Clever Charlotte

The Dye Job

carla macklinComment

It's practically summer in the northern hemisphere and in between end-of-school ice cream parties and trips to the outdoor pool, I've found a few minutes to experiment with a new dying technique using the fabulous dyes at Dharma Trading Company.  I made this dress recently using an old pattern of mine and some leftover bridal scraps (100% silk peau de soie and organza). I was interested in using dyes to produce a very organic and random pattern of color and after some experimentation found a great technique I'll describe below.

The first steps are to identify a dungeon-y basement where you can make a mess and hire a mess-making pro as your assistant. Cover everything of value with plastic!


Equipment: I ordered several colors of this Fiber Reactive Dye from Dharma. It is compatible with many types of natural fibers. In addition to the dye, you'll also need some Soda Ash Fixer, which is inexpensive and allows the dye to bond with the fiber. The soda ash is recommended mainly for cellulose and has some warnings with protein-based silk, but I have not experienced any trouble using it with the silks I've chosen. You'll also need a small strainer like this one, a plastic spoon or two, plastic gloves, and some plastic sheeting. 


The panels of this dress were pre-sewn before dying. It is difficult to see, but the organza is overlain on the peau de soie and the layers interacted nicely with the dye. I submerged the front panel and the two back panels in a gallon of water with a cup of the soda ash fixer and let soak for about 1/2 hr.


After wringing out the excess water gently, I spread the pieces of the dress on top of the plastic sheeting, making sure that they laid as flat as possible with no overlaps. I spooned out about 1/8 teaspoon of the powdered dye (for this dress I only used 150 Gunmetal Gray) into the strainer and started sifting it over the panels from 3 feet height, tapping the strainer as I moved above the fabric to release more dye. I repeated with additional partial spoonfulls of dye until I reached the right coverage I was looking for. This sprinkling step takes some practice and I'd recommend trying some scraps first to get your desired effect. 


Because the fabric is wet, the powder sinks in and spreads in random patterns. If you sift more heavily, you get darker blobs of solid color.  If you sift more lightly, you get delicate patterns made from each grain of dye. If you look closely at the dress, there are many colors of dye in the gunmetal gray jar: pinks, yellows, greens, blues. The overall effect is quite nice! 

Below is another example using yucca green and gunmetal gray on a silk crepe de chine.


 And here is a combo of two reds: misty rose and dances with raisins.


After letting the panels of the dress dry completely, I rinsed them under cool water, laying them out as flat as possible (not bunching in a ball) to avoid dye from transferring to other areas of the fabric. After the rinse, I let the panels dry again, ironed them, then finished sewing them into the dress.  I think the result is pretty fun and I plan do do many more dresses using this technique!