a really good day to dye

Yesterday afternoon I had a really successful day dyeing silk. It was a big-project day — I had to dye 7.5 yards of 10mm silk habotai for C, who is going to have a 3-half-circle skirt made out of it; a matching 5mm veil; and since I was working in Sapphire and Plum, I also dyed up L’s scarf, which I’ve only owed her for, what months and months?

The big chunk of fabric was my biggest worry. When I dyed yardage for the 18th century dress, I laid out my pattern first and sectioned the fabric to dye in chunks. That’s not possible if you’re providing yardage for somebody else to sew, so I had to develop a different technique. I knew I could not successfully low-water-immersion dye that much fabric and have it come out with the desired effect. So I decided to work with squirt bottles of dye in the garage instead.

The first challenge was getting my plastic dropcloth spread out without exposing the “top” to the grime of the floor. That was quite difficult because of the way they are folded. Next I had to lay out the fabric. On a 3 by 4 yd. dropcloth, I would need to fold my fabric in half. I learned last time I worked in the garage that pre-soaking the silk in vinegar was a HUGE mistake. You can’t shift soaking wet silk around on a plastic sheet and expect the sheet to stay still. So instead, I set out the silk and filled a spray bottle with vinegar… three times. That was a lot of silk to wet, and
it was two layers thick! I suspect that what I need is an old-fashioned clothes sprinkler, like my mom had for ironing, for this task. My hand got quite sore from the sprayer handle.

Next I mixed up dye — two cups of Plum (1 t) and two cups of Sapphire (2 t). I used warmer water than usual to counteract the cold floor. I filled the squirt bottles (which of COURSE do not hold two cups, so there was some running back and forth) and proceeded to squirt streams of dye over the silk in roughly wavy patterns. I still had some small white areas, but I was not too worried about them because the silk would not be resting in this flat position too long. (I also discovered that those squirt bottles are pretty lame and leak down into their cap threads. Arg.)

Then there was the question of how this would be steamed. I had purchased turkey roaster pans to try the oven method (20 minutes at 275), but instead I discovered that yes, seven yards of wet silk can be crumpled together and put in a 2-gallon ziplock bag! Obviously this wouldn’t work if I weren’t doing a random pattern, but it was darn nice for this situation. I brought the bundle in from the garage and let it rest an hour to let the colors creep around a bit. (This also gave me time to dye the veil — LWI dyed in the same colors in my giant beaker, thanks karenb2 — and L’s
scarf.) Then I started to zap in the microwave. I wanted the entire bundle to feel quite hot… and ended up zapping at 50% power for six and a half minutes! (Compare this to about 2 minutes for a veil.) I started the rinse process in the sink, but soon gave up — just too much fabric — and ran it through a double rinse in the washing machine instead.
After the usual washing and conditioning steps, I could see that this giant project actually turned out really well. I sure hope that C will like it. I’m hoping, too, that after the local dancers see her set, they will consider commissioning one of their own, buying fabric from me and paying Phaedra (or whoever they choose) to sew it. I think $10/yard for the fabric is appropriate, and I could give a slight price break on a matching veil, and charge $105 to $120 altogether.


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