Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Decisions, Decisions: Dyeing the Silk for My Marie Antoinette Gown

So I was very excited when my silk taffeta came today (all 15 yards of it!) until I opened the box and realized it was not quite the color I expected. I was looking for sort of a Robin's Egg Blue color, and from the description and photo, this seemed like it would be perfect. Unfortunately, it is super goldy-green, not at all a good color for an albino blonde such as myself. So it looks like I will have to dye it.

 Behold, the golden-green fabric.
What is interesting about this fabric is that it is a "shot" taffeta, which means that the cross threads are a different color than the ones that run up and down. In this case the two shades are buttercup yellow and robin's egg blue. The buttercup yellow threads are what is giving off the golden haze. The challenge with dyeing this fabric is preserving the shot. If I make it too light, then both threads will become white essentially and I will lose some of the shimmer effect of the shot. On the other hand, it is so pale that the contrast of the shot doesn't really have that noticeable an effect (compared to red shot with black, for instance). So maybe I just shouldn't worry about it? I did some preliminary test swatches using various stages of color removal, optic whitener, and blue dye and came up with some interesting conclusions.

Here you can see from left to right: 
1) 100% color removed + optic whitener 
2) 100% color removed
3) 75% color removed + optic whitener (top) and without (bottom)
4) 50% color removed + optic whitener + blue dye
5) 50% color removed
6) 50% color removed + blue dye
7) and 8) 100% color removed plus blue dye
9) (center bottom) Original color

Just looking at the colors, I can tell that whatever I do I will need to lighten it at least 50% to get a color I can work with. To whiten silk, I use a product called White Brite which you can get at some grocery stores, Harris Teeter included. It's sodium hydrosulfite and sodium bisulfite which are safe for removing color from silk. You should never use chlorine bleach on silk. First, it doesn't really work that well on dyed silk. Second, it will damage and discolor your fabric. General note, whenever you are working with silk, using very hot water (140 -160 degrees) is a very good idea. The heat won't hurt it, and it cuts down the time your fabric has to be exposed to the bleaching or dyeing chemicals.

I am also thinking that I will need to use the optic whitener if I do not decide to take all of the color out. Optic whitener is a kind of dye that adds a UV tint to whites, making them super copy-paper white. It is used to color most white fabric, as natural fibers are never this white. It's also the reason that your sheets are never as glowing white after you bleach them (the bleach takes out the optic whitener). Excited about this product? You can order it from Dharma Trading along with any and every kind and color of dye you can imagine. 

In my experiment I found that the optic whitener tends to make a big difference, but only where the buttercup color  has gotten very close to white or cream. It did not make a difference on the original color fabric where the yellow tone was still present. I really only found the difference noticeable on the super white swatch (#1) and the 50% color removed + blue swatch (#4). 

Comparing the sheen and finish on all of these, I'm now convinced that I shouldn't worry too much about preserving the shot. The silk is shiny and pretty on its own. 

So this just leaves me with one question... which one? #4 seems to be a good compromise between blue and green, whereas the two blues on the end could be pretty as well. Must keep in mind that the trim I have chosen is silver toned. This will make a difference.

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