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.
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.
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.
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.
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….
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.
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!
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.
To the dye pot, I added some vinegar and a little liquid dish detergent…
…before waiting for the water to get hot.
Then, I added a custom mix of all three colors of dye…
…before adding the wet fabric carefully into the pot.
We kept the fabric in constant motion for about 30 minutes…
…before I moved the fabric back to the tub of clean water…
…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!
With Flying Colors
Once dry, the white fabric became the most gorgeous color of teal!
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…
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!