My Dress-Shirt: A Dye Story January 26, 2016 10:30 1 Comment

I was at a thrift store in Parksville when I came across this dress. It was way too long for me, kind of shapeless, and I stay away from wearing white (I stain things too easily). It was only $1.99 so I thought what the heck and bought it anyway. 

Thrift Store Dress just $1.99

Fast forward to two months later and I finally pulled the dress out of the closet and decided to do something with it. 
I've never really dyed cotton before so this whole thing was a weekend experiment. Because I didn't plan much of this out beforehand, I had to use things that are usually found around the house. 
What I used for this project:
(note: any kitchen tools used in dyeing should not be used for food again)
- white cotton dress
- about 10 black teabags 
- a large produce bag full of red onion skins
- rubber gloves
- medium size stainless steel pot
- iron mordant* (*Iron mordant can be made by (carefully) putting a hand full of rusty nails in a jar about 2/3 full of water) 

Tea and Onion Skins

To start, I cut the dress at what I thought would be a good length for my height. Turns out I'm still not a very good judge of length and cut a bit too short like I usually do (oops) and it ended up being more of a long shirt. Tip: always cut longer than you think you'll need. 
Next, I started the dye bath. I have never been all that great at following recipes. Whether it's dyeing, skincare, candles, cooking, it never ends up being the same as the recipe. To make the dye, I put the teabags and about 3/4 of the onion skins into a medium sized pot and let it simmer for a couple hours. While the dye was steeping I submerged the dress in warm water so it was fully soaked through.

Dress Soaking

Fortunately since everything I used in the particular dye bath was food safe I could just dump it into the compost pile after straining (not everything used to dye is safe for the compost so make sure you know what you're using!)
Once all the teabags and onion skins were strained out I put the whole dress into the bath and let that sit on low for about one hour. I turned the heat off and let it cool in the bath for another hour. 

Onion Dress

I decided the dress was too boring with just one colour so I thought I would try a kind of eco-printing. I still had some onion skins left and so I wrapped them up nice and tight at the bottom of my shirt/dress. I then put the shirt back into the dye pot to steam for another hour.

Dress Wrap Eco-Print

I checked on the shirt after half an hour and was surprised at how red it was!
After unwrapping the shirt I realized I didn't like the pinky-red that had come out of the onion skins and added about a tablespoon of iron mordant to the pot and put the shirt (unwrapped) back in for about 20 minutes. I was pleased to see that the red had turned green (the magic of mordants!). 


Because I didn't iron the fabric or take too much care in how I placed it in the pot, my shirt came out quite uneven. I'm pretty okay with the result, but a more even dye jobs can be accomplished by lightly stirring the fabric while it is soaking in the dye.