It has been quite a while (years) since my cousin asked me to dye a couple of pieces for her....a white flannel nightgown and a cotton gauze robe/overshirt. I of course said I would, put them away and forgot about them. When I cleaned my studio this summer I found them again and, stung by my dilatory ways, got to work. The two pieces were in good shape, but showed a little wear and had some places where the fabric had yellowed. They were very different in weight. I assumed that they were meant to be worn together and tried to think of ways to coordinate them more clearly.
It took a while for a plan to roll up into my conscious mind. First I scoured the garments thoroughly in hopes of ridding them of any oils or finishes and mordanted them in aluminum acetate. I decided to mark each piece with measured pencil dots, poke a needle up from behind each dot to gather a little tuft of fabric and tie it off with crochet thread. This is, of course, an ancient technique taken to the enth degree of refinement in the traditions of China, India, Japan and Indonesia. My efforts were crude, as befits an amateur, but at length I incorporated a series of knots around the bottom of the robe and the nightgown. I also added knots at the shoulders of each piece.
The next step was to choose a color. My cousin had requested warm colors and I thought of all the possibilities in my palette of natural dyes. I settled on madder because I thought I could get two colors that were different, but related. I dyed the heavier nightgown in a bath of madder extract using 10% dye on the weight of the goods and added Tums for calcium in hopes of encouraging the red end of the madder spectrum. Madder has the most complicated chemical make up of all the natural dyes, including alizurin and purpurin. It goes brown if the bath gets too hot. I carefully brought the dye pot up to 160 degrees F and kept it there for two hours, then let the nightgown cool in the pot overnight. When I took it out it was almost black. The flannel fabric really sucked up the color. When I got it washed out it turned brick red. I was pretty happy until I saw the purple marks scattered right down the front of the gown. Bad words here. Untying the knots revealed rows of irregular little circles like bubbles. I thought there would be more marks from the folds between the knots, but that did not happen. Okay.
The robe was next, dyed in the same extract as the gown, but only at 3% on the weight of the goods, also with Tums added. It immediately turned the most beautiful coral. I kept the timing the same and the next morning it was much darker and more orange than it had been before. After wash-out some of the coral tones returned but it was still orangier than it had been. However, the color did go well with the gown, as I had hoped.
Embroidery was the only way I could think of to hide the unsightly marks on the nightgown, so I used the circle motif as a flower center (or a sun) and did lazy daisy stitches all around. Scattering these down the front and at random places in the phalanxes of circles made for a cohesive overall effect. I used coral thread for the gown and did the same with brick red for the robe.
The final change was new buttons on the robe. One of the original buttons broke in the dye process so I had no choice but to change them out. Fortunately I was able to find some the right color at my local fabric store and so...finally...the project was complete. I think my patient cousin was pleased and the pieces looked really nice on her.