Painted silk may be a framed work of textile art hanging on a wall, or a floaty scarf draped across your shoulders, but it might also be an elaborately constructed 18th-century gown such as this beautiful example below. This stunning museum piece has been carefully restored providing quite a challenge for the conservators at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
The silk of this sack back gown was woven and painted in China and then shipped to England where it was made into the dress. The silk was painted with paint which sat on the surface of the weave. A process that allowed for free form decoration, but not the colour fastness associated with dyeing as the surface paint could wear away.
Painting with dyes that soaked into the cloth dyeing the silk fibres became possible following the 19th-century Industrial Revolution and the discovery of dyes that could be fixed with steam and not just using dye baths thus allowing for the fixing of dyed patterns printed or painted. Below left, the 1960s George Halley dress has been hand painted with silk dyes, and the painterly silk of Anna Wintour’s dress is dyed even though it looks like painted brushstrokes. I thought it was interesting to see American Vogue’s Editor, Anna Wintour, wearing such a striking and glamorous dress that has a couture appearance yet a definite ‘arty’ feel.
I have just finished a commission for painted silk that will be made into a Prom dress. Of course, no photographs allowed until after the event so here are some shots of work in progress and the finished scarves painted with dyes!