A favourite dress saved from ruin

Almost exactly four years ago I made the Blueprints for Sewing Cabin dress from some fabric which I had dyed with oxalis or sour grass, and eucalyptus. This is a favourite dress that I wear multiple times in the summer. I love the colours and I love the patterns I achieved with sourgrass and eucalyptus leaves.

Last year I wore it on a particularly hot day and decided to wear deodorant, which I am normally a bit averse to; I use natural deodorant when I do wear it. Imagine my horror when I got home from a rather social day to find that the armpits on the dress were bright red. Red! The rest of the dress was going about its business of being yellow so the armpits were unmissable. I washed it really quickly and the red toned down to orange, but it was still hard to miss. I took it into my sewing room while I contemplated what action to take. I was thinking about cutting triangles from the inside of the double hem and somehow stitching them to the armpits. It all got too hard and I threw the dress in a drawer and tried to forget it.

This is how the fabric looked after washing.

During the course of winter I got to thinking about the dress and figured out that the deodorant would be alkaline and if I bathed the dress in an alkaline solution I might be able to even out the colour.

For once I tested the theory on one of the pockets and it seemed to work. This was a baking soda solution of 10% dry weight of fabric mixed with rainwater.

I decided it was a bit strong so took the solution down to 5% of DWOF and began dunking.

At this point things got a bit hectic. It worked brilliantly except the armpits got darker! Panic ensued. I quickly made up a batch of sour grass dye (luckily they are in season) and dunked just the armpits to try and make it match the rest. It immediately took all the orange out, so now I had yellow armpits and an orange dress! I had put the sour grass into a small bowl, so was now busy trying to cram the whole dress in to see if I could get it to revert to the original colour.

I was reasonably successful in this endeavour, but it still has an orange cast to it.

I don’t find the colour of the dress as attractive now. Perhaps it’s just tired from all that dunking, but it’s definitely darker. This photo was taken before pressing.

However, I will be wearing it this summer, just not quite as joyfully!

I also feel that some of the patterning has lost its definition and looks more smudged.

However the lovely thing about natural dyeing is that I can just dye the dress again if I find I’m really unhappy with it. I might change the colour altogether and do some Hapa Zome, which is Japanese flower pounding – hammering leaves and flowers into the fabric. It rarely lasts more than a few washes, but it will be pretty for a season and then I can do something else. This dress may now keep evolving!

There is always a lesson to be learned though. The addition of an alkaline solution really changed the colour and this could be a useful thing to do, as I have so much yellow fabric from my oxalis dyeing. It might also change the colour of other dyes such as onion skins and avocado. I know I can use an iron blanket to create better definition and colour change, but the colours do sadden a bit. I am now really keen to give the alkaline and also acid a try and have added some baking soda and some vinegar to my dyeing kit. Stay tuned for the next instalment!


16 thoughts on “A favourite dress saved from ruin

  1. This is one of the things I’ve wondered about natural dyeing. I’ve incidentally dyed my cotton flour bags when squeezing berries and grapes. They are a pretty pink when squeezed, from the acidity in the fruit, but as soon as they are washed the alkaline detergent sends them blue. If your plant dye was sensitive to acid/alkaline why didn’t washing it change the colour?

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment Karey. Fruits and berries will stain but they aren’t lightfast or colourfast, particularly when the fabric hasn’t been mordanted, and yes, acid will change the colour. I use a PH neutral laundry detergent and hand wash my dyed clothes, except anything that has been treated with iron as nothing budges that! I think there’s a whole area of experimentation around PH which I have not really explored, but which I shall be having fun with in the near future.

  2. Oh, that’s intriguing, Sue! I can see why First you didn’t like the result but it’s beautiful, too, just in another way.

  3. That’s quite a story. You were very persistent. And the result is lovely. I look forward to further installments.

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