Inspired Art and Living with Fiona Stolze

Spider Silk Threads – an Alternative to Bombyx mori Larvae?

Did you know that you can harvest silk threads from spiders? It appears the silk thread produced by the common garden spider is twice as strong as that of the larvae of the Bombyx mori moth.

But the problem is that the spider is difficult to rear in captivity. The upside is that when they are captured in the wild, it is relatively easy to collect their silk. An article by J.A.Millar in Science News describes how a scientist in Vancouver together with some colleagues, placed a spider on a card and then knocked it off. As it fell spun a thread, the card was twisted and the silk was reeled in. As the dragline got longer and longer, the scientists were able to collect more and more silk. They described the spider as “very cooperative. You can reel in more than half a mile of dragline in ten minutes.”

In fact the silkworm silk is reported to be much more water resistent than the spider dragline. On the other hand the dragline is twice as strong and very elastic. These are two properties which don’t normally go hand in hand because materials that increase in strength tend to break more easily.

But how expensive would it be to make things from spider silk? The story goes that someone in early eighteenth century France made some stockings and gloves from spider silk. When they worked out what would be needed to go into production, they came up with the following figure: 633,522 spiders would be required to produce a pound of spider silk. Happy hunting!

Not the most profitable of businesses. But interesting nevertheless.

N.B. I have just come across something very interesting regarding silk from golden orb spiders in Madagascar. Watch out for a short post on it.

January 22, 2010 Posted by | INSPIRATIONS | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mandala Friends’ Gallery – January 2010

Welcome to the Mandala Friends Gallery, January 2010. For some background information on what this is about, please have a look at the Mandala Friends page.

Here are the entries that were submitted this month. They are from 3 school boys who attend the State Middle School for Boys in beautiful Lindau down at Lake Constance (Bodensee) in the south of Germany. Their names are Pascal, Nico and Markus, and they are in class 6b. Their teacher is Nicole Schielin. It was Nicole who gave the boys the mandala to colour in school and then sent them on to me in Bristol. Thanks to all of you. Some mandala cards are on their way to Germany as a thank you for taking part and setting the ball rolling.

Enjoy the artwork.

Marcus' Mandala - class 6b

Nico's' Mandala - class 6b

Pascal's Mandala - class 6b

January 21, 2010 Posted by | MANDALA ART | , , , | 1 Comment

How to Stretch Your Silk Painting on a Canvas Frame in 10 Easy Steps – a Tutorial with Photos

Here at long last (without any real desktop publishing tools) is my response to the request for more visual material on how to stretch your silk painting onto a canvas frame. As many of you will know I have already published an article which describes this process. However, a picture speaks with such clarity, doesn’t it? So here I have a small tutorial for you with pictures and words.

To get started you should have the proper tools at hand so that the process flows as easily as possible. This is what you need: a large board or surface to work on, a roll of masking tape, a stapler (not the small sort you use in the office), a measuring stick or tape, a sheet of paper to protect the silk when working, a chunky artist’s frame of your choice which should be a approximately 15 centimetres smaller than your silk painting in both width and breadth, a Stanley knife and of course, last but not least, your beautiful work of art.

As you can see we are busy framing a one million dollar note reproduced in silk. If you’re at all into Feng Shui, then you’ll know that this is ideal for the prosperity corner.

Step 1

Step One:

Place your board on the floor or table, lay the sheet of paper on top of this and finally place the artist’s frame on top. . Now lay your silk art face up around the canvas frame. Lightly fold it over the edges. You don’t need to worry at this point to centre it as you are only taking the measurements. Now lay your measuring stick across the top surface to measure both the height and width of your picture.

Step Two:

Now remove your silk painting again and lay the frame to one side. You will be needing it again in a moment so have it to hand.

Step Three:

Step 3a

Step 3b

Lay your silk painting face down on the paper and using the measuring stick and masking tape, measure out the dimensions of the frame. If your frame is 50cm wide, then make sure that you have an equal amount of background both left and right of your image, and mark these with the masking tape, so that the frame will sit nicely centred. You can see from the photo that our picture had 4cm on both sides. Do the same for the top and bottom, placing pieces of masking tape to show the outer edges of the frame.

Step Four:

Step 4a

Step 4b

Now take your canvas frame and gently lay it down on the silk, taking care to align the masking tape with the edges of the frame.

Step Five:

Step 5a

Step 5b

Now you’re going to start the actual stapling of the silk onto the wooden frame. You can see quite clearly why the silk needs to be a few

Step 5c

Step 5d

centimetres wider than the frame for the wrap around. Start in the middle of the

edge nearest to you and pull the

Step 5e

silk firmly up and over the frame. Holding it down flat, staple the silk firmly in place. Proceed with the opposite edge. Repeat this for the remaining two edges. If your work is on the floor, it’s quite easy to move around in a circle. Next add staples halfway between all the ones you have already attached and repeat this process until the silk is snugly stapled all the way around the frame. Don’t staple too close to the corners.

Step Six:

Step 6a

Step 6b

Next you’re going to attach the silk at the corners. Tuck the excess silk underneath and fold an edge

to make a 90 degree angle, with the fold of silk lying along the edge of the frame (see photos 6a and 6b). Firmly staple the silk in place.

Step Seven:

Step 7

The remaining excess silk gets folded back in the opposite direction (to the outer edge of the frame). Fold so that the silk is flush with the corner of the frame (Step 7) and on the top tuck the last silk in diagonally towards the middle of the picture. Firmly staple in place on top. DO NOT staple where the silk is visible. Repeat on all four corners.

Step Eight:

Step 8

Lift the picture up to check that everything is nice and straight from the front. The million dollar note needs to be very straight due to the straight edges in the painting. You may get away with less precision with other images. Should  you decide that anything needs altering, ie. the image is a bit squint, then  carefully turn your picture back over, undo the staples and readjust your silk.

Step Nine:

Step 9

If you are satisfied with the result, place your measuring stick along the four edges and trim the excess silk off with a Stanley knife. Please only do this if you are wide awake.

Step Ten:

Your picture is now ready for hanging. The beauty of this method is that you only need 1 nail as the picture is so light-weight compared with a traditional frame. You may need 2 for larger pictures. In this case we used two. Knock in the first one, hold up your spirit level and mark where the second one goes. Knock it in too. And now you can hang your picture.

Step 10

Eh, voila. You have a beautiful work of art, framed to perfection which shows off your artwork wonderfully and it hasn’t cost you a fortune to do it either. Enjoy.

January 20, 2010 Posted by | SILK PAINTING TECHNIQUES | , , , , , , | 17 Comments

A Silk Cushion for Valentine’s Day

I’ve been working hard at creating new silks in my workshop and the latest creation is a pink satin silk cushion with a mottled bright red heart in the centre, with gold gutta lines. And to top it all off, it comes wrapped up a lovely white gift box and fuchsia ribbon. The perfect Valentine’s Day gift. It won’t wilt within a week and is guaranteed not to add a single ounce to your weight.

Valentine's Day silk cushion

The cushion measures approx. 39cm x 39cm and has a satin silk hand-painted front panel. The reverse is made from beautiful dupioni silk with a zip. The cushion can be supplied within the UK with a feather pad and wrapped up in a white gift box with a satin fuchsia ribbon. For those of you who live further afield, you have the additional option of ordering it just as a cushion cover. This makes it so much easier to send and hugely cuts down on shipping costs.

Reverse of Valentine's Day silk cushion

The price for the Valentine’s Day silk cushion is £65 including the pad, box and ribbon plus p+p. The cushion cover only option costs £56 plus p+p. Boxed cushions are sent by a 2-day courier service.

Additional FREE option: you can have any short message added to the cushion. Or why not have your loved one’s name written in gold across the heart for that really personal touch. Please specify this when ordering.

To order: please contact me at

Silk & Art gift box

If you’d like to order one for February 14th, I will need to know by February 5th at the latest.

However, why limit yourself to Valentine’s Day? If you’d like one at any time for a romantic occasion, a dear friend or to pamper yourself, please just get in touch with me and let me know your needs.

January 16, 2010 Posted by | SILK & ART PRODUCTS | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Making Silk Cushion Covers – Using Ready Made Ones or DIY?

I was prompted to write this article after an exchange with a lovely silk painting colleague about painting silk cushions. So thank you Christine for your inspiration.

It was about the question of using the silk cushion covers which are ready made or making your own from scratch. Well, this one may seem like a no-brainer. Those of you who like sewing will make the cushions from scratch and those of you who don’t like sewing or just can’t be bothered will go for the premade ones.

However, I am one of those artists who does both. And I wanted to share some pro’s and con’s of using either of these methods to create your gorgeous works of art.

So let’s start with the ready made ones. For those of you unfamiliar with them, I have a photo here of one for you to look at. The front and back panels are sewn together which means only one seam is closed. That’s where the zip is and you can make this either the top or bottom. You can stretch the 3 sides open cover on a frame and paint it to your heart’s desire. One advantage is that the shape is extremely easy to stretch (being a rectangle). Another advantage is that the zip is already sewn in which has to be a huge plus. The only thing that you have to do after fixing the dyes, is to fold the cover in half outside in, pin the edges and then sew the remaining 3 seams to complete your work. Iron the seams into the silk and then that’s you finished. You can turn it the right way round and pop a cushion pad inside.

That all sounds great and it is. However, I have found one or two niggly things that can spoil the look of the finished cushion. When you are painting the area around the zip you will find that the dye doesn’t get absorbed very cleanly into the silk, due to the double thickness of the fabric and the metal teeth lying underneath. I always put something inbetween the zip and the double layer of silk above it so that there is less marking.

Something else that can be a little bit messy is the area alongside the zip seams – the little holes where the needle punctured the silk. When you paint here, the colour can become uneven.

Tip: So this is what I do. On both sides of the zip close to the stitching I draw a straight gold line going full width of the cover. If there is any blotchiness and unevenness this stays within the enclosed area around the zip and doesn’t spread onto the rest of the cover. You can see this quite well in the photo.

There is one last thing to watch for. These covers are mass made and you will find the odd one that is rather irregular in shape which means that when you fold it over the two sides don’t match. That means you’ll have to take a ruler and measure out new edges to keep it all straight. It gets a bit tricky when the piece looks more like a rhombus than a rectangle. 🙂

On the whole, they cut down assembly time. No frustration at the overlock machine not performing correctly. So there’s a lot to be said for them.

And what about the other option, making the cushion cover completely from scratch? I rather like doing this. You can freely create your front panel in any way you choose. The back panel can then either be made in the same material or in something contrasting. I like brightly coloured dupioni silks for quite a classy look and durability.

As for the zip, you can pay someone who is well-versed in sewing to insert it into the panel for you. It’s a job that shouldn’t take more than 15-20 minutes for someone who knows what they are doing. And this won’t cost much at all. They might then even quickly overlock the 2 panels together for you. If you’re a hobby person who enjoys doing this sort of work, then it is no great hardship to do the complete sewing job yourself.

So the downside is that it takes quite a bit longer to put together and it involves sewing in a zip. The advantage is that the completed cushion is quite robust if you have chosen to use a sturdier silk for the back panel. And it will have a really unique look to it.

Whatever you choose to do, hand painted silk cushion covers are a beautiful addition to your living space and are certainly a topic of conversation when friends come around. And they are a great joy to create.

January 12, 2010 Posted by | SILK PAINTING TECHNIQUES | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Silk Painting is NOT the same as Silk Screen Printing

Ah, this is a mistake that is made by oh, so many people. I’ve lots count of how many people describe my work as silk screen printing or who land up on my blog or website looking for it and then look surprised when they discover it’s a site about silk painting. So I decided it was time to set the records straight.

Silk painting and silk screen printing are not the same thing. Nope. They are two completely different things. Sorry about that. And here are a few words of explanation to help you out.

Silk painting involves stretching a piece of silk on a frame and then painting on it with special silk dyes and gutta. The dye is then fixed into the fabric so that the silk artwork can then be framed or worn, depending on what you’ve made.

Silk screen printing has nothing whatsoever to do with the above. It is a printing technique. A finely woven fabric such as nylon or polyester is attached to a frame. In the early days of this process silk was used. Parts of the fabric on the frame are blocked out and other parts are left free. A squeegee or roller is used to push ink through the spaces onto fabric or paper underneath (substrate) and create an image.

Actually, I’m not completely telling the truth. There is one little similarity between the two. They both originated in China.

End of story.

January 5, 2010 Posted by | INSPIRATIONS | , , , | 4 Comments