Dyeing silk (and another lingerie set)

First of all, here’s the newest lingerie set. The bra is Merckwaerdigh BHS10, View E and the panty is the free Make Bra hipster. The bra is stretch lace from a Merckwaerdigh kit, underlined with a lightweight power net. I made the panty out of the same power net. I cut out the pieces for the bra nearly two weeks ago. I put it aside because I wanted to dye the mesh to match, and then I got sidetracked by working on my Marfy cocktail dress.

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I dyed the elastics, waistband lace, and stretch mesh using Dharma Trading’s acid dye in Extreme Blue. It doesn’t match perfectly but it is close enough. Everything I dyed took up the color slightly differently. The mesh is so vibrant it practically glows, and the waistband is a duller color that matches the bra lace almost perfectly. I dyed everything in the same dye bath so it was just a matter of everything absorbing the dye slightly differently due to different fibers and/or fiber composition. The bottom band elastic was the weirdest. It must have been made out of a nylon/polyester blend. The plush side of the elastic is a rich blue, but the upper and lower edges are pure white. The other side of the elastic is a checkerboard of blue and white.

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In addition to dyeing nylon – which is very quick and easy due to how readily it absorbs the dye – I have also been experimenting with dyeing silk. My reasons for dyeing my own silks are stash management and ease of fabric care. If I can dye silk to my favorite colors I will feel less pressure to buy something when I see it because I really like the color. (I will make an exception if the silk is a very good price.) I love the self-sufficiency of being able to produce my own colors on demand! No more buying too much yardage because I have no idea what I’m going to do with it at the point of purchase. Instead I can also buy bolts of PFD (Prepared for Dyeing) silk as a hedge against inflation. (I really wish I had done this about ten years ago, before silk prices skyrocketed due to a lot of Chinese farmers switching from silkworms to cotton production.) Another really nice thing about dyeing your own silk is being able to preshrink. If you buy a silk already dyed and wash it in hot water you’ll get massive bleeding and fading. But since you need to prewash the silk in hot water with Dharma’s Textile Detergent to remove residue before placing it in the dye bath, all the preshrinking is taken care of without having to worry about the color. Unlike a store-bought dyed silk I also know exactly what chemicals it was treated with. (I’ve heard the spotting silk gets from having drops of water is due to a reaction with the finishing agents the manufacturers use.)

I used a 16mm silk crepe de chine from Dharma Trading and Dharma’s acid dye in Sapphire Blue. The deeper blue fabric at the top is my second attempt. The lighter blue fabric on the bottom is my first attempt.

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The first time I dyed the silk I dyed all five yards after prewashing in hot water with the Dharma Textile Detergent. Then I dyed it on the stovetop in a five gallon stainless steel pot. I do NOT recommend dyeing this much fabric at once! It was very difficult to manage, especially since you eventually heat the water up to 185ºF. I used the amount of dye recommended by weight (the fabric was one pound). I predissolved it in very hot water prior to placing it in the dye bath. Dharma recommends using a funnel with a piece of lightweight silk habotai as a filter, so that’s what I did. Then I added the fabric, which I had just taken out of the washing machine. I must have kept it in the dye bath for 45 minutes total. After it had been in the dye bath for about five minutes I added citric acid, which causes the dye to “strike” and fix to the fabric. I stirred the entire time, then washed it with hot water and more Textile Detergent. I had reservations about doing this but since that’s what the instructions said to do I did it anyway. Holy crap, the amount of bleed was unbelievable. (I think the hot water the instructions mentioned was for Fiber Reactive Proction dyes and not the acid dyes. The bond of acid dyes is easily “broken” by using a too-hot water temperature.) And the silk ended up being WAY lighter than I intended. Despite having done a final rinse in Milsoft (a professional grade fabric softener), I decided a week later that I would try dyeing it again.

The second attempt I cut off 3.5 yards of my 5 yard piece. This made it a lot easier to manage all the length. I weighed it – 3/4 pound. I prewashed it again in the washing machine using hot water and the Textile Detergent. (Dharma doesn’t recommend dyeing fabric after it has been treated with Milsoft but I didn’t have any issues, probably because I prewashed it again. The Textile Detergent seemed to do a great job removing the fabric softener.) I then let it soak in a bucket of warm water with more Textile Detergent until it was time to place it in the dye bath. In the meantime I got the dye ready. (FYI – make sure you wear a mask and gloves anytime you are working with powdered dye.) Instead of the three teaspoons recommend for one pound of fabric I decided to double the dye to 5 teaspoons for my 3/4 pound of fabric. (They recommend doing this for very deep colors like black and navy.) I “pasted” the dye first by adding 1.5 teaspoons of very hot water, then added another 1.5 cups of very hot water to the dye and let it sit for a while. I got my 5 gallon stainless steel pot 3/4 filled with water and let it heat up to about 120ºF before straining in the dye with the funnel and a piece of silk habotai. Then I stirred it it to mix everything together before adding in the silk. Before adding the silk I made sure it wasn’t twisted so the dye results would be as even as possible. I let the silk stay in there between five and ten minutes, stirring continuously, and in the meantime got the water temperature up to 185ºF. As soon as it hit this temperature I added one tablespoon of citric acid, making sure to push the fabric out of the way as much as possible while slowly adding it to the water. Then I stirred it like crazy! After about 20 minutes I then added 1.5 cups of salt to the bath to help the dye “exhaust” (transfer from the water to the fabric) better. I also added more citric acid. When we last had our well water tested about a year ago the results said the water was alkaline. That’s why I think I need to add more citric acid than what is recommend. A few minutes later I shut the burner off and just kept stirring, letting the water get down to about 100ºF before taking out the fabric. (Note: since the fabric is wet the color is going to be much darker than when the fabric is dry. This sounds simple, but it is easy to forget when you’re actually stirring it on the stove!)

Before taking out the fabric I filled a five gallon bucket with just enough barely warm water to cover the fabric. Then I added two tablespoons of Dharma’s Dye Fixative to it. I took the fabric out of the dye bath and placed it directly into the bucket, then let it soak for 30 minutes. I took it out and washed it by hand with some cool water and Textile Detergent, then rinsed three times. There was MUCH less bleeding this time. The water was also a light blue rather than the vibrant blue before. Then I put it in my spin dryer for a minute, and let it finish air drying on a laundry rack by the wood stove. As you can see the final color is a lot darker than the first time. Not quite as dark as the color chart suggests, but a lot closer than my original attempt. Since I was satisfied with the color this time I did another 20 minute soak in Milsoft and cool water to restore the softness of the silk, then air dried it again.

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If you have a certain color in mind you need to use a scale, and test first. The printer inks on their paper color charts cannot fully represent the actual color the fabric will be, and monitors definitely can’t. There are many different variables you need to take in account. Different fibers will dye differently. Nylon is extremely vibrant, silk and wools less so. Water chemistry also matters a lot. Dharma notes on their website that people that have dyed in different cities have gotten different results, despite meticulously dyeing everything using the same “recipe”.

24 thoughts on “Dyeing silk (and another lingerie set)

  1. Anne, thanks for all the information! I want to get brave enough to dye my own fabric as well, but I need to educate myself first. This information is invaluable! I think this may be one of my favorites of your sets. It is gorgeous! That lace! And I am not really into blue. Lovely, lovely. I have never worn mesh undies, so I wonder if I would find them comfortable. Are they quite “airy”?

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    1. I find them very comfortable and yes, “airy.” They are more durable than the typical jersey, smooth under everything due to the thin, open weave and have excellent stretch and recovery. Plus this fabric dyes really well. Not the best choice though if you are wearing a full skirt on a windy day and are concerned about modesty!

      The Dharma Trading website has tons of information and very knowledgeable staff. That is why they are my go-to source for anything to do with dyes. If you are just starting out try nylon tricot with the acid dyes. It is inexpensive and easy to work with.

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  2. You are amazing! Thanks for sharing all the information. The first time I tried dying, it was a bit of a disaster. I will find the strength to re-dye that fabric, thanks to your post. Happy holidays!

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    1. Hi Julie, thanks for the suggestion. Your comment probably landed in spam. I am aware of Melissa’s pattern but it isn’t something I am interested in making as I am not a fan of thongs. I prefer either the free Make Bra hipster or shapewear like The Christine Jonson pattern.

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      1. Thank you for your fast reply! The pattern is much more comfortable than it seems to be. And it is quick and easy to make and even for free – totally worth a try, don`t you think? But I can also understand your focus on other shapes.

        Furthermore: Keep up your great work! It is always a pleasure to read your progress reports with all kind of tips.

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  3. Hi Anne,

    thank you for your fast reply. It is much more comfortable than it might look like (and it is simple and quick and even freeware – so, really worth a try I think 😉 ). But I can also understand your focus is on other shapes.

    Furthermore: Keep on your good work! Your detailed progress reports with sharing tips are great to read.

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    1. I just find most thongs intensely annoying to wear, especially the ones finished with elastic. The only ones I find even moderately tolerable are the stretch lace ones from Hanky Panky.

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      1. Then Melissas pattern might be a good start to customize it according to your “needs”. In case of running out of sewing-stuff you can consider to give the pattern a chance.

        Julie

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  4. Though I`m still having troubles to understand the comment-form: Without cookies enabled and after reopening your page I only see the comments until December 24, 2014 at 07:07. So I am a bit confused.

    Sorry for offtopic and possible doubleposting 😉

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    1. I went into a lot of detail but it isnt that hard at all. Mostly a lot of stirring and monitoring water temp. It is something nice to do while talking on the phone or watching tv.

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  5. Anne, what a lovely lingerie set, and beautifully dyed silk. Just love those blues! Thanks for the detailed dyeing info. Do you have a favorite source for PFD silk by the bolt?

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  6. Thanks for the very detailed tips on dyeing. You point out possible pitfalls for novices. I’ve ordered dyes from Dharma and can’t wait to try. The tip about their fabric spftener to use afterwards was great.

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    1. Just make sure you’re happy with the color before you use the fabric softener! I did take a risk washing and re-dyeing it after I treated it with the Milsoft…

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  7. Hey Anne! catching up with your blog and loved your dyeing explorations! I love using acid dyes and really love the quality of Dharma’s silk. In my experience, black and blues tend to run a lot and I also need to use more of it than other colors. (For yellow and reds I need less.)

    You would really like Jane Dunnewald’s Craftsy class on dyeing. It’s about using fiber reactive dyes and using them for dye effects (which isn’t my thing but I love learning about dyes). She explains the dye process so clearly. She talks about how there is a certain point where dye molecules don’t have any spaces left on the fiber to go (called “dye sites”)—this is one cause for paler results and bleeding. A fixative basically glues extra dye on the surface but it doesn’t create a permanent bond. It’s fascinating stuff. She also says that in certain dye mixes (if the dye is not a pure color), the faster-to-strike colors will take up all the dye sites. So that may have happened to you—the paler blue dye in the mix hogged all the room.

    Also I had big problems trying to make a darker color after I used Milsoft. I called Dharma and they said that the fabric softener can inhibit more dyeing.

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    1. I heard that blues, reds, and purples are the worst for color bleed with silks. This particular color also had a low number for washfastness, so it isn’t surprising at all that it needs to be babied and treated only with cool water! The fiber reactive dyes are very washfast, the acid dyes not as much. But the colors are more predictable and vibrant with acid dyes when you’re dyeing silks. They recommend against using the fiber reactive dyes on silk because of the striking issue with mixes.

      Yes, I saw on their website that they strongly recommend dyeing fabrics that have been treated with Milsoft. I was concerned about it but I disliked the lighter color so much that I decide to take a chance. Fortunately a hot wash with the textile detergent seemed to strip it out for me.

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