Dyeing to Show You…

Crazy ideas appear sometimes.  They nip at my heels and won’t go away until I’ve at least attempted to call them into reality.  I had the idea to dye the fabrics for a wardrobe collection- natural fibres, mostly sustainable or in some way ethical, and possibly with low-impact dyes.  Part of the “problem” of finding and buying hemp, organic cotton, ethical silks and other such fabrics is they often come in all shades of cream/natural.  I’m not the sort of woman who can wear nothing but beautiful shades of ecru. Of course, there are exceptions, some eco-fibres do come in crazy colors. 

At first I thought to use natural dyes- I was especially drawn to logwood and/or indigo.  Natural dyes require mordants to make the dye stick to the fibres; many mordants are heavy metals which are toxic in high doses.   I found that natural dyes use a small amount of heavy metals- I satisfied my conscience that they would be low-impact.  Production of those dyestuffs is sustainable and supports local ways of life in remote areas.

I had to let go the natural dye fantasy for several reasons- space, equipment, and accessibility.  I have a tiny kitchen, a small back patio, and a laundry with a deep sink.  It works for simple dyeing, but not for something like setting up an indigo vat.  I can’t find the equipment I need- a big, huge dyepot for one.  Last year I spent the winter dyeing and batiking fabrics for a quilt and ran into the same problem.  Believe it or not, I could not find a big huge pot for love or money.  Finally, I would need to ship all the dyestuffs from the US to Australia.  Very expensive.  I’m sick of paying so much shipping. 

I cast around for another option.  I ordered some strange but beautifully textured linen for part of the Billie Collection.  Pink and green threads- I liked it conceptually, but the stuff is ugly.  So I dyed it blue with iDye.

Oooh la la.  It came out just beautiful, and exactly the right color.  Textured linen is great, buy the way.  Much easier to wear.

Encouraged, I stuck some fabric into a Lilac dyepot.  I can’t get the logwood out of my mind; I can’t have it, but I can have pretty purples.

I’m so intrigued how different fibres take dye.  The top is a bamboo/cotton jersey; middle is my favorite organic cotton canvas; the last is a 60/40 silk/cotton.  These colors make me smile, and remind me of dark Tyrian purple.  Could you see a whole wardrobe of this?

Bamboo Cotton.  I wanted it uniformly colored.
I feel I really screwed up the silk/cotton.  Look at the lazy spots.  Yuck.  I think I’ll dye it darker and use it as waistcoat lining.
Organic cotton.  Also some “hand-dyed” effect.
When I have an undesired effect, I analyze how to avoid replicating it.  In this case I did not drop the little packet into the washer and leave it.  I filled Lila’s old baby bathtub with hot hot water, put in my fabrics, dropped in the dye and gave it a few lazy stirs.  Then I dissolved 1 cup salt into boiling water, threw that in and lazily stirred.  Then I left it for most of an afternoon.  I decided I got the “hand-dyed” effect from not stirring enough, and from not dissolving the dye pack before I dropped it in.  Incidentally, I left the organic cotton in overnight to see if the color deepened the longer I left it.  Some dyes are “spent” when they cool, I wanted to know if idye was like that.
Two cotton Lila undershirts I chucked into the dyebath. The lighter one came out with the bamboo and cotton/silk; the other I left in overnight.  I think it is obvious the color deepens with time.
Then I put the dyed fabrics into the washing machine with like colors, detergent and some vinegar for the rinse. Perfect.  
Second batch- greens.  I love greens almost as much as purples, both colors I can wear well.  I thought a whole wardrobe of purples would be weird, so why not punch it up with a little dark green.  
I want to use this fabric in the collection, too.  Greens, purples, a bit of black, and a little white.  What’s not to love?
Gross.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the clarity, vibrancy and color uniformity.  It is too yellow for my taste.    For one, I didn’t put as much fabric in the pot, for easier stirring.  For the other, I stirred very often and dissolved the dye packet before putting it in.  I left it over night.  I wanted something rather darker but still clear; more like the sweater I’m wearing in these photos.  This is just… gross.  The bottom is a cotton voile, the middle is the same bamboo jersey, and the top is some thin remnant stuff I threw in for interest.  I suspect it is a cotton with some poly.  The swatch was natural colored linen.  I don’t mind the voile or the linen too much, but the others are just awful.  I’m very pleased I didn’t stick in a length of linen intended for a skirt.  I’ll wait til I have the right green.  
Previously colorless undershirt, now very green.  
The colors don’t speak to each other well.  The green shouts, the purples sulk.  The green should be deeper and quieter, then it will belong with the purples.  
By the way, I LOVE iDye.  I have no idea what they use, it is some big secret but it doesn’t smell like dylon or rit or anything else I’ve used with soda ash/salt.  I only add salt to this one, no soda ash, and it doesn’t seem to eat away at my cuticles the same way other dyes do when they splash on my hands.  It comes in a nice little packet that dissolves in water, no micro-particles to inhale.   The dyebath goes relatively translucent after a good long soak, so I suspect most of the dye gets absorbed into the fabrics.
Spotlight had this color, I wonder if it would create the desired effect on my obnoxious greens?

Or should I call every artist supply/craft shop in Brisbane until I track down this one:

Or should I stick it into another Kelly Green?

Hmmmmm…. I’m just not sure.  I do know I want to stick the organic cotton and the jersey into another long Lilac bath, for deep Lilac loveliness with less mottled effects.  I’ll mull the olive/emerald question.  At the end of the day, I practiced greens on fabrics I don’t care deeply about.  The voile can be used as a skirt lining, the jersey can be dyed black if I screw it up royally.  The other oddbits I put into the ugly green can be used other ways. 

Ideas?  Purples and greens too much?  Stick to just purples?  Emerald or olive or kelly?


  1. I love iDye too! I dye over the stove (thank you Nana for the enormous pot!).I love the greens you achieved, but can see how you don't like them.And I think that working with materials that you can get where you are is just as environmentally ethic as ordering 'green' stuff from overseas. Except when it comes to buying Kiwi raised food. Even with Airmiles, buying NZ produce and meat in England is 'greener' than buying European food. Scary!

  2. Those are beautiful colors. Although you say the purples and greens don't play well together, in the photos they look beautiful next to one another. I must try Idye for my black jeans as they fade.

  3. I probably imagine they don't work because the green doesn't fit what was going on in my head. Also because that shade of green against my skin makes me look like I'm perishing of tuberculosis. hehe.

  4. I have always over dyed fabrics that fade, ie blacks. I used to use plain old rit dye, but I'd mix my black with blue and red or green to get a richer color. I used to use my washing machine, but it died and the new energy efficient variety is not dye friendly. My dh is a garage/yard sale addict and he found a giant pot for me to dye in for a few dollars. Rit isn't really the best for the kind of dyeing that you are doing and I have seen I dye here too, but it is so an expensive option. The other thing is that protein fabrics, like wool and silk need different dyes than cottons and linens or hemps. Vegetable fibers? I admire your attempts, and unfortunately dyeing is rarely predictable.

  5. I think the greens are lovely too, but I know what you mean about not being the greens in your head (plus, skin tone is important, you would not believe how green I can look in certain shades of orange!)I have a friend (also an American ex-pat in Australia!) who does loads of dying, she does hand-dying mostly, which is not what you want, but she recommends Paula Burch's site, have you ever looked at it? There's even a list of dye sources by continent. And loads of FAQs about dying and different fibers and so on. And on the green – I like the Emerald!

  6. I love these colours together. I would go with olive because I love it. I have a plan for a purple/green winter wardrobe this year, so I might even try some of these dyes myself.

  7. Pingback: Finished Object: Blueberry Parfait « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  8. Pingback: Hemp: For Sewing, Not Smoking « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  9. Pingback: Shisha Mirrors and Summer Snowflakes « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  10. Hi Steph. Enjoying your article. For a large pot I got an old fowlers vacola preserving pot made for the stove. They are more often than not in the Southern states such as Victoria, but if you are patient they come up in Brisbane as well. Try eBay. Thanks for the dyeing info — now I might be brave enough to try! Btw I’d go for the Olive, but that’s only because I need the muted colours to make my skin glow instead of fade!

Is it kind, useful or interesting? Great!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s