Dyeing Play Silks

Play silks are colorful bits of silk that children can use for open-ended play. They’re perfect for dress up, making pirate flags, and so much more. They’re also simple to dye on your own.

Christina Garton Sep 22, 2021 - 5 min read

Dyeing Play Silks Primary Image

A rainbow of play silks dyed with mud dyes and indigo hung out to dry. Photo credit: Christina Garton

What do you get for a younger sibling who has, it seems, inherited every possible toy from his older sibling? This is the question I asked myself as I began planning what to buy baby E for his first birthday. He already had all the “big” toys for his age level, thanks to big brother H. I decided to shake off my notions of traditional toys and look to more open-ended ideas, which is how I came across play silks.

Play silks are simple pieces of inexpensive silk scarves or silk blanks dyed in fun colors. Because they’re silk, even though the scarves are very thin, they are durable. You can get them in just about any hue and shade you can imagine, and some are even dyed to look like beaches, prairies, ice floats, and other landscapes. Play silks can be used for baby motor skills—they can be stuffed in empty tissue boxes and pulled out again—and are great for dress up and pretend play. They’re like the textile version of blocks; their simplicity is their selling point.

Of course, I can’t do anything the easy way and decided to dye my own for E’s birthday. First I took stock of my stash of dyes. I had red, orange, and yellow mud dyes as well as a small bottle of indigo—everything I needed to dye the rainbow. Next I ordered a set of six 30" x 30" habatoi silk scarves thinking that would be the right size for flags, capes, and all sorts of fun play.

Dyeing with mud dyes is always a delight because it’s so darn easy (see “A Transcontinental Dye Day”). I hope someday to broaden my dyeing experiences, but I am a tired, busy mom, and mud dyeing is usually all I have the energy for. Fortunately, mud dyeing is fun and the results are (usually) beautiful.

I began by dyeing two of my scarves yellow. Once they reached a pale shade, I put one aside to overdye with indigo later and then added a bit of the orange to the dye bucket to get a warmer golden shade. Once I was satisfied with my yellow scarf, I dumped the water, rinsed the tub, and dyed my orange scarf and then repeated the process to dye two red scarves. One I pulled out when it was light red; the other I let get as dark as possible.

Silk Scarves

Play silks dried and ready to press before wrapping up for the birthday boy.

Now it was time for the indigo! I set up my dye bath and first dyed my blue scarf as dark as I could get it. Next the light-yellow scarf went into the dye bath until it was a lovely shade of silvery-green, and finally it was time for the light red. Try as I might, I could not get the red and indigo to mix into a purple that really satisfied me. It’s much more silvery-gray than I would ideally like, but somehow I doubt the boys will care all that much.

The entire dyeing process—including treating my undyed scarves with a prefixer—took about an hour. The results look amazing and I can’t wait to see what the boys do with them. Of course it was so much fun that I have another order of scarves in multiple sizes coming in as well as a bottle of pink mud dye, so I can, dare I dream, finally get that purple right. Maybe this time I’ll do some landscape-inspired silks and experiment with some nuno felting to make the landmasses! Okay, I admit—at this point the play silks are almost as much for me as they are for the boys. I think in the end we both win. I get the chance to do something fun and creative for my kiddos, and they get some open-ended playthings full of love.

Happy Dyeing!