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. :)