Thursday, 7 December 2017

Refashioning project: dyeing a dress for Greenpeace and Fashion Revolution's MAKE SMTHNG Week

As part of a campaign to reduce overconsumption, Greenpeace and Fashion Revolution have joined forces for MAKE SMTHNG week; encouraging everyone to get their craft on rather than shopping for new things.

As well as sewing professionally, I also enjoy doing it as a hobby, but it does mean that personal projects get neglected if I feel like I need a break! There are other ways to refashion or upcycle your rarely-worn clothes if you just can't get on board with lots of time-consuming sewing, and this week's refashioning project is a great example - a home dyeing project to make a dress more wearable.

I found this vintage Escada dress on a secondhand shop sale rail a couple of years ago; it was in good condition apart from some missing buttons, but it was a pale lemon yellow and the shoulder pads were a little too much, even for me! 

I knew I was unlikely to wear a pale yellow dress (it's not a practical colour when you travel everywhere by tube and constantly worry about spilling coffee on yourself) but the dress was 100% silk so I was fairly confident I would be able to dye it at home. 

Dyeing is a great way to transform your clothes, but you need to be aware of a few basic rules before you start. 
  • Natural fabrics like cotton or silk dye best. It's really hard to dye polyester with the most readily-available home dye kits, so check the label on your clothes first.
  • Dyeing won't really cover up a pattern, and might not cover up a stain unless you dye the whole garment a much darker colour.
  • Bear in mind that although your garment may be made from a natural fibre, it might have been sewn using synthetic thread, so if the garment has any visible stitching this could retain its original colour. 

  • You also need to bear in mind that with home dyes, the original colour of your garment will affect the final result. The colours shown on dye pack illustrate the result of dyeing white fabric, throwing another colour into the mix will definitely have an effect on paler colours. If I had tried to dye my yellow dress navy blue, I probably would have got a reasonable result, but if I had tried for a pale blue, I would probably have ended up with a green! In the end, I chose green on purpose; I knew I wouldn't get the exact colour on the packet because the dress was yellow, but I wasn't going to end up with an unexpected clash. 

I used a Dylon hand dye, a deep bucket, a long-handled spoon (for stirring the dye bath) and some sturdy rubber gloves! I put some pvc oilcloth fabric down on the floor and wore old clothes; home dyeing shouldn't be too messy, but the dye can stain other clothes and furnishings, so it's better to be on the safe side.

Hand-dyeing is the best option for delicate fabrics, but it's also possible to dye fabric in the washing machine. I've had good results with machine dyes too, but I'd only use them for large garments or long pieces of fabric, as you have to run the washing machine several times so it uses a lot of water.

Follow the instructions on the packet (some dyes also need salt to "fix" to the fabric), and you should be fine, but here are my two top tips:

  • Make sure the garment is thoroughly washed (and still completely wet) when you place it in the dye bath (or washing machine)
  • If the packet tells you to stir the dye bath for what seems like an excessive amount of time, do as you're told! This will ensure an even, professional-looking finish. Make sure your dye bath is big enough to move the garment around without too much splashing!

Once the dress had been thoroughly rinsed and dried, I added some vintage buttons to replace the missing ones. You can see on the photo of the dress label that the overlocking on the seams was done with a synthetic thread, as it was still white, but fortunately no stitching was visible on the outside of the dress.

I'm looking forward to wearing this dress (finally!) now that it's a colour that suits me. If you're planning any dye projects, remember to dispose of the dye carefully afterwards. Seeing the warnings for harmful or irritant chemicals on home dye kits make me even more aware of how toxic certain elements of the fashion industry are to the planet, so it's worth choosing your dye (and method of dyeing) carefully to minimise your impact.

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