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The Ancient Technique of the Gorgeous Serti Silk Painting

Serti silk Koi painting via Paint+PatternImage via Lorraine Chapman Art

As we celebrate the countries of the Orient during April, the ancient art of Serti silk painting comes to mind. It is a colorful, gorgeous and popular art form practiced in Vietnam as well as the world-wide.

The Crusades brought silk from areas surrounding the Indonesian Islands to Europe and eventually the industrial revolution made silk production available internationally. The Serti or “gutta resist” technique was perfected in France, where Serti (French for “fence” or “closing”) was introduced in the 20th century.

Serti silk floral patterns via Paint+Pattern

Traditional, modern-day Vietnamese silk paintings depict natural scenes from everyday life, including landscapes, pagodas, ponds, boating scenes, flowers and birds. The quality of the painting is highly dependent on the quality of the silk. As the colors bleed into the fabric, it softens the lines and gives the painting a dreamy look. The artists usually have an intimate knowledge of the fabric and know how it will respond to the brush stroke.

Serti silk lamp shade via Paint+PatternImage via Koko Designs

Serti silk personal accessories via Paint+PatternPurse Image via Koko Designs

Silk paintings are often done on scarves, wall hangings, curtains, tapestries, sheets and other home décor accessories. Several hand painted artworks and accessory items can be seen in gallery shows and on sites like Etsy and Pinterest.

Serti silk painting tools via Paint+PatternImage via Art Quill Studio

Applicator tube used to outline resist lines for the Serti silk painting technique via Paint+Pattern

Serti silk floral painting via Paint+Pattern

Unlike painting with acrylic or oil paints, Serti uses dyes. After the design is drawn, the silk fabric is laid on top of the pattern where a “gutta” line is painted using a small applicator bottle to create a resist line. On hand-made stretchers, the dye is painted with watercolor brushes and it spreads to the resist “fence” and halts. Repeatedly flooding each area, the image is created layer upon layer resulting in dramatic intensity of color. The technique is time-consuming but the medium is said to lend itself to capturing the shifting qualities of light found in nature.

Serti silk pond painting via Paint+PatternSilk Painting by Linda Bolhuis and Image via Topnaga Canyon Gallery

Serti silk Poppies painting via Paint+Pattern

Serti silk Orchid painting via Paint+Pattern

Nature inspired Serti silk painting via Paint+PatternImage via Dharma Trading Co.

Once the painting is complete, the dye sets depending upon the type of dye used. Colorfast water-based dyes are concentrated, bright and lightfast and can be set in by steaming, allowing the item to be dry-cleaned or washed.

Works of art to hang on a wall, to wear, or to adapt to home accessories, Serti paintings on silk is an art form to embrace and try! Many websites like Dharma Trading Company offer various tools, dye options, and instructions for creating your own Serti silk artworks

A project that comes to mind using Royal Design Studio stencils is to trace one or several coordinating stencil designs on paper, then overlay a piece of silk, add gutta lines, hang on a stretcher and lay in dyes with brushes. It might be a nice and easy way to take inspiration from traditional Serti painting and transform a wall hanging, lampshade or scarf.

Here at Paint + Pattern we are dying to know how you would adapt the Serti process using stencils.


  1. Debbie this is gorgeous! I have wondered how people paint on silk like this. This is fascinating look into the process.

  2. What a wonderful art — I had NO idea! So lovely to see the visuals and know the history. I’m inspired!

  3. I certainly learned a lot. Have always loved this art on silk but who knew?

  4. I love your work…I love silk .i wonder where we can purchase the dye you are using. I live in Houston where I can’t find silk painting at art stores.
    Great work.

    • Hi Ramah,

      Wish I could take credit for this gorgeous silk work, but I was sharing work by others. You can see where to buy the products if you click on the link in the post. We would love to see what you create!

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