Holly Brackmann - home



back to Publications

Shop Talk: Dévoré
By Holly Brackmann

Surface Design Newsletter, December, 2004

Dévoré, from the French dévorer, meaning to devour or to destroy is a process in which the cellulose part of a composite fabric is eaten away.  A mild acid salt (usually sodium bisulfate in the United States) is applied to the fabric and develops into mild sulfuric acid when heated by ironing, burning out the cellulose.


Normally, the burnout technique uses protein/cellulose or synthetic/cellulose composite fabrics (not a blend textile) in which the cellulose fibers (cotton, linen, viscose rayon, hemp or tencel) are destroyed.  Dévoré can be applied to composite fabrics by screen printing, stenciling or painting on the burnout solution.  White or light colored fabrics are the easiest on which to see the burnout process.  Rayon/silk velvet and rayon/silk charmeuse have been very popular for dévoré and are composed of a silk backing with a face of rayon pile or satin weave.  The rayon portion is burned out by printing on the flat or backside of the fabric leaving transparent silk areas after burnout.  A core-spun cotton/polyester (cotton wrapped around a polyester core) called Azeta (available from Silkpaint Corporation) burns out very cleanly.  The cotton fibers burn out and sheer polyester remains.  Cotton/poly yardage from fabric stores is a blended fabric and might not burn out with a clean image. 

Dévoré can also be used on pure cellulose fabrics.  Burnout can remove fabric areas enclosed by machine satin stitches of a non-cellulose thread, such as polyester or nylon.  By applying the burnout solution inside the stitched area, a "cutwork" style of embroidery results.  Acrylic pigment can be first printed on cellulose fabric followed by the burnout paste.  The pigment will add color, and will keep the fabric from burning out in those areas.

Handwovens using fine cellulose yarns combined with silk, wool, nylon or synthetics will yield good burnout.  Also, core spun cotton/polyester such as Coats and Clarks Dual Duty threads (regular sewing and industrial threads) work well.  (Articles by Holly discussing handwoven dévoré include "More Than Plain Weave:  Handwoven Dévoré," Handwoven, Issue 113, 2002, “Handwoven Dévoré Shibori,” Handwoven, Issue 121, 2004.)

You can actually use this technique on paper.  Pure rag watercolor paper can be printed or stamped with the burnout solution.  After ironing and rinsing, a recessed design results from the partially burned out paper, looking like an impression made by a printing plate.  The paper can be dyed with fiber reactive dyes with the burned out area taking the dye differently than the rest of the paper.

Burnout Formulas

P-4 Thickener

1/4 cup + 2 tsp. P4 thickener gradually poured into 2 cups water
Mix in a blender or with a mixer.  Allow this mixture to stand overnight.
P4 thickener is an industrial gum thickener from the Silkpaint Corporation.  This mixture can be made up and stored separately, lasting a long time.


Thickened Burnout Paste

1/3 cup sodium bisulfate
1/4 cup cold water
4 tsp. glycerin
1 1/4 cups P4 stock mixture (see above)
2 drops food coloring (optional, but makes solution visible on fabric)
Dissolve sodium bisulfate in cold water.  Add glycerin and stir until the ingredients are nearly dissolved.  Add P4 thickener mixture and stir.  Add food coloring.  Additional water may be added to adjust the consistency.  Paint, print, or stencil the burnout solution on fabric or paper.  Note: Fiber Etch can be purchased from the Silkpaint Corporation as a premixed substitute for the above recipes.


Screen Printing or Stenciling

Pin or tape down the fabric very tightly on a padded surface (covered with plastic) before screen printing or stenciling.  A pattern with a strong negative/positive design and bold lines is best.  Fine details will not print or show effectively.  The thickness of the burnout paste will determine how many passes with the squeegee will be needed to force the solution into the fabric.  Do burnout first, and then dye, since it is hard to see the burnout on colored fabric.


Burning Out and Washing the Fabric

When the burnout solution has dried, immediately iron with dry heat on wool or permanent press setting until a light brown.  It is very important to wear a respirator for acid gases and work in a well-ventilated area.  Be careful!  Ironing too much can melt synthetics or carbonize silk and make holes.  Clothes dryer can also be used to activate the burnout.  Wash fabric gently for 2 minutes with Synthrapol by hand or in washer to remove burnout paste and air-dry or use a dryer.  Too much agitation in washing or drying will remove fine design details.


Fiber reactive dyes can be used to color the cellulose portions of the fabric.  Disperse dyes can be mixed with the dévoré solution to color polyester and burnout at the same time (see From the Studio).

From the Studio: Dévoré

In 1995 I was introduced to dévoré and since then have created many art pieces with the technique.  At first, I used only commercial fabrics, later combined weaving techniques with dévoré, and now use both.  Core spun cotton/polyester fabrics, both handwoven (woven with sewing or industrial thread) or Azeta can be burned out and dyed in one step by using disperse dye in the burnout paste.  The cotton will burn out completely, leaving colored, sheer polyester.  Disperse dyes can also be used to transfer print and color the same fabrics.

Disperse Dye Recipe

1/2 cup boiling water
8 tsp. disperse dye
Mix boiling water and dye.  Stir until dye is dissolved.  Let cool.  Stir again.  Add a small amount to thickened burnout paste or Fiber Etch. 

Cover the printing surface with stretched plastic wrap because the burnout solution will penetrate the fabric, especially the Azeta.  Discard the plastic after each print.  Dry immediately with a hair dryer to prevent wicking (spreading) of the burnout paste, which may eliminate design details.  Iron immediately to burn out the cotton, wearing an acid gas respirator and have good ventilation.  Remember to wash the fabric gently so as not to lose details.


Transfer Printing

Transfer printing is also called dye sublimation.  Disperse dye is used to color polyester by transferring as a gas from a piece of paper onto the fabric.

Use the above disperse dye recipe without the burnout solution. Paint disperse dye designs on white paper.   Choose bold, simple shapes.  Allow the dye to dry.  Place the paper with the design side down in contact with the fabric.  Use a dry iron set at permanent press, and iron for one minute. The painted designs are transferred to the polyester portion of the woven yarns.  If the paper designs are used more than once, the image will become fainter each time.  Where transfer prints overlap burned out areas using disperse dyes, the colors will be changed and result in a combined color. 

The cotton/polyester fabric can now be dyed with fiber reactive dyes.  The dévoré areas of pure polyester colored with disperse dyes will not be affected or changed by the fiber reactive dyes.  The transfer print areas will be affected by the fiber reactive dyes, since the cotton portion of the core spun fabric still remains.

Questions and Answers: Dévoré

Question:  Can you provide some ironing tips for dévoré, since ironing seems to be such a critical part of this process?

Answer:  Yes, ironing is an important part of this technique since too much heat destroys the fabric.  Consistent heat is needed with large pieces of fabric, or the burnout will be uneven.  Put a Teflon sheet (available at fabric stores) on top of the fabric to protect the iron soleplate when ironing the burnout solution.  If burnout solution accumulates on the iron, wipe the cold soleplate with a wet paper towel.  Use aluminum foil to protect the ironing board, catch burned out fibers, and reflect heat up into the fabric.

Question:  I am nervous about inhaling the many short fibers when burning out the rayon/silk velvet.  How should I protect myself?

Answer:  When ironing dévoré fabrics, you should be wearing an acid gas respirator, which will protect you from the vapors and fibers.  However, to insure that these short velvet fibers do not become airborne, pin the fabric, pile side up to the ironing board or print table to keep it securely in place.  Vacuum the short fibers.  All the burned out pile will not be removed, but this will prevent an excess of fibers from floating in the air.  As an alternative, use a clothes dryer to activate the burnout solution.

Question:  Do I have to weave fabric for dévoré or can I use various commercial fabrics?

Answer:  Although handwoven fabrics can be made with plain weave, woven shibori dévoré, and structural techniques, commercially woven fabrics are available and include silk/rayon velvet, silk/rayon charmeuse, hemp/silk, rayon/polyester and cotton/polyester.  Remember to use a composite fabric and not a blended material.  If in doubt, buy a small piece of fabric and do a dévoré test.  While some fabrics are composite fabrics, they may have a non-cellulose warp and cellulose weft.  Thus, the fabric will burn out, but no woven structure remains, leaving a limp rag.  Experiment with various fabrics and discover new dévoré variations.



Home GalleryPublicationsBioLinksContact

707.462.5734 • holly@hollybrackmann.com