How to Make a Silk Scarf Stretcher from PVC Pipe
If you are going to “paint” dye onto a silk scarf, as versus just bunching one up on a plastic plate and dropping dye on it willy-nilly (which oddly enough can come out pretty well), you will want to stretch it with some tension on a frame.
The tension keeps the scarf taut and prevents sagging, which would allow any dye applied to run directly downhill into the hollows rather than spreading evenly by capillary action. This is particularly important if you plan on using a “resist” material painted on to corral dyes so they don’t run amok – no point spending all that time outlining a design if sagging material lets the dye run over a resist line on its gleeful way downhill.
Here is a picture of my finished PVC stretcher, which cost me about $28 to make – the construction was a little more fiddly than originally planned, as the store didn’t carry the exact plumbing fittings I wanted, so I made do with what they had which entailed buying some extra fittings to convert between sizes. If you plan ahead better than I did here (especially if you can find left over parts from a friend’s construction site!), you will probably be able to do a more streamlined job for less money. However, I am documenting the process as I stumbled through it, so it may serve someone as a bit of a guide and help them save time through their own project. Have at it!
Step 1 - Figure out what size you want
I wanted to be able to stretch scarves of various sizes, from say 4” to 12” wide, and up to 6 ½’ long (78”). I planned on putting stainless steel safety pins along the edges of the scarves and using rubber bands stretching from the pins to the PVC pipe frame, using a trampoline effect to keep the scarf taut. I figured I should add at least 3” on each side of my largest scarf to allow room for the rubber bands, which meant I needed to add 6” to both the length and the width of my largest scarf. 12” x 78” scarf plus 6” extra on each side means I need a 18” x 84” frame.
Step 2 - Sketch design to determine supplies needed
Sketch out your design showing dimensions so you will know how many pieces of pipe to buy (generally found in 10 foot sections). Visit a plumbing supply website (I used Home Depot) so you will be familiar with the various kinds of fittings available and their sizes. Think about how fittings will join the pipes. I decided to use 1” pipe as the ½” pipe looked like it might bend too easily - from my plan I determined I would need two pieces of 10’ pipe, 4 Side Outlet Elbows, 4 Slip T couplings and 4 Reducing Female Adapters or whatever else looked like it would make good feet when I was at the store.
Slip T Coupling - I will use this to join two pieces of pipe 42" long, rather than using a single piece of 84" pipe as the long side of the frame. One long piece will be weak, and will bow inward under tension - the frame needs to be rigid. A Slip T coupling will join the two pieces and leave a socket pointing downward so I can add another piece of pipe which will serve as a leg. A second Slip T coupling on the leg will allow me to put in a cross brace between the two sides of the frame, making it sturdy.
Four-way Cross Coupling - When I got to the store they only had 3 Slip T couplings left in the 1” size. The Four-way Cross Couplings will work fine for adding the leg brace, and the bottom of the coupling looks like it would make a sturdy foot. I plan on using a 3" section of pipe between the T junction and the four-way cross coupling so the scarf will not inadvertently touch the cross bar (which would allow dye a place to pool).
Side Outlet Elbows - The side outlet elbow (a sort of three-way elbow) would be perfect for my 4 corners, joining the pipes in a square frame and allowing easy addition of a piece of the leftover 1” pipe for the legs. Unfortunately they didn’t have any of these at all!
I did find some 1" Socket Reducing couplings, which looked like they would work (a three-way elbow but the socket pointing downward is for 1/2" pipe while the other two sockets are for 1". They will allow me to make a corner for the frame, but I will need to use 1/2" pipe for the legs, not the leftover 1” pipe as planned. However, the legs don’t really need to be heavy duty, since I will only be using the frame for silk scarves – not exactly a heavy load. I decide to soldier on using these.
Four Male Adapters (1/2") will now be needed, which will attach to the small port to securely hold the smaller ½ inch pipe for the legs. I also found four Reducing Female Adapters (also 1/2") which will fit the ends of the smaller pipe, and also give the legs a nice steady foot.
Step 3 - Round up your tools
You will need:
- Hacksaw (buy yourself a nice new blade)
- Tape measure or yardstick
- Sandpaper ( ½ sheet of medium & fine)
- Pencil and magic marker, 3x5 card
- Electrical or vinyl tape
- WD40 or other lubricant for joints
- Small can PVC cement (see note below)
I decided not to use the cement, as I want to be able to take my stretcher apart for storage between projects. If you are using cement, put some gloves on and ensure good ventilation. The wine glass is for after I am done of course…
Step 4 - Layout the pieces and double check the plan
Before cutting any pipe, double check your figures on your sketch. I had to re-draw some sections and change the leg arrangement due to the change in fittings. I also neglected to allow for the
diameter of the pipe itself in my line drawing, so the finished framework was about an inch bigger than I had originally planned, which didn’t matter for this project, but it is something to remember.
Step 5 - Measuring and cutting the pipes
Measure out the longest pipe section you will need. Make a clear mark and write “keep” on the correct side of the line. Wrapping a 3x5 card around the pipe will help you draw an even mark all the way around the pipe.
Wrap a piece of electrical or vinyl tape around the pipe at the mark, but don’t cover up the mark entirely (if you do you might cut on the wrong side of the tape!) Don’t screw that up! Don’t drink any wine!
The hacksaw blade will want to “jump” around a little. Slowly draw it across the pipe, supporting the blade so it touches the edge of the black tape (much easier to see than a dinky pencil mark, plus the tape cuts down on the blade jittering around.).
After a few light passes, the pipe will be scored and the blade will settle in. Score the pipe carefully all the way around before getting aggressive with the blade. If you try to cut all the way through without scoring, invariably the cut will be crooked. If you have a band saw, lucky you.
Note the ragged edge of the pipe that the hacksaw left (top pipe). Take your medium grit sandpaper and smooth the burrs off the edges (this will be easier if the paper is wrapped around a wood block). Then take the fine grit paper and finish smoothing the edge, plus the last inch or so of the outside of the pipe. When the pipe is smooth it will easily slide into a coupling, and will allow a good bond with the cement, if you will be using it.
Step 6 - Assembling the upper frame
Cut the four pieces of pipe that will form the top of the frame. After each cut, double check the length of each matching piece to ensure uniformity.
Slide the 3-way elbow pieces on the ends of the long side pieces of pipe. Screw the male adapters into the bottoms of the elbows (remember I have a few extra steps here as I had to get additional fittings to go with the couplings I could get). You should adapt these steps to match whatever fittings you have.
Even if you plan on using cement, do not apply any until the entire frame is assembled and you have checked for mistakes. You won’t get those pieces apart again after you glue them! For now they will fit quite snuggly all on their own. If you don’t plan on using cement later, spray the ends with lubricant to make insertion easier.
Use a Slip T coupling to connect the side pieces of the upper frame. Then slide the other end of the side pieces into their respective corner couplings. Then slide the cross pieces for the ends into the corner couplings. You may have to torque the pipes around a bit to get the frame to square up. If the frame appears quite a bit off, check to see if you have slid each pipe all the way into the couplings (there are stop guides inside each coupling).
Step 7 - Adding cross brace and legs
Flip the frame over and insert the three inch sections of pipe into the bottom of the Slip T coupling. Then add the other T (or here, the Four-way Cross) coupling to the pipe. Do both sides, then slip the center brace into place. The center coupling/brace assembly will serve as the center legs of the frame. A measurement of these legs compared to the bit of leg already present on the frame corners (due to whatever couplings are being used there) will indicate how long a leg to cut for the corners.
Take a T-square or a ruler and carefully measure the perpendicular distance between the top of the frame and the bottom of the coupling serving as the center leg. If this measurement is not the same on both sides, you will have to remove the longer leg section and sand it down until it matches. Otherwise you will have a wobbly frame. Mark the dimension down on a piece of paper. For an example, this measurement was 8 ¼” on my frame.
Now measure the distance between the top of the frame and the bottom of whatever coupling being used on the corners of the frame. Record this on the paper too. For example, on my frame I was using a socket reducing corner coupling, with a male adapter screwed into it, which made the corner "leg" 3 ¾”. A piece of pipe would sink into the male adapter 1/2", but I didn't have to account for that since I was using a female adapter as a foot on the bottom of the pipe, which coincindently enough was going to add a 1/2 inch. Doing the math, 8 ¼ minus 3 ¾ indicates the leg segment needed for the corners would be 4 ½”. To be sure this was going to work I marked the lines on the piece of paper which gave me a nice visual representation of where I needed to cut the ½” pipe with the foot already on it.
Step 8 - Finish
Flip frame over and adjust – you may have to grasp both sides of the frame and apply a little torque (carefully!) here and there to settle it down on all its legs, and to square up the sides to each other. A t-square is useful for this step too. If you want to cement the pieces, disassemble the entire frame (but mark those pieces first so you can put it back easily!) and repeat the steps following the directions on the can.
Here is a snapshot showing a scarf stretched on my frame – note the rubber band (short) on the left, and a much larger one on the right of the picture. This is an 8 inch scarf – rather than suspend it in the middle of my 18” frame, I prefer it closer to one end so I can apply my brush without reaching over. Keep a box of rubber bands of various sizes handy.
If you are working with a shorter scarf, simply tape a leftover section of pipe (or a yardstick or whatever) across the frame at the desired point and use that as the end. Since I did not glue my stretcher, I can also re-configure it by taking out two of the side pieces and the center legs, making it just 42” long.
I ended up using:
4 pieces of 1 inch pipe, each 42" long for the long sides of the frame
3 pieces of 1 inch pipe, each 18" long for the ends of the frame and the cross brace
2 pieces of 1 inch pipe, each 3" long for the center leg
4 pieces of 1/2 inch pipe, each 4 1/2" long for the four corner legs
4 socket reducing couplings for the four corners of the frame
2 slip-T connectors for the center of the long side
2 four-way cross connectors to go under the t-slips to provide a place for a cross brace
4 male adapter pieces to screw into my corner couplings to hold the 1/2 pipe legs
4 female adapter pieces to go on the bottom of the 1/2 pipe for the feet
As I mentioned before, because the store didn't have the fittings I wanted, this particular frame got a bit more complicated than it needed to be. My plan called for just 2 ten-foot sections of 1 inch pipe, which would have been all I needed (with a bit left over) and 8 less fittings! As it was, I had to buy the extra fittings and a 10 foot section of smaller pipe that could have been avoided. My point is this is not rocket science - if they don't have exactly what you want you can probably fiddle around with what is on hand and cob something together just fine. Most people have some of these fittings laying around next to the PVC pipe they have left over from their last plumbing job - shop in your cellar before going to the store!
I hope this tutorial is useful for you – if my directions are unclear or you have a comment, feel free to send me a note. Have yourself a happy dye!
Mary E Hogencamp