Smoky Hemp/Silk Fabric: Low Immersion Dyeing

I’ve found a new favorite fabric: a hemp/silk blend woven. I’ve ordered it twice so far, once from EnviroTextiles, a sustainable textile manufacturer and distributor based in Colorado, and a second time from Hemp Traders, where it’s a little cheaper. It’s similar to the flax/silk blend I used to dye my yellow fabric (which I ended up being unable to source reliably, even for my very small scale of production), but is a little lighter weight and has even more drape. I love how it feels both utilitarian and luxurious, which is exactly what I’m looking for with Sunday Shift clothing.

black fabric drying

I’ve been surprised by the quantity of water the dyeing process takes, so I decided to try a low immersion dyeing process. Rather than dissolving the dye in enough water to allow the fabric to be stirred or agitated, low immersion dyeing dissolves the dye in just enough water to get into all of the fabric wet.

In addition to using less water, it takes much less effort: you scrunch up the fabric in a large plastic zip-top bag or other small container, and let it sit overnight. The result is an amazing mottled setting of the dye, sort of like tie-dye for the very lazy.

I followed instructions from the blog Bloom, Bake & Create, more or less. Rather than going for bright colors, I decided to do kind of the opposite: I used Procion’s jet black dye in the hope that I’d get a subtly variegated black color. Dye processes that involve imprecise techniques like “scrunching” are unpredictable, which makes them exciting but, you know, hard to predict.

The result was more charcoal gray than black (I understand a true black can be difficult to achieve with fiber reactive dyes, so I’m not surprised), but an incredible variation of tone. The finished fabric not only varied in intensity, but different colors showed through in the black: in some spots almost purple, greenish in others.

black immersion dyed fabric

It reminds me of  silver process black and white photography, something I used to do a lot of: depending on the photo paper, the temperature of the water, the type of developing chemicals you use, a black and white photograph can have tones of green, blue, or yellow in it.



Two black and white photos I made some time ago using solarization and non-standard developing processes, but no actual toning.

And Then There Was Much Working

Ideas are great, but if you get serious about them, there’s a side effect: lots and lots of work. It’s been a few weeks since my I created first prototype dress, and since then I’ve spent many hours tweaking, testing, redrafting, and re-re-drafting the pattern to try to get it just right.

Photo Jul 28, 11 41 24 AM

The sleeve, in particular, have been driving me nuts. Which is funny, because technically this dress doesn’t even have sleeves—at least not sleeves that need to be attached separately. I’ve chosen to design the dress with a very short kimono-style sleeve, which means the sleeve is cut as part of the shape of the main dress, sort of like a t-shape. I love this style because it drapes nicely on the shoulder, feels loose and roomy on the body, and requires less work in the garment construction.

And all that is well and good, but I have found it surprisingly tricky to finish the sleeves in a way I’m satisfied with, especially since I’m using french seams on most of the dress. (For the uninitiated, this complicates things because every seam gets sewn trice, rather than once, as is typical with a more basic seam finishing.) The sleeve just did not want me to make a nice hem out of its edge. I rolled. I pressed. I basted. I tried a baby hem. I considered doing a bias finish but decided the shape of the armhole – which is sharply angled where it meets the side seam – would make it just as troublesome as the other options.

After cutting and sewing something like six test versions, I settled on a basic 1/4″ hem with a slight change of the overall garment construction: instead of sewing the side and shoulder seams and then finishing the armhole (which is typical), I sew the shoulder seams, hem the sleeve edges, and then sew the side seams. This method fully encloses the raw edges at the bottom of the armhole are make a nice strong seam at a point that takes significant stress from the wearer moving around.


Photo Jul 29, 3 13 24 PM

The lesson within all of these details is that this is freaking hard work. Progress feels slow. It’s been a while since I took on a major creative endeavor like this, and I had forgotten that each work in my art portfolio came about after many, many hours in the studio.

Fortunately, I’m loving every minute of it.

The Dream: Starting My Own Sustainable, Ethical Clothing Line

For a long time, I’ve dreamed of starting my own small business designing and selling clothing and accessories. In the age of Etsy, this is by no means a rare idea or an inconceivable ambition. But I can tell you, dreaming up something and actually trying to make it happen are two different things. It’s scary. Terrifying, even. I know nothing about running a small business and have no formal education in fashion. I wouldn’t even consider myself an expert seamstress; far from it. But I really, really want to do this.

Where the magic happens

Where the magic happens

My idea is a business called Sunday Shift (the name came long before any solid idea of what I’d be making and selling), and the concept is to create handmade clothes that are simple, classic, and sustainable. Last year I took a workshop at NYC’s Fashion Institute of Technology called Ethical Fashion Design that expanded my knowledge of how to create sustainable and ethical fashion design business. Our final project for the class was to create a mission statement for our own business, which you can see in this Prezi.

That was June of last year, and in the ensuing months I managed to fine time in addition to my full-time job and 2.5 hours of daily commuting time to make my first small collection of fiber-based jewelry, which I sold at the 2013 Holiday Sale at Massachusetts College of Art and Design (my MFA alma mater).

A few of my first items for Sunday Shift, sold at the MassArt Made 2013 Holiday Sale in Boston, MA. 

Then I got busy with many other things, and in the next several months I made little progress.

A few weeks ago I relocated to North Carolina from NYC, and found myself with a nice chunk of free time while I’m in between jobs. I decided it was the perfect opportunity to yank my proverbial bootstraps and get Sunday Shift going.

I’ve been working on it for the last week, and yesterday I finished my first prototype dress: a simple, A-line shift dress with front patch pockets. I’ve ordered fabric samples from two sources—Organic Cotton Plus and Hemp Traders—and hope to make select one or two to use for production soon.

I have much to do: tweak the pattern, grade the pattern into different sizes, decide on colors, test dyes and printing inks, develop patterns for a couple other items to complete my line, make fabric labels, get business cards, plus the whole process of incorporating and doing other things to make my business legit. I don’t have a specific time frame yet (add that to the to-do list), but I’d like to launch Sunday Shift on Etsy in September.

I intend to use this blog as a way to report on my experiences starting a craft business. This is in itself scary. What if I fail, and the whole blogosphere gets to watch? What if someone steals my ideas? What if people point out my mistakes? Well, that’s a risk I’ve decided to take. I hope that showing the less-than-perfect tales of an utterly clueless entrepreneur will be interesting and helpful to other people. And of course, if you have thoughts or ideas about what I write, please leave then in the comments.