How to Dye Silk fabrics and dresses

Instructions and tips to dye silk fabrics and garments, including the best dye to use and how to set colors so that your dyed silk remain vibrant and colorfast

Silk is already available in very pretty, vibrant colors. But sometimes you have to do your own thing, right? I have this pretty silk in white. So why not dye it to a pretty shade of purple or violet, as the label says on my dye packet?

dyed silk

Fabric is one of the most important predictors of success in your dyeing result. And you have a very good first base if you have chosen silk to dye. Silk is a fabric that takes dye very well.

Here is how I did the dyeing.

Materials you need for dyeing

Silk fabric
Large Stainless steel Pot for dyeing
Stirrer ( whisk or spoon )
Rubber gloves

Which dyes can be used to dye silk?

The best dye to use with silk is Acid dye. Acid Dyes are ideal for protein-based fibers like silk, wool, and also nylon. You can get nice vibrant colors with this dye. The colors also last.

You can also use reactive dyes and natural dyes.

And you need a stainless steel cauldron that you can put on a stove. This needs to be deep enough to submerge the full silk fabric or garment you have.

And gloves. I prefer rubber gloves, though you can use plastic gloves too. Anything to protect your hands from getting stained. Rubber gloves also protect your hands from the hot water, if you do not have the tongs. And any long wooden utensil to stir.

(Do not use the dyeing vessels for cooking afterward)

Which is your Silk Fabric ?

This is mine.

white silk which is going to be dyed

Dyeing silk fabric is not as simple as dyeing cotton or other natural fabrics, but not as difficult as dyeing polyester and other synthetics.

The first thing is that dyeing consistency varies across the many varieties of silk available out there. Silk has a natural sheen and the texture or surface finish of the silk fabric can affect how the color appears after dyeing.

There are mainly ones with a shiny surface look and others with a matt surface look. Reeled or cultivated silk (habotai, chiffon, and charmeuse) are shinier than the wild silk varieties (Tusser, dupioni, raw silk). Shantung, and pongee may be a mix of both.

Silk fabrics with a shiny or glossy finish may look lighter in color when dyed with the same amount of dye compared to matte or less shiny fabrics. The colors on the matte silks will be more intense.

So consider this when you are planning your colors. And realize that colors change as they dry. Silk is brighter when wet and will dry two values lighter, so plan colors accordingly.

Finish the edges

fraying edges of silk

Cut silk edges will fray during the dyeing process, so unless you want a thread-mess along the edges, sew the hem. Just use a very long straight stitch or zig zag the edges.

finish the edges of the silk before dyeing

Cleaning the silk

If the fabric is new, wash the material thoroughly to remove all the sizing it may have. If the fabric is old, ensure that there are no oil, dirt etc. Hand wash to remove all of these in cold or hot water and a little gentle detergent.

Rinse thoroughly to ensure no soap residue remains.

wash off all sizing from silk fabric before dyeing in a bucket full of water and some detergent.

Avoid wringing or twisting the fabric. Silk is a delicate fabric, remember.

If the fabric you have is already clean, iron the fabric on a low-heat setting to remove wrinkles, then pre-wet the fabric. This will ensure even dye penetration.

Steps to Silk dyeing

Prepare the dyeing solution

Use a plastic drop cloth or trash bags to protect your work surface from dye spills. This is inevitable.

Prepare the dye bath by mixing the dye as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Bring the water in the pot to boil . The maximum temperature you should safely subject a silk fabric is below 180°F (82°C). More than this and you will destroy your fabric.

I dissolved the dye powder I had in some warm water and added this to a cauldron full of hot water. You can dissolve the dye in about 7 liters or two gallons of very hot water for around 3 meters of fabric

Stir constantly for about 3-5 minutes so that the dye powder is fully dissloved. Do not skip this unless you want splotchy spots.

(You can test the color at this point on a small fabric swatch. This will prevent disappointment later. )

Dyeing Methods

There are two main methods you can use to dye silk. The options you have are full-on one-color immersion dyeing and tie-dyeing.

In the immersion method, you immerse the fabric in a dye bath to dye the whole cloth a uniform color of your choice. The tie dye method is used when you want colors in selective spaces.

Fill the dyeing pot with the prepared dye solution. Put the fabric completely inside the pot and stir. You will have to stir continuously so that the color is not concentrated.

Full immersion dyeing

Do not do this – ensure that the dye bath submerges the fabric to ensure even coloring.

These two things are very important so that you do not get splotches of color like this –

1. The dye bath is on top of the fabric. Your fabric should be fully submerged (or as much as possible)

2. Stir the fabric and ensure that the dye doesnot get to sit in one place for long.

Leave it in the dye pot for 1/2 hour minimum. You can leave it overnight if you want darker color.

Tie Dyeing

Tie-Dyeing works the same way as you tie dye any other fabric – You will be tying sections of the silk fabric before applying the dye.

Tie sections using rubber bands, strings, or other materials to tie off sections of the fabric tightly. The areas under the ties will resist the dye.

Now, if you do the immersion dyeing according to the dye instructions, and later remove the ties, you will find beautiful tie-dye patterns formed on your fabric.

Fixing and Washing

Remove the fabric from the pot (this is when you realise why you need to put plastic sheets on your workspace), rinse it in cold water until the water runs clear, and let it air dry.

To ensure the dye sets and remains colorfast, you can add vinegar to the dye bath. Vinegar is used only with acid dyes. You should not use vinegar if you are using reactive dyes.

To use vinegar, remove fabric from the dye bath (for the time being) and add one cup of white vinegar to the dye solution. Stir and re-immerse the fabric. Vinegar intensifies the color and sets it.

Another method is to heat set color. You have to heat set the dye before washing off. Iron the dyed silk on the reverse side using a pressing cloth or parchment paper to set the color. Follow the dye manufacturer’s instructions for recommended heat settings.

Rinse and wash the fabric in cold water until the water runs clear. Wash it with a mild detergent to remove any remaining dye, and rinse again.

Professionals have another trick when using reactive dyes to ensure that colors do not bleed later. They add about a tablespoon of synthropol to their rinsing water.

air dry the dyed silk

Hang or lay the silk flat to air dry. Avoid exposing it to direct sunlight, which can fade the colors.

Learn more ways to make the colors permanent after dyeing.

Natural dyeing of silk

If you want to use natural dyes like beetroot, onion skin, or the humble tea to give color to your fabric, you have to prepare the fabric for receiving these colors. The process is called mordanting. A comparatively safe mordant is alum .

Dissolve 3/4 teaspoon of alum in a cup of boiling water. Add this
to 5 liters of warm water. Add pre-wetted silk to this solution. Let it soak overnight. In the morning, remove the silk from the mordant and, rinse thoroughly and then dye using natural dyes. Your silk will receive and retrieve the natural dyes better. Read this post to learn easy natural dyes you can find at home.

Related posts : General guidelines for dyeing fabric; Different methods to dye clothes

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
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