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.

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

The Very First Dress: Sunday Shift in Yellow and Stripes

I’ve been posting about weaving and working and making bags, but you may recall that the focus of this business I’m starting is dresses. Although I haven’t been writing about the dresses much, I have been working on them. And here for you today I am happy to present my very first dress, the Sunday Shift Dress in yellow with striped contrast band and pockets.

You may recognize the yellow flax/silk blend fabric from my first dyeing project in July. I actually made the main part of the dress a few weeks ago. However, the yard of fabric I purchased for testing shrank more than expected in the dyeing and washing process, and the dress ended up too short.

I kept it around while I worked on other things, pondering how to finish it. I finally decided to add a contrast band at the bottom, and for the fabric I used a striped men’s dress shirt I purchased at a thrift store that was in my “To Be Upcycled” stash.

I’m quite pleased with the outcome. Bertha the Dressform has been wearing the dress for a couple days, and it makes me happy every time I see it. I like the yellow enough that I think it would work in a solid color version of the dress, but the stripes are a fun option.

Stay tuned: more dresses coming soon!

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.

First Dyeing Project: Yellow iDye on Flax/Silk Fabric

This week I did my first fabric dyeing. A few years ago my sister and I dyed some alpaca yarn with Kool-Aid (which I later knit into a rather adorable hat), but otherwise I’m a dyeing newbie. I plan to dye, print, or paint the clothing items I’m designing, and this is my first attempt with a flax/silk blend fabric I recently purchased from Organic Cotton Plus.

Hand-dyed yellow flax/silk fabric

Dyed yellow fabric drying in the sun.

For the dye, I used a packet of Jacquard’s iDye in Bright Yellow. I’m actually planning to do most of my dyeing, at least as I start my business, with low-impact fiber reactive dyes, and then hopefully learn to work with natural dyes when I’m done with the initial clothing design and production (for reasons I’ll have to discuss in a future post). I had a couple of packets of iDye on hand, though, and it’s supposed to be relatively low in toxicity and easy to use for immersion dyeing, so that’s what I chose for my first dyeing attempt.

Basically, the process involves heating a giant pot of water, dissolving the dye, adding the fabric, adding salt or vinegar to fix the dye into the textile fibers, and then heating and stirring for 30 minutes. After the dye has set, you rinse the fabric in water and then wash in the washing machine.

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The finished fabric was an incredibly deep, bright yellow with a hint of green in it. I have a trench-style rain jacket in almost the same color, and friends have said they can pick me out in a crowd 150 feet away. Yellow is one of my favorite colors, but this one is unusually bold and stunning.

Done Dyeing

Fabric, done dyeing in the pot. The photo looks over-saturated, but I assure you, the yellow is nearly that bright in real life.

However, I found the near-constant stirring over heat and copious amounts of water usage a bit annoying, beside the fact that I’m not too keen on messing around with permanent dyestuffs in my parents’ impeccable kitchen. Fiber reactive dyes (like these from Dharma Trading) apparently don’t require heat and so don’t have to be used in a kitchen, which is just one of the reasons I’m choosing them over something like iDye.

I think I’m going to use the finished yellow fabric to try out a new dress design I’m working on, and then probably keep it for myself. In the meantime, it’s just lovely to look at.