Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Steamer update - tips and things to remember

The Tulip Tree
I finally found time to use my new steamer (mentioned in a previous post).  It worked pretty well.  I had used a new sort of insulation (which looks like bubble-wrap coated with a thin reflective lining).  The steamer did a fine job of creating steam and steaming my silk, but it ran cold.  I use it in the basement/garage (aka my studio!) and it's darned chilly down there.  SO I wrapped another layer of the bubble-wrap insulation around it and the heat rose by 20+ degrees...almost to what I need it to be.  Thankfully the dyes did fine (I did steam both sets about double the amount of time recommended).  You can see more of my paintings on my other blog: www.rebeccawachtman.blogstpot.com

I'm guessing that good'ol fiberglass blankets work better for insulation - but I really didn't want to mess with fiberglass (and I'm allergic, so I've no doubt it would not be fun for me to do so).  But the bubble-wrap-looking stuff worked well enough for me - so I'm happy.

FYI - if you do build your own steamer and choose one similar to mine, there are few things to be aware of so please note:

1) You probably only need a 4 foot tall one (I did 5 foot because it was a single piece of pipe - the 4 foot option requires 2 2-foot pieces plus a coupler to join them).  Taller means you can do longer pieces of silk.. but it ALSO means you need a higher ceiling so you have plenty of room to get your steaming bag full of artwork in and out of the pipe without bending it or touching the sides!  Thankfully the majority of my garage has pretty high ceilings (of course my first steaming was in the lower area - so lesson learned).


My home-made steamer
2) Putting pennies in my rice cooker/steamer did not help me hear when the water was running dry (I guess they were supposed to bounce around and make clinking-sounds when the water got low - but it did NOT work for me).
3) Make sure your steamer bag is a good deal narrower in diameter than the pipe!  I made 2 bags - 1 wide and 1 narrow.  The narrow one held plenty of silk plus gave me more wiggle room (since I'm in the garage and the floor is at a slight angle, the bag leaned to one side but still had room to hang-free from touching the sides!).

4) Using a pillowcase for the steamer bag was a super-easy way to create a steamer bag for cheap.  I purchased a king-size pillowcase from Goodwill.  I washed it immediately in HOT water and bleach(I have to admit, buying bedding that is used does somewhat creep me out because of all the bed bug horror stories).  I turned it inside out and measured out the width I wanted... sewed it up one side and then cut up the side next to the new seam...and ta-da...new steamer bag.  I also sewed the other part of the pillowcase up making a larger-sized steamer bag.  So 2 bags for the price of 1 pillowcase from goodwill (less than $2 in cost - or $1 a bag!). 

5) All of the videos and blogs I saw used a hollow pipe to roll the silks around... but most of them pulled the pipe out before steaming.  I used a round closet dowel-rod that I happened to have in the shop.  It worked great! 

6) I have BAGS of clean mover's newsprint.. but it's all wrinkled from being used for multiple moves.  It worked just fine for steaming silk.  You put down a couple of layers of newsprint (I used three)  then place your silk paintings on the newsprint leaving a minimum of 3 inches between the paintings -- or better yet, 1 painting then 3 more sheets of newsprint, then another painting, then three more newsprints...etc.  Supposedly you can do quite a few layers that way.  BUT I personally wouldn't want to over-load it.  So I did 3 news print, a painting, 3 newsprint, another painting, and then 3 more newsprints.  Roll carefully around the dowel (you do NOT want wrinkles in your silk - they will be permanently steamed in!) and tape closed.  slide the whole thing into your steaming bag, and then carefully pull the dowel out.  Close the steaming bag and then put a cap of aluminum foil on the bottom and around the top of the bag to protect it from splashes and drips...and steam according to the dye or paint directions.

7) Don't leave the steamer unattended!  I stayed in my studio and did other things while the steamer was on.  And I'm glad I stayed!  I assumed I would hear the pennies  - but did not... And you have to be VERY careful when checking your steamer because you don't want to bump it and accidentally have the steaming bag inside swing and hit the inside wall of the pipe - water condensation from the steam would ruin your painting!!  Anyways, my steamer ran dry and I smelled something odd and noticed the temperature was seriously dropping - and that was my clue that I desperately needed more water in the steamer.

8) Have a way to get boiling water into your steamer WITHOUT having to remove the pipe!  I have a pretty large hole (about 4 inches wide) near the base of the pipe.  I keep it covered with insulation, but can remove the insulation to check the water level - and to add more water...although I needed a watering can to do so (my tea kettle just doesn't have a long-enough spout)!  It's best to add boiling water to your steamer rather than cool water because it will take a long time to heat up and you want to keep your silks steaming steadily.

9) I'm sure I mentioned a thermometer in my previous steamer post, but it is SUPER handy to have one in your pipe!  I had a hole just large enough for my digital thermometer to fit in - and I made sure to have a hole in all the layers of my insulation as well (which I marked with duct tape so I wouldn't loose the hole!).  I left the thermometer in the pipe the entire time I was steaming.. and every-so-often I would turn it on and check the temperature.  It was very nice to have it!

10) This probably goes without saying - but STEAM IS HOT!!  THE PIPE IS HOT!!  Yes, you could potentially burn yourself!  So please use caution and some sort of protection for your hands- (and maybe your eyes ) is advisable.  And along the safety notes - the taller the pipe, the easier it is to tip over!  I say this because YES, I managed to knock mine over - thankfully it was at the end of the steaming cycle... but still - scary!  Unbelievably, nothing broke!  It fell and hit a floor lamp, which fell and hit a table lamp, which fell and hit the floor.  But nothing broke. Not even the glass lid from the steamer that I covered in a towel (to help catch drips).  I was lucky - this time!   And I do NOT want to experience that again!

Do I have more tips - probably.... but having expounded at length.. I'm ready for bed! 
If you have any questions, please let me know!  I'd be happy to chat more. :)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Make Your Own Steamer For Silk Paintings

I don't know about your, but I simply can not afford to buy all the fancy, wonderful toys needed to do any major art or craft project!

Additionally, I feel personally obligated to try and re-use (ie, recycle!) anything I possibly can.  So to support and maintain my own personal intergrity, I have decided to make my own steamer apparatus for steaming silk paintings.


I mentioned in the previous post that I LOVE, ADORE, AM ENAMORED WITH, (etc) silk painting.  And one of the best tools you can have (in my opinion) is a steamer.  Professional-grade steamers cost hundreds of dollars (way too much for my sad little wallet!).  And I know I could use the stovetop and a steamer basket - that seems somewhat risky to me and I don't want those dyes etc in my kitchen.  SOOOO... I took a page out of my friend Barb's page.  She made her own - and it works GREAT!  I thought 'how hard can that be?'  (of course it's ALWAYS harder than I plan on!!).





First I found a rice cooker at my favorite thrift store.  It cost me less than $10 (maybe even less than $5 - I can't remember the exact amount, but it was a good price!).  And it has a variety of settings which I tested at home... several of which boil water very nicely.  I just need to play with the settings once I'm ready to actually steam something.






picture courtesy of Lowes


Next I needed ductwork/pipe.   It's OFFICIALLY called Galvanized Duct.  I ended up buying a 5 ft piece with a 10inch diameter.  I think Barb's is 2, 2ft pieces joined together with another bit of ductwork - so hers measures 4ft in length.  (I didn't want to mess around with trying to join 2 pieces together - I figured I'd have enough problems making the thing without complicating it more).  






picture courtesy of Lowes

I bought some nifty insulation (which looks like bubble-wrap and is fiberglass-free) called Reflectix Insulation... I bought it in a narrower width (so it was less-expensive)  and I think it was 25ft long.  There's PLENTY on the roll to cover my steamer at least twice if I want to (I'm starting with one layer for now - I may create a removable blanket to use as a 2nd layer if I need to better-insulate it). 




Of course, I needed a few other things in order to make it all work including:
  • duct tape
  • metal sheers
  • a few nuts and screws (and a couple of washers)
  • a couple of flat-metal brackets
  • a couple of old towels
  • a drill 
  • a screwdriver or two (in this case, phillips head to work with the screws)
  • a socket wrench (to work with the nuts)
  • a needle and thread (I decided to sew the towels on rather than duct tape - I figure it won't come off as easily)
So there were 2 major obstacles for me - 1) putting the duct/pipe together (it came as a rolled sheet and I had to have help to join the sides together to form the pipe) and 2) getting the darned pipe to fit in or around my rice cooker.

The ducting has 1 end that's ribbed and seems like it SHOULD squeeze into a smaller-sized item (but it didn't until I used the metal sheers to cut some of the ribs all the way around the duct/pipe).  Once I cut the ribs, I was able to bend the ribbed portion in order to fit it into the rice cooker.  Unfortunately, the duct/pipe did not balance firmly on the cooker even with the ribbed portion shoved inside the cooker.  SO to help stabilize the duct/pipe, I added 4 metal, flat-brackets to the outside of the pipe - so that they attached to the duct/pipe right above the upper rim of the rice cooker.  Once those were added, when I slipped the duct/pipe into the rice cooker the flat-brackets act as flanges/stabilizers.

FYI - I also cut a square hole in the duct/pipe where the duct/pipe and rice cooker join.  I re-attached the cut-off piece with a screw and a couple of washers and a nut... so I can keep the duct/pipe sealed but spin the cut piece to the side and use the hole to add water to the rice cooker if I need to.  I also drilled a small hole about half-way up the duct/pipe so that I could stick a thermometer into the hole and check the temperature inside the steamer (my understanding is that the temperature needs to maintain a temperature of around 212 degrees at all times while steaming dyed silk).   I also sealed this hole up with a removable patch.  My final cuts to the duct/pipe were two notches in the edge of the pipe (at the top of the duct/pipe accross from each other) so that I can lay a piece of wood into the notches and not have the wood fall out.  I will be hanging a cloth-bag containing my dyed silk pieces from the wood - it's important that the wood not roll or move because you do NOT want the silk (nor the bag containing the silk) to touch the sides of the steamer... the moisture could ruin the artwork .




Once I had the duct/pipe fitting into the rice cooker and nicely stabilized, I covered the duct/pipe with the Reflectix Insulation using duct tape to join the sections of Reflectix together.  I made sure to cut holes in the Reflectix for the thermometer and at the base for adding water to the rice cooker.






Next I took the lid of the rice cooker and placed several towels around it - and hand-sewed the towels on... so the lid won't fall out and the towels will stay on.  The towels are there to help seal-in the steam, and to absorb moisture so that there are no drips falling back down on top of the silk as it steams.




My last job will be to make a long cloth bag to hold the dyed silk and which will hang inside the steamer.  I'm estimating that it should have a diameter or no more than 4 inches.  It will be closed at the bottom end and have a draw-string (and maybe a protective flap) at the top.

FYI, the process to place your silk into the bag is to:
  1. Fill the rice cooker with water and a few pennies (which will make sounds when the cooker is beginning to run out of water)
  2. lay down several sheets (at least 3) of clean, blank newsprint
  3. lay down a piece of dyed silk
  4. lay down 3 more sheets of clean, blank newsprint, 
  5. lay down your next piece of dyed silk
  6. continue this process for several layers ending with more of the clean, blank newsprint
  7. Lay a plastic tube (or wooden dowel) down on one end of the artwork/newsprint pile
  8. carefully roll the artwork/newsprint around the dowel making sure not to wrinkle anything.
  9. once rolled, tape the roll together so it can not come undone. 
  10. place the roll into the steaming bag, once inside the bag - remove the dowel.
  11. close the bag and hang carefully from the wooden cross-beam on the top of the steamer apparatus - making sure the bag does not touch the walls of the steamer!
  12. place the towel-covered lid on top of the steamer. 
  13. turn the rice cooker on to the appropriate setting for a low boil.
  14. let steam for a while and then check the temperature of the steam in the pipe.  Make sure it's 212... if not, turn the rice cooker up higher.
  15. DO NOT LEAVE THE RICE COOKER UNATTENDED!!
  16. The silk should steam for at least an hour - up to 3 hours --- depending upon the type of dye used (make sure to follow YOUR dye's instructions!!!!!)
  17. Add water as needed.
  18. Once your silk has steamed, turn the rice cooker off and let it cool before removing the silk.  You may want to test for color-set.. if it's not set, you may need to steam your silk further.
(if I've left anything out, please let me know!!)

Has it been a lot of work creating my steamer??  YES!!!  It's taken quite a bit of work to get (what I hope to be) a working steamer!!  But I'm rather proud of my creation - and the fact that I've used a recycled rice cooker and recycled towels to help construct it.  Best of all, the whole thing is costing me less than $50 bucks (probably closer to $40!!). 







Monday, February 3, 2014

Silk Painting - OMG how I love it!

Hello my friends, I have fallen well, and truly in love with Silk Painting!!   Last year I went to an artist retreat (had a wonderful time!!!!) and it was there that I was introduced to Silk Painting.

My very first silk painting



 

My very first painting was of a flower and I was very pleased with the result (except for the background color - I was in a rush to finish and ended up with a VERY intense chartreuse-yellow).











A large piece of recycled silk with snowflakes









My next set of paintings was experimental - an attempt to figure out how to use recycled silk for Silk Painting.







 



Recycled silk, brings with it a variety of issues including:

  1. Unsure if the silk is REALLY 100% silk (in spite of the tags stating they are 100% pure silk, I do not think that they always tell the truth!).
  2. Many items made of silk, have been coated in some kind of stain-resistant chemical which makes it hard for silk dyes to correctly penetrate the silk.
  3. Creating frames or other mounts to hold the smaller pieces of silk is somewhat challenging (for instance if I want to practice with a pocket from a silk shirt). 
  4. Most recycled silk items I have found, are colored rather than stark-white (the best I've found is a light beige).  This makes the colors of the silk dye appear differently than they would on pure-white.     and......
  5. It is often hard to tell what type/thickness of silk you are buying.  And the thicker the silk, the harder it is for the dye to penetrate the silk.
Snowflake Greeting Cards
In other words - I have had some pretty major challenges in getting the silk and dyes to behave the way they would on untreated, uncolored silks.  But it was fun to play with the dyes in spite of the challenges!  I took some of my experiments and cut them up into small chunks which I then attached to card-stock and make into holiday greeting cards.  I rather enjoyed the results!

My latest attempt is to paint my dog Sophie.  This picture was taken while the painting still was in the stretcher/frame (and still needs to be color-set and have the resist washed out).  I'm thrilled with how it turned out - of course, my critical eye sees things that I could have done better - or would change slightly.  But overall... a very satisfying experience!


My dog Sophie
My next attempt will probably be a floral-based piece... and then a couple of friend's dogs, and then a layered landscape of the Puget Sound.  Oh my.... yes I do have a LOT of ideas! he he he.  Of course, I'll have to fit all that in around the globe-lampshade orders I've received, plus I probably should pay attention to my "real" life (husband, kid, dog, and job, etc).  But, I've no doubt I'll be posting more paintings soon!


Thanks for taking a look!  If you're interested in anything I've made (or want to special-order something) - send me an email at:  recoveredt@gmail.com
ttfn
Becky