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You are here: Home > All About Hand Dyeing > FAQs > Dye Auxiliaries FAQs > Salt Effects


Jacquard Silk Salt
Jacquard Silk Salt

Jenni Milne's Silk Painting gives full instructions for using salt in silk painting.


Kosher Salt


Jill Kennedy's Silk Painting: New Ideas and Textures includes an entire chapter on each special technique, including one on salt effects and one on sugar.


Rock Salt

Salt Effects in Fabric Painting

Salt effects are popular in silk painting. The label for Jacquard's Silk Salt promises "Brilliant Bursts of Color". Large salt crystals can also have the same interesting effects on a finely woven cotton or rayon that they have on silk, but it will not work unless you use the right sort of dye or paint, and enough tension.

How it works

The way that salt works is by osmotically 'sucking' liquid toward it. Any unfixed wet dye or fabric paint will be pulled toward the dot of salt. The result is often a streak of lighter color pointing at a dot of intense color. You must first stretch your fabric or garment so that it is taut, for good effects; fabric that is puddled loosely will not allow clear streaks to appear. Salt effects will not work with dye or paint that strikes the fabric very quickly, before the salt can pull the color around on the fabric.

Unpredictable but beautiful

It can be difficult to control the effects you get with salt, unless, like some silk painters, you place individual crystals with a pair of tweezers, but you can't go wrong if you just want something beautiful. On tightly stretched fabric, paint several colors, adjacent to each other and overlapping to make nice blends of colors, then, immediately, while it is still wet, sprinkle on whichever size of salt crystal you want to experiment with. Do not completely cover the fabric, but instead leave small or large spaces between the grains of salt. Allow the painted fabric to dry completely, brush off the salt, then set the color on your fabric with steam, ironing, or Afterfix, whichever is required by your particular choice of dye or paint. The results will often look as beautiful as if carefully hand-painted by an expert.

Stretch your fabric

To stretch your fabric or your garment, you can pin it tautly to a water-resistant board, or you can use a large stretcher frame, larger then your garment, and pull the edges tight with plastic clothes pins attached to rubber bands looped over the frame. Sometimes placing it over a cookie sheet will work, depending on the size of the garment and the size of the baking sheet. (Avoid exposing aluminum to soda ash.)

Fabric paints work well

You will generally see best results for salt when pigment 'dyeing', that is, using fabric paint instead of dye. Any transparent fabric paint should work well. Try Setacolor, Jacquard Textile Colors, ProFab textile paint from ProChem, or Jacquard Dye-na-flow. Dharma Pigment dyes should work well, but Colorhue Instant-set Silk dyes probably set too quickly. Avoid opaque or metallic paints when working with salt effects, and always test your combination of product, techniques, and salt grains before embarking on a large or important project. Most silk paints will work well with salt effects, though of course you must not use the ones that are really acid dyes on cotton. Among the French silk dyes, to be used only on silk, including Tinfix, Pebeo Soie, Dupont, and Ateliers Creatief Kniazeff, some individual colors work better with silk effects than others; Dharma Trading Company includes a notation as to how well each of the Sennelier Tinfix dyes they sell work with salt effects.

Using salt crystals on Procion MX dye is more difficult

Salt effects usually fail with Procion MX dye because some of the dye reacts almost immediately upon hitting the fabric. If you want to get salt effects with Procion MX dye, you need to delay the dye reaction. To do this, do not presoak in soda ash; instead, wait until the dye has dried on the fabric, before you fix the dye. One way to do this is to paint the dried dyed fabric with sodium silicate solution; another is to paint it with a soda ash solution that is saturated with salt (to reduce dye solubility). Sodium silicate is sold by many dye suppliers, under many names: it is sold as PRO Fix LHF and PRO QuickFix by PRO Chemical & Dye, as AfterFix by Dharma Trading Company, as Drimafix by Batik Oetoro, and as Tobafix by Tobasign Dyes. [Jacquard Permanent Dyeset Concentrate is a completely different product and cannot be used as a substitute.]

Sources for salt crystals

Jacquard Products sells small jars of 'Silk Salt', along with their silk paints; so does Deka. Of course, they are not the only companies that sell large crystals of salt. Different sizes of salt crystals will give different effects. Most forms of salt are very inexpensive, only a few cents per pound, when sold for non-crafts purposes. Try both rock salt and koshering salt. Different sizes of salt crystals are sold for ice cream making, for de-icing sidewalks, and for use in water softeners.


Large crystals of sugar can be used for similar, though more subtle, effects in silk painting. In addition, fabric may be painted with salt or sugar, dissolved in water, and allowed to dry thoroughly before painting on it, to reduce the tendency of paint or dye to spread on the fabric; in this use, they are described as anti-diffusants.


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Large portions of the text of this document were first posted by Paula Burch on the iTieDye Forum on April 29, 2007.
All of the pages on this site are copyright ©1998‑2024 Paula E. Burch, Ph.D.

Page created: April 29, 2007
Last updated: April 30, 2007
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