Bruce Johnson

Charlie The Juggling Clown

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Creating Customized Silk Scarves

By Bruce “Charlie” Johnson

 I use many scarves in the magic effects that I perform.  I don’t always use silk scarves, but there are advantages to using them in certain effects.  When I see a silk scarf with a nice design, I usually purchase it, even if I don’t know at the time how I will use it.  For me scarves are a tool of my trade and when I am customizing a routine for a specific performance I go through my collection to select one with an appropriate design.  I support those magic dealers who produce and market silk scarves because that encourages them to make more designs available.

 However, the design that I want is not always available commercially.  Then I have to create my own silk scarf.  That gives me exactly what I want and it makes my act unique.  For example, as far as I know I am the only person in the world to perform the classic Half-Dyed Hank routine with picture scarves.  In my routine a scarf with a picture of a clown changes into a solid colored scarf, and then changes into a scarf that is half solid colored and has half of the clown’s picture.  It gets great response and is possible only because I painted my own scarves to use in the effect.  (This effect is described in Creativity For Entertainers Volume Three: Creative Routines.)

 Here is one method that I use for creating a customized silk scarf.

 Develop your design. 

 I have designed some of my silk scarves by drawing the picture myself.  I have used clip art and my computer to design others.   I print out a small version of the design, and then use an opaque projector to enlarge it to the desired size.  That is particularly handy when doing a 36-inch scarf.  You can also print the design in sections so just a part of the design is on each piece of paper.  Then you would assemble the pieces to create a full size pattern.

 Wash and Iron the Silk Scarf

Sometimes a silk scarf has a surface treatment.  Wash it in a gentle cleaner like Woolite.  Then iron it to remove any wrinkles.

Transfer your design. 

Place your paper design on a hard surface.  Lay the silk scarf on top of it, stretch it, and secure it by taping it place.  You will be able to see the design through the scarf.  Using a pencil trace the design onto the scarf.

Stretch the Silk

Stretch the silk on a frame that can be supported.  When you are painting you don’t want the silk to touch any other surface or the dye will go through instead of staying in the silk.  (There are gaps between the silk fibers which are what makes silk screen printing possible.)

For a small design in the center of a scarf you can stretch the silk on an embroidery hoop.  For larger designs on an eighteen-inch scarf you can use a square quilter’s frame.  Both styles have an outer layer that slips over the fabric holding it in place.  For a thirty six inch-inch scarf or a flag, I use wooden stretcher bars available in art stores and secure the silk with masking tape.  Be sure to cover the wood with masking tape first so any dye that gets near the edge does not soak into the wood.  (If the dye soaks into the wood you can’t use it on other projects because the dye may leach back out onto the fabric.)

After the silk is stretched on the frame, I use wood blocks to keep it up off the table.

No Flow

A problem with silk painting is that the dye tends to bleed by being drawn along the fibers.  You can prevent that using a product called Jacquard No Flow.  There are two ways to use No Flow.  Both methods use a paint brush to apply the No Flow to the silk fabric.

The first method is to paint it along the edges of an area you want colored.  Then when you apply the dye it will spread until it reaches the No Flow.  The No Flow works as a dam for the dye.  This works well if you want a solid area of color that does not connect with any other area of color.

The second way to use No Flow is to apply it to the area you will be painting.  Then you paint directly on top of the No Flow.  This works well if you want to do any blending of colors, if you want to do fine lines, or if areas of color will be touching each other. 

No Flow needs to dry before you continue to the next step.  It will be shiny when you paint it and almost disappear when it is dry.

Apply Color

 I recently discovered fabric dye marking pens in a craft store.  These work well on silk.  However, they are water resistant instead of water proof.  You should be careful to keep silk scarves made with this method dry.  (That is a good policy with any silk product.)  The fabric dye pens allow you to do some blending by adding a second color before the first dries.  They also do a good job of providing a smooth area of color.  At first the range of available colors was limited, but more colors are becoming available.

 If you cannot find a fabric dye marking pen in the desired color, a Sharpie permanent ink marking pen can also be used.  It is harder to get a large smooth area of color using these pens and blending is difficult.  However, they work fine in doing small areas of color.

 There are also dyes sold that you paint onto the silk.  For use in magic I recommend using dyes instead of paint.  I used Dyna Flow silk paint for one scarf and it is noticeably stiffer than one done with dyes.

 Set the Color

The fabric dyes in the marking pens can be heat set using an iron.  Place a piece of paper or second piece of fabric over your silk scarf and iron it.

Be sure to lay the finished scarf flat while it cools.  If you fold it while it is still warm you will set the creases in the fabric and will need to iron it later to remove them.

Normal silk dyes are set using either steam or special setting solutions.  I found that setting solutions remove excess dye and if there is an area left white the solution may tint it.  Applying No Flow to white areas before using a setting solution helped to prevent this.  There is no problem if using the steam method of fixing the dye.

Other Methods

I have found the above method to be one of the easiest for single silks with a simple design, but other methods are possible.  If you want to learn more about silk painting, classes are available although it may take some detective work to locate one.  The first silk painting class that I took was part of a community college continuing education department.  The instructor specialized in silk fashion accessories.  The second silk painting class that I attended was part of a kite making conference.  (One traditional style of kite developed in Asia is made from silk on a bamboo frame.)  Silk painting has become popular in recent years.  There are more new products being developed and classes are offered more often.  Where might you be able to find a class located near you?

If you would rather invest your money instead of your time, there are people who will do silk painting for you.

Purchasing supplies

 I believe in supporting “brick and mortar” stores.  First, I appreciate the customer service.  The employees can often answer questions for me.  Also, whenever I go into a store I browse a little because I know serendipity may inspire a new idea.  When you purchase something over the internet you find exactly what you are looking for, but rarely make the exciting unexpected discoveries that lead you down a creative path.  The manufacturer of Jacquard No Flow has a web page for finding a store that carries their products.  You will find it at No Flow Store Locator

 If there isn’t a source near you for purchasing Jacquard No Flow, you can purchase it on-line from Dick Blick, which is an outstanding art supplier used by many professional artists.  There web address for the product is


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