New Developments in Silk and iDyeing

Texture and Drape

Sometimes in sewing I notice funny little twerks of the cloth and wonder why.  For example- why exactly does stiff, light dupion silk become lovely swirly silk when washed?   I made my wedding dress of such washed silk and wondered at the time if I could crisp it back later if I wanted.  Since then I occasionally play with scraps of similar silk to watch how it behaves.

I dyed cotton pique (bottom) and a scrap of dupion silk with Lilac iDye.  I made a Parfait from linen dyed with the same color, and smile every time I see the dress.  This time, I washed both together on gentle.  Then I added the packet of iDye, a cup of salt, and 2/3 c of sodium carbonate.  They sell it at pool supply shops as a pH booster.  Silk needs a high pH to accept the dye readily.  Once I used only salt and the silk was very palely tinted.

When Lauren at Wearing History asked for pattern testers a while ago, I jumped up and down shouting “ME ME ME” so she sent me a pattern if I’d just sit still and sew it.  This and the jacket will be my main projects for the next month.

Back to the silk revelation-  I washed both fabrics afterward with a little regular soap and a tiny dash of hair conditioner.  Silk is a protein fiber like hair, right?  I took the wet silk from the washing machine and hard pressed it on a high iron to dry the fabric, with a towel protecting the silk.  I must not have pressed it just that way before, because this time the crisp came back to washed silk.  It took forever to steam it dry that way.

I used copious amounts of sodium carbonate this time.  The color on both fabrics is deeper and richer than I’ve achieved thus far on any of my dyeing experiments.  In the late afternoon light they glowed.  Sometimes the color turns out muddy or fades quickly.  I’ll test for color-fastness by washing a scrap with my darks for a while.  I’m not worried about how fast it is (Moderne is a work dress).  Just curious.

Now I’m off to finish adjusting the pattern using my sloper/block.


  1. Interesting findings! I haven't yet had the guts to work with anything truly fine (I'm not even sure if you can get much in the way of silk here locally…)That dress will look great! Such a neat pattern. :)

  2. Hair shampoo works just fine on silk, so does any product especially made for handwashing clothes such as 'Martha Gardener's Woolmix'.

  3. I've had supplies for painting silk for ages now, but haven't tried it yet. I bought something called Synthrapol to wash the silk. I love that beautiful lilac color.

  4. Lovely colour. Can I suggest trying vinegar for dyeing your protein based fabrics instead of the sodium carbonate/soda ash.

  5. Thank you, Marie, is there a particular reason not to use sodium carbonate? I have used vinegar in the past, this yielded a stronger, brighter color. The sodium carbonate may also answer for the stiffness of the silk…

  6. Well, protein based fibres need an acid dye although silk can fix with the soda ash. I don't know any of the science of dyeing, silk or otherwise, but have picked up on this on my dyeing journey. I would also suggest looking at the info on Paula Birch's dye site – she is brilliant, or any of the large dye companies – Dharma or Pro Chem for instances, as they have great tutes.

  7. I think I read just now on Paula Birch that silk can dye in a basic dye as well as an acid dye. Wool needs a very low ph, or an acid dye so not to damage the fiber. Thanks for pointing me to the site.

  8. I just know at some point I'm going to get into fabric-dyeing. Last year I visited a friend who lives a block from Dharma Trading, which is like a dyer's heaven. I'll be back someday! One question–how do you use your block to adjust patterns? I have one of my own and would like to use it.

  9. Well… All I can say is I just dyed some silk an a very basic solution and the color came out incredible.Amy, I can make that my next dress post.

  10. This is so fascinating, I´d love to experiment more with dying too, sometime. Love the color – and I love that pattern. Can´t wait to see what you come up with!

  11. Pingback: From Block to Pattern: Moderne Dress Alterations « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  12. Pingback: Moderne: We have sleeves! « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

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