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Dyeing for a Change

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture

Back when I was earning my MFA in Costume Production, one of my favorite tasks was dyeing. I love color theory and fabric manipulation! I learned how to create beautiful custom colors, match a designer’s rendering, match an actor’s skin tone, create a cohesive color palate in a variety of fabrics… etc… sigh…

Now that I am a wedding dressmaker, I typically work with white fabrics (though I think there’s only one all-white wedding dress in my Portfolio.) This, combined with the lack of an adequate dye station in my sewing studios, allowed my passion for dyeing to fade away over the years…

Top Class Design

While creating my new eCourse Top Class, I planned to design and complete 3 custom-fit self-drafted tops on-camera. Since a lot of what I am teaching is how to begin and complete projects that have never been made before, where you don’t know the ending before you get started, I had not made these garments before and only had a rough idea of what they would become. (Once we all create our own custom-fit patternmaking blocks), students follow along as I work my way through one-of-a-kind new-to-me projects one-step-at-a-time. Students do not copy what I am creating, but instead they mix-and-match from dozens of options for patternmaking, design, and construction techniques to create something that fits their unique bodies and personal styles. I slowly guide my students through my start-to-finish custom sewing and patternmaking process, starting with design and fabric choice.

On a trip to Mulberry Silks (my local independent fine fabric store), I became really inspired by two fabrics: a wool/rayon challis and a linen gauze. I envisioned turning these beauties into a button-up cowboy shirt and a sleeveless shell.

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture

With these two fabrics chosen, I had two of my three tops sorted enough to keep moving forward. I was still pondering a third. I wanted it to be a little fancier and to be able to use it to demonstrate underlining. I planned to create the pattern with my fitted block (we make 3 custom-fit blocks in class: relaxed, semi-fit, and fitted)… maybe add cut-in-one sleeves and a peplum…. maybe princess seams…. I started a Pinterest board for class, but I didn’t have any specific fabric or inspiration images guiding me at first….

Since I did not find a third fabric that was speaking to me while shopping, I went back to my own fabric stash to find something with enough yardage. My fabrics are mostly leftover from bridal projects, so the majority are some version of white.

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture

Well, I am a messy person who loves to eat. I imagined some kind of sauce staining my fresh white shirt before I ever got a taste of either….

Two of my absolute favorite fabrics in my leftover-from-brides stash were the fabrics for Diane’s bridal pants and blouse: a linen/silk matelassé and a Caronlina Herrera silk faille. Though the matelassé with the raised design was the real stunner, the faille was striking me as a gorgeous choice for a top I would wear, IF it wasn’t the white color.

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture

A Place to Dye

Enter my new dye station! Ha ha! Okay, this is NOT my dye station… This is the dye station I used in graduate school from 1998-2001. Learning to dye in this room with these professional dye vats was amazing. I learned so much and I got really spoiled with the pro vats as my beginner setup.

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture
photo courtesy of Rachel Pollock

While it is possible to dye in your kitchen on the stovetop or in your washing machine and small projects can even be successful with just a pot and a kettle, I really wanted a way to easily dye lots of yardage at my studio… something that would give me the functionality and excitement of my university setup….

Enter my (for real) new dye station! I got myself a portable heavy-duty propane burner (affiliate link) and a 42qt aluminum stock pot. Having spent the first half of my life in East Texas and Louisiana, I’m jazzed that the burner and pot setup can also double for a crawfish boil. Mmmmm….

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture

Edit: Some Instagram friends advised me not to use the same pot for dyeing and food, even though I only use non-toxic water-soluble dyes. Sad trombone for my crawfish boil…

Rit is legit!

And enter RIT! RIT is the brand name of a water-soluble non-toxic dye (affiliate link) so there’s no hash chemicals or mordants or solvents to worry about. Though you can get it at most grocery stores, RIT is the dye used most often in the professional costume shops where I’ve worked! It’s great stuff! 

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know I love working with natural fibers. One great quality of natural fiber fabrics (that you will not get from a synthetic) is its ability to dye beautifully with non-toxic dyes. Diane’s silk faille was an excellent candidate for a color change.

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture

The inspiration for the teal color was that I had half a box of teal RIT leftover from my own wedding (10 years ago!). At that time, I dyed a few cotton lace samples which I ultimately did not use on my dress. To pair with my leftover teal powder, I picked up some emerald and aquamarine liquid to create a custom mix…

Friday Dye Day!

On a windy sunny Friday, I put on some crummy overalls from when I used to be a woodworker to turn Diane’s white bridal pants fabric a custom shade of teal. My handsome husband was around for assistance and photography!

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture

As the water began to heat up in my propane-fueled dye pot, I wet the silk fabric in a separate tub of clean water.

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture

To the dye pot, I added some vinegar and a little liquid dish detergent…

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture

…before waiting for the water to get hot.

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture

Then, I added a custom mix of all three colors of dye…

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture

…before adding the wet fabric carefully into the pot.

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture

We kept the fabric in constant motion for about 30 minutes…

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture

…before I moved the fabric back to the tub of clean water…

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture

…rinsing multiple times until the water was clear.

To dry the fabric, Charles set up some ladders and 2x4s from his carpentry studio (next door!) and we let the sun and wind take care of it!

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture

With Flying Colors

Once dry, the white fabric became the most gorgeous color of teal!

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture

I was super excited with my new hue! Sometimes something as simple as a color can lead the journey of your next great creation…

On-camera, I designed and created a gorgeous custom top with my custom-dyed fabric. I don’t share completed class projects with the public (that would be like spoiling the end of a novel to my students!), but here’s one in-process peek from Top Class…

Dyeing for a Change by Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture

Yay!

I love my new “dye vat”! A little janky compared to my university digs, but I had a lot of fun with great results. I envision a lot more custom dyed projects in my future….

Do you like to dye?

 

NEXT POST: I’m getting jazzed to start blogging about my bride Deborah! I’m still considering a few topics to write about during the break, but don’t be surprised if I start the next bridal blog series sooner than later!

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6 Responses

  1. I’m loving your blog so much! It’s really useful – I’m going to be making my own wedding dress, with (a lot of!) help from my seamstress mother.
    Dyeing fabric is something I’d be really interested to try, as I’ll be aiming for layers of sky/periwinkle blue and it’s not an easy colour to find here in New Zealand, it turns out!

    To get a slight ombre/dip dye effect, would I need to dye a piece of fabric twice, or is it enough to leave part of it in the solution for longer?

    I’m so loving reading through all your posts. You do amazing work !

    1. Congratulations on your engagement and thanks so much for following my blog. I loved making my own wedding dress and I love helping others do the same.

      (This post shares my first real dye project in over a decade so I’m a little rusty but) the longer the fabric stays in the solution, the darker it will get. To create an ombre affect where dark fades to light, I would lower it slow and steady into the dye so that the bottom stays in longer and the top stays in much less. This could take a while so I’d probably create some kind of lowering contraption.

      If you are creating the effect by layers of fabric, you can leave some pieces in longer than others.

      A sky blue and periwinkle wedding dress sounds gorgeous! Hope this helps!

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Hi there! I'm Brooks Ann.

I’m an independent designer and couture dressmaker for one-of-a-kind bridalwear located in Hillsborough, North Carolina. I also teach the sew-curious both in-person and online.

My blog follows along with the couture process of how each heirloom-quality custom wedding dress is made from idea to wedding day, as well as other interesting tidbits related to sewing, weddings, and body positivity.

Stay in Touch!

Sign Up for my FREE Newsletter!

You’ll get blog posts right in your inbox, plus extra goodies in your roughly twice a month. Plus, “Peek Inside My Sewing Library” in the first email!

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