Wedding Dress: Dye Experiments

As my neighbour pointed out, I’m no longer a ‘mademoiselle’, but a ‘madame’! Our wedding was this past Saturday, and it was such a wonderful day. The weather was great, the ceremonie short but special, the food was delicious and our families got on well. I don’t have all the photo’s yet, so I’ll tell you more about it in the next post. Let’s start with the important things first- the dress! In the last post I’ve shown the fabric. I’ll leave the pattern choices and sewing experiences for yet another post, first let’s see what I did with that beautiful ‘bright flowing peace silk‘.

For the first experiment I had a couple of fabrics I wanted to dye: some linen, cotton, jersey and two pieces of silk. I meant to dye the cotton yarn as well, but in the end there was no time. My goals were to see how the colours would turn out on the various fabrics and the silk in particular. I also wanted to do some free hand painting to see what that would yield. I dyed a piece of silk, half the jersey and the cotton in one tub, with the colour Parakeet. I used hot water from the tap and the recommended quantities of salt and soda ash. As you can already see in the tub, the jersey became a totally different colour. Not one I particularly like either, but maybe I can still find a purpose for it. So lesson learned: natural fibers combined with synthetic ones will not only give a lighter shade, they might even come out a different colour. The silk and cotton dyed true to colour. I dyed the other piece of silk in a tub of Coral Pink.

The other thing I tried was Arashi shibori and free hand painting. I used a piece of jersey for the Arashi, but the thickness of the fabric prevented the dye from soaking through. Plus I had forgotten to wet the fabric before I dipped it into the dye. It looked nice when unwrapping, but most of the fabric was still white. I threw it in the remainder of the Coral Pink tub just to see what would happen, and the outcome was a lighter, almost baby pink. Totally not my thing, but fortunately there was someone staying with us who loved it so I gladly gave it to her. The free hand painting on linen had the same difficulties: it turned out to be a linen mix so the colours didn’t come out like they should. I don’t think I can use this linen in a way that would not make me look like a teenager, so it’s going to goodwill. It was good to see what effect just dripping and splashing the paint had though.

The second round of experiments I did only with a piece of the silk. It had taken the colour really well with the tub dye baths so I was expecting it to go well with painting too. I tried different colour combinations and different shapes. I also tried thickening the paint with sodium alginate but it didn’t dissolve at all. It did leave splotches that were a bit darker but not in a way that I liked, and certainly not in the way they acted as a resist on SallieOh’s fabric. I left the fabric overnight to cure. It didn’t come out as dark and saturated as I had hoped. I thought it might be that I painted on a wet fabric, and I didn’t use enough soda ash. By this time, time was running out so I decided to go ahead with the real fabric anyway. I decided against the pink and use only blues.

I didn’t really have a very clear picture in my mind, only how I wanted to use the colours and that I wanted it to be more abstract than floral. So I just started – first with strokes of Parakeet, then strokes of Caribbean Blue next to it, and then I painted around it with Navy Blue. I made a batch of chemical water, in this case water with urea to keep it wet. I used pitchers to mix hot water with the dye and soda ash. It was so much fun! I loved what I was creating, and it was so much more that feeling of creating art rather than a textile. I don’t want to call this art, but it’s that process of just trusting your gut, going with the flow and seeing what happens.

I had to create several batches of dye to finish the whole 6 metres. I painted 1.5 meter, rolled it up in plastic and then continued. Halfway I got called away for an hour for an apéritif at the neighbour. Not sure two glasses of wine was such a great idea though, as I kind of forgot how I’d mixed the first two batches, and made the last two less strong. The whole process took me about 4 hours. I rolled the silk in plastic and let it cure for 12 hours. And now I have to be honest: I was a bit disappointed when I rinsed out the dye. It was not nearly as saturated as it was when I painted it. At the same time it was hard to let myself be disappointed – I had painted 6 metres of expensive silk that was to become my wedding dress. So I kind of stepped over those feelings and tried to appreciate what it had become, even though it was not quite what I envisioned.

The thing is, when you’re working with such a gorgeous fabric, it is actually quite difficult to really screw it up. The feel of this fabric remains luscious, no matter how you dye it. The fabric made me love it no matter what I had wanted it to become. I also knew I could just throw it into a navy dye bath if it didn’t work out at all, but once I had looked at it and fondled it some more I decided that I loved it and wanted this to be my wedding dress. The fabric had gone beyond it’s purpose in a way, I felt like wearing it would be amazing no matter what. The dress it became is not just a wedding dress like you would choose one in a store, it embodies the creative process that went into it and cannot be completely predicted. So is it what I envisioned? Not quite. But it became something else in itself that was equally beautiful, so I am still happy I went down this road.

Next time I’ll show you what this fabric became!

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  1. You’re such a tease, Lisa! I wanna see the dress! (:
    Seriously though, I love the fabric, the colours are great and the result is very “you”—which is what a wedding dress should be, in my opinion! I couldn’t have imagined you in a white off-the-rack tulle monstrosity, so I’m really curious to see the final dress.

    1. Thanks Jana! Nice to hear you think the fabric is very me. I wasn’t so sure at first :)

  2. Oh I really want to see how it turned out now! You know how to do a cliffhanger… Tha fabric looks great!

  3. Glad to hear you had a wonderful day & I can’t wait to see your dress! Love your dyeing experiments – the final fabric looks stunning, I bet it made an amazing dress;)

    1. Thanks Charlotte! It really did, I just hope I’ll have more occasions to wear it. Invite me to your wedding, will you? ;)

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