.
10.   Insert your thermometer into the hole you previously drilled in the pipe and check your temperature (I just leave mine in and then turn it on to check the temperature).  You want to check the temperature occasionally to make sure it’s hovering near 180 degrees Fahrenheit.  If it’s too low, your dyes won’t set.
11.   Set your timer for the amount of time required by your dye manufacturer (commonly 1-3 hours).
12.   Make sure you check your water levels occasionally!! You do not want your steamer/cooker to run dry!! – this will damage the cooker as well as potentially affect your silks!
13.   Once your timer goes off, you can turn off the steamer/cooker and remove the silks from the pipe.  You should follow your dye-manufacturer’s instructions regarding letting the silks cool/rest, as well as washing out your silks.


  1. Hi! Thank you so much for this it’s so helpful. Does a crockpot or instant pot work?


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