Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Fabric Pyrography - 3

Sandy Snowden back with more Fabric Pyrography.

Looking at Fabric Pyrography on Silk

Yesterday I showed a recent work ‘B is for Book’ which has Fabric Pyrography on two different types of silk. The background, which is a natural silk dupion with good weight and the little images of historical figures which are on a silk twill of a finer quality.
The phrase before colouring in with gel pen.
Images on silk twill - line work and shading with the soldering iron.

Whereas the line work is similar to writing with a clumsy pen...(the cord often causing drag on the soldering iron which you try to compensate by holding your hand awkwardly hoping you don’t get too near the hot part)... the shading is more like burnishing or colouring in with a fine circular motion. I find the curved tip of the Margaret Beal soldering iron useful for this because I can use the back of the curve.

If you look at the images of the historical writers above, you can see how the coloured areas on the silk twill are a golden colour rather than the brown of the line work. This is the awesomeness of fabric pyrography on silk twill! You can take advantage of this to create depth to your shading as if with a pencil. More burnishing or more time in one spot will give you darker colours. For this work, I was happy with a flatter image because they were images from a time when perspective and depth weren’t so important. However, it does help with defining one part of the sketch from another.

Here is another work using silk twill, also a few detail images showing how the colouring in or burnishing with the hot soldering iron works.

‘Tudor Rose’
Detail of ‘Tudor Rose’

You can see how the different areas of the silk have been treated with a heavy or light hand in order to get different results. The rose was made separately to the couple and then arranged in front of it.

For the binding of ‘Tudor Rose’, I used the same silk, but made marks with the side of the iron to give a striped effect.

‘Tudor Rose' binding

Problems and solutions:

As I mentioned, it is easier to make the burnt mark with the soldering iron if the work is in a hoop so that the air gets to both sides. Generally, the method is to move the tip of the soldering iron back and forth over small sections of your line until the burn mark is strong enough to suit your purpose, continuing until the pencilled line is covered.

The work is slow and methodical. There is no hurrying – for instance holding the soldering iron on a lower angle so more of the fabric is in contact with the soldering iron. This can result in unwanted marks in places you don’t want them! You are focusing on the tip and suddenly realise you have made a mark elsewhere with the side! Or that you have angled wrongly and gone off your line.

I know this, but it doesn’t mean it keeps me from learning the lesson each time!

Smudges and going out of line

There is not much you can do about these sorts of mistakes, so you have to get on with it the best you can! After all, burnt fabric cannot be ‘unburnt’!

If your mark is not too dark, you can scrape a bit of the burn away, but too much of that compromises the fabric. It may cause it to go fuzzy or even make a hole. So, rubbing a white colour pencil over the burn may be able to get your smudge to be a little less noticeable.

With the silk dupion, I came into a different problem, which was that when the line I was burning was in the same direction as the grain, the soldering iron would push through between the fibres. In this case I was able to limit the damage so that it was not so obvious.

Previous to the ‘Tudor Rose’ work above, I did Fabric Pyrography work on a thin habotai silk.

‘Lady Constant’

I wrapped a wooden frame from some packaging in order to hold the whole piece of silk taut as I worked on it.
wrapped wooden frame

On ‘Lady Constant’ there are smaller images on the golden colour silk dupion. This was early on when I was still developing technique. The golden colour silk was quite difficult to work on in that it really needed a lot of pressure and time to get a burn mark.
‘Lady Constant’ detail of gold coloured silk

I can’t remember, but I think I was working on the pieces individually, so that is where I really learned you need the fabric to be held taut in some way. There is only so much you can do with the fabric held with tension between fingers...especially with some of the other issues I mentioned the other day about how to hold your soldering iron.

In the situation of using thin silk the burn mark developed very quickly. Thin silk needs very minimal pressure. Several times the soldering iron burnt right through the fabric.

This sounds drastic, but can be a positive thing in that you can work the mark as if on purpose. The idea of age with this piece was enhanced by the anomalies created with the mark making. Instead of trying to hide the problem, I used copper metallic thread to mend the burn tears.

mending burn work on ‘Lady Constant’

And, as I mentioned yesterday with the “B is for Book” piece, I used gel pen to make the flourishes around the image and on the sleeves. You can see how the different metallic colours work with the burn lines.

Unfortunately, after all that work, the fusible I used at the time caused some real issues with the silk. But, there we of those pieces where you have to look at it as a marker of where you came from! Perhaps I should revisit her, I always meant to!

More tomorrow about some problems and solutions for tools.


  1. Sandy,
    Your pieces are amazing. So much detail. I would think doing this would be almost meditative, once you get the technique under control.

  2. Your work is remarkable!! So lovely


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