How to Sew and Dye Your Bridesmaid Dress: Part III

This post is the third post in a multi-part series and describes in detail how I dyed and sewed my own bridesmaid dress. Part I of the series describes the inspiration and ideas for the dress, and Part II of the series describes the sewing of the mock-up version.

When I first set out to sew and dye my own bridesmaid dress, I imagined it would be challenging, not to mention stressful. I mean, what if it didn’t turn out? I knew that in the worst case scenario I could always buy one, which is why I gave myself the goal of completing the dress at least one month before the start of the actual wedding. As the deadline approached, the pressure mounted, and after a couple of intense days filled with kitchen fumes from the dyes simmering over the stove and sore shoulders from non-stop sewing, the dress was complete! Okay, okay, it’s almost complete. But before I get into the details of what still needs to be done, I’d like to go step-by-step through the process so far.

Step 1: Dyeing the Fabric with Madder Root

I feel so lucky that one of the blog readers left such a helpful comment on Part 1 of the series! Seeing as I have no previous experience with dyeing fabric, never mind using natural dyes, I found the advice to mordant and dye the fabric the base colour prior to sewing it extremely helpful.

Being the crafty book collector that I am, I had also purchased The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar of A Verb for Keeping Warm. This book was so helpful, considering that the resources for learning how to dye fabric naturally on the internet are somewhat limited.

Materials

  • 16 quart stainless steel stockpot
    • As aluminum is reactive, it’s important to make sure the stockpot you use is stainless steel, and not aluminum! I made the mistake of first purchasing an aluminum pot, and then had to go back and exchange it after realizing that the aluminum could potentially alter the final colour of the fabric by reacting with the mordant.
  • 1 tbsp Madder extract from Anne George’s Fabric Treasury
  • About 1/2 cup of Alum Acetate from Anne George’s Fabric Treasury
  • ~3 yards of cotton stretch jersey knit fabric from Fabricland (I think this was 92% cotton, 8% spandex) – Weight: ~1kg.
  • 4 cups of Wheat Bran

A – Scouring the Fabric

The first step in the natural dyeing process is scouring the fabric to remove any dirt that could impede the dyeing process. Seeing as I wasn’t dyeing wool, this step was relatively easy as I just threw the fabric into the washing machine.

B – Mordanting

Mordanting is a necessary step in natural dyeing in order to help the dye better adhere and ‘stick’ to the fabric. Since my fabric was cotton, a cellulose based fabric (as opposed to an animal fibre such as wool), I used alum acetate as a mordant. I dissolved a bit of alum acetate in warm water at a time, using about 100g alum acetate in total for 4 cups of water. I then added this dissolved mixture to the 16qt stockpot which had about 12 L warm tap water. I added in my fabric to the stockpot, and let it sit for about 7 hours, stirring every 10 minutes or so for the first hour.

Sidenote: I had too much fabric than was recommended for the size of my stockpot, as the fabric is supposed to flow freely, and instead it was pretty crammed in! My ratio of alum acetate to water was also a bit off, as the Modern Natural Dyer recommends a slightly higher ratio. However, the final product still seemed to turn out fine – leaving me to believe that having the exact measurements isn’t so big of a deal.

C – Wheat Bran Dye Bath

When dyeing cellulose-based fabric, a wheat bran bath (or alternatively, chalk bath) is recommended to remove the excess alum acetate used in the mordanting process from the fabric. I added about 4 cups of wheat bran to a large bowl of hot tap water, and swished my fabric around for about 5-10 minutes or so in the mixture. I then rinsed my fabric out with tap water.

D – Dyeing with Madder Root Extract

Here come’s the fun part! I was very afraid of having my fabric come out too dark, so I used very little dye for the amount of fabric I had. I  mixed about 1 tablespoon of madder root extract with 2 cups of hot water, stirring to dissolve. I then added the mixture into the 16 quart pot (which was about 75% full of hot water). I added in my fabric to the pot.

I let the mixture simmer at about 60 degrees Celsius for 1 hour (maximum temperature of about 71 degrees Celsius), and stirred very frequently, every 5 to 10 minutes. Typically I don’t believe you would need to stir so frequently, but I wanted to ensure an even distribution on dye over the fabric, and knew that my pot was too small for the amount of fabric I was dyeing. After 1 hour of simmering and stirring, I let the mixture cool for an additional hour, rinsed, then washed the fabric in the washing machine. Then I hung the fabric to dry!

Madder root extract.

Step 2: Sewing the Dress

I had sewed two previous dresses with the same pattern in the last month, so I felt fairly confident for this step of the process. However, it turned out to be much more complicated and difficult than anticipated due to the stretchiness of the fabric!

Materials

  • ~3 yards of naturally dyed jersey knit fabric (92% cotton, 8% spandex)
  • Kielo Wrap Dress by Named Clothing sewing pattern, with alterations
  • French curve ruler
  • Schmetz Stretch Needles
  • White Polyester Thread

This step of the process left me feeling the most discouraged of them all. Despite using a number of different combinations on my sewing machine and adjusting the tension, my fabric still seemed to pucker. For reasons that I still don’t understand, I could never get the zig-zag stitch in the right tension, although the straight stitch had less issues. For that reason, I avoided using the zig-zag stitch as much as possible. I also chose not to hem the neckline.

My total alterations of the Kielo wrap dress are as follows (I furthered my alterations slightly from my mock-up described in Part II)

  • Lower the front neckline by 2 and 3/4 ” from centre;
  • Shorten the pattern by 2 ” between the waist and hip
  • Lower the back neckline by 2″ from the centre
  • Lengthen the shoulder straps by 1/2″ (front and back, so the bust darts fall at the right spot)

I must have been feeling overconfident after sewing the last two dresses, because this experience definitely brought me back to the reality that I was a newbie sewer! I completely forgot to check for the direction of the grain and stretch when cutting out my fabric. Thankfully, I don’t think you can really tell from the final result (at least I hope you can’t!).

Notice how the bust to waist area is quite loose / bulky in the photos above? I think this may have been a result of some of my alterations. Luckily, it was an easy fix! I sewed an additional 1″ up the fabric at each armhole, so the armhole wouldn’t be as wide. This helped to create a better fit in this area, which you’ll see in the pictures in Step 3!

Step 3: Dip-dyeing the Dress

This step was probably the easiest of them all, and the  most fun! I chose to forego the scouring and mordanting steps, because:

a) I didn’t have any alum acetate left to use for the mordant, and

b) I was lazy!

Luckily, the final result still turned out perfect!

I tried a test strip before I did the real thing, to get an idea of how long I should leave the fabric in for, and how much dye I would need.

Here are the steps I followed to dip dye my dress.

  1. Dissolve 1 tbsp madder root extract in 2 cups of hot water. Add solution to 16 qt pot filled only 1/4 full of warm water. (~4 qts).
  2. Add lower 2 feet of dress into pot, taking care to fully saturate fabric up to where you want the dye applied. Clip dress to side of pot using clothespins to ensure correct amount of fabric remains saturated. Let simmer on stove for about 5 minutes (I was over conservative, if you want a more obvious effect you should let it simmer for longer!).
  3. Squeeze out excess dye from lower portion of dress, and immerse only bottom 1/2 foot of dress. Adjust clothespins so correct amount of fabric is saturated. Let simmer for additional 5 minutes.

As you can see, I really didn’t want to overdye the fabric, and the result is a beautifully subtle ombre effect at the bottom of the dress. Also, please disregard the wrinkles! I’ll definitely be pressing it before the big day.

The final result! Note: this is after the dip dyeing step.

Step 4: Still to Come

Okay, so the dress is almost finished but there are still a few last minute adjustments I’d like to make. These are:

  1. Shortening the dress by about 3″ (it’s just a tad too long!)
  2. Dip dyeing the dress again, for a bolder result (seeing as I will be hemming the bottom of the dress, this will remove the darkest layer of fabric. I am going to dip dye it a second time so the ombre effect is still visible!).

What do you think? Would you ever consider making your own bridesmaid dress? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

6 Comment

  1. Alina says: Reply

    You look stunning!!! I love how devoted you are – every step of the process. The gradient color detail is such a great idea!

    1. Thanks Alina! Yes, I am so happy it turned out the way I had imagined, otherwise I would have some last-minute dress shopping to do! Weddings make for great deadlines and motivation to finish a big project 😉

  2. Anna says: Reply

    Wow! That looks great. And by the way: You are so pretty! The gradient color of the dress is stunning. It looks so good, you can’t even tell it’s DIY. I have never sewn anything but I want to pick it up as well in the future (when my kids are a bit older). This is definitely an inspiration that it’s doable. Thanks! And good luck for the move to Vancouver!

    1. Thank you so much Anna! I was sooo nervous about dyeing the fabric, but in the end it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I was expecting! It is definitely doable (although a bit time consuming for a beginner sewer). I would suggest you try to sew and then dip dye something easy, like a skirt, to get started!

  3. Val says: Reply

    I hope you’re crazy proud of this, it’s amazing work! The dress looks so great on you! I’ve never dyed cellulose fibres, thinking it would be much more complicated than wool, but it seems pretty similar (except for the wheat bran… Fascinating!).

    1. I am crazy proud of myself, haha, thanks Val! 🙂

      I think cellulose is less complicated than wool just from what I’ve read so far – also because I took advantage of the fact that I could just throw it into the washing machine and not have to worry about it felting! So definitely less time-consuming on that end. And yes, I found the wheat bran bath so interesting as well! The Modern Natural Dyer book gave two options to remove the excess mordant in cellulose fabrics: either a Wheat Bran or a Chalk bath. Each bath would produce a slight variation of the final colour! Nice that you can skip this step with the protein-based fibers though!

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