Creating Burn-Out Silk Scarves

A couple of weeks ago a small group of silk painters got together in Marcia Ferris's studio to burn fabric. Not as bad as it sounds... I'm talking about devoré or 'burn out' technique. Devoré is a French word meaning 'eaten'. Basically, you treat a blended fabric with a chemical paste that destroys one type of fiber but leaves the other one intact, thus creating a burned out design.

We started with white velvet scarves that were a blend of rayon (the pile side) and silk (the backing). The devoré paste eats the rayon fibers but leaves the silk intact. In the first few steps (which I forgot to photograph), we created devoré designs by applying the paste with a squeeze bottle, stencil, stamp or brush. When dry, we ironed the scarves to heat-activate the devoré paste. Next, the pile side gets vigorously brushed to remove the burned rayon fibers and voila, there is your design.

Creating devore scarfHere I am brushing off the rayon after my design has been burnt out. The rayon fibers flying about the place are very fine and can be irritating to the eyes and throat, hence the very attractive and high fashion battle gear.

devore scarf designThis a close-up of my design: I applied the paste through a butterfly stencil and free handed swirls all along the scarf. The design is the silk backing showing through the velvet pile. So this is basically etched velvet.

Lunch break: a festive table and delicious leftover Thanksgiving turkey pot pie all provided by Marcia (at head of table). Yummm.

dyeing with alter ego dyesBack to serious business: Chaille and Janine making scarf soup. In the brew are 2 different colors of wonderful magic potions called Alter Ego Dyes. Alter Ego dyes have one formula that dyes the silk only, and another that dyes the rayon only. Along with fixatives, a silk color and a rayon color are mixed and heated. The rayon and silk get dyed at the same time, but different colors - what fun!

Dyeing with alter ego dyesJanine used a deep red for her rayon color and a blue violet for her silk palm frond pattern. Here the silk isn't quite dyed yet but you can make out the devoré design.

Janine Maves devore scarvesEven though the formula we were using was intended for just one scarf, we decided to see what would happen if another one was added after the first one had taken up its dye. Here is Janine's pair. The one on the left is the one you saw above in the pot. The velvet pile is a rich burgundy and the silk burn out design is a beautiful purply blue. The scarf on the right is commercial devoré - i.e. it comes with the design already burned out and this time the rayon has a shiny satin finish over the blue silk. So here the rayon didn't get dyed as deeply as in the first piece but it's still a lovely pinky-coral color. And the silk seemed more than happy with the leftover dye, still retaining a rich blue.

Chaille O'Neal devore scarvesThis is Chaille's pair. Main velvet one on the left with burn out stipes, 'leftover' one on the right. Chaille used a subtle combo of green for the rayon and turquoise for the silk.

Deorah Younglao devore scarfAnd here's my 'failure'. I had chosen the most scrumptious purple for my rayon and turquoise for my silk. In the pot, the purple never showed up but instead the rayon was a royal blue which I was happy to live with anyway. When the scarves are finished cooking they must be rinsed to remove excess dye. Imagine my dismay when I saw ALL of the royal blue wash down the sink, leaving me with this namby-pamby sky blue! It was a mystery. I was sure I followed all the directions. Later we discovered that I had forgotten to put a key ingredient - salt - into my brew! Mystery solved and lesson learned... salt is crucial for setting the rayon dye but the silk (which is very turquoise) is fine without it... and read the directions yet another time! Oh well, maybe purple next time. This is still a nice subtle design but I think I'll try re-dyeing it to see if I can get the color contrast I was going for.

Deborah Younglao devore scarvesThese are my leftover scarves. The turquoise on the silk is still very vibrant but the rayon dyed only the palest of pale blues. I'm actually happy with these 2 accidents since the barely-dyed rayon satin looks like silver and is very pretty.