The Steampunk Empire

The Crossroads of the Aether

I am about to attempt dyeing my wedding dress to use in my ensemble,and am hoping for advice from anyone who has tackled a similar project.

This is the dress.  I am hoping to get as close to a true black as possible.

This is what I am going for:

So - I would greatly appreciate any advice on dye brands, technique, shrinkage expectations, etc.!

Thank you so much in advance!

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Nice idea to upcycle your lovely wedding dress. 

I'll start by being the devil's advocate for a moment, but I think this is an excellent project!  I'm skeptical that you could achieve a true black from processed white silk.  And, I'd be concerned about the lace on the bodice. It likely isn't the same fiber content as the skirt, and because of the difference in the weave, it won't dye the same shade. Also be aware that stains on the dress from oils (like butter or shortening found in frosting) will keep the affected fibers from absorbing the dye the same as the surrounding fibers.  Which means you could end up with a lighter spot where you dropped a piece of cake that was later cleaned off if the oils weren't completely removed (which is VERY difficult to do). Also, don't rule out tea or coffee dying it for an antiqued, but not drastic change.

That said, silk reacts better to an acid based dye as opposed to a soda ash based dye.  Most dyes made for cotton, linen, and other plant based fabrics are soda ash based.  But they can be made acidic with the addition of vinegar.  If you aren't picky about how dark it will turn out, or whether you might get an uneven dye, you could use Rit dye or any other run of the mill brand found at chain fabric stores, and even Walmart.  For best results you should dye it on the stove using very hot water, liquid dye (not powdered), vinegar, and salt.  It could also be done in a large plastic bucket near the stove if you don't have a stainless steel pot large enough.  The water must be around 140 degrees, and all the ingredients mixed thoroughly into the water before the fabric is added.  The dress must be thoroughly wet (cold water is fine for pre-wetting) before being added to the dye bath too.  This helps the fabric absorb the dye more evenly.

For a more professional looking job and better saturation, I suggest researching online for dyes made specifically for silk.  You probably won't find them locally unless you reside in a city with good artist's supply or fabric specialty shops.

Before attempting anything, you need to work with samples.  Your dress *should* have a generous seam allowance on the underside.  Cut off 2" long strips from the extra fabric on the inside of the seam.  The strips will be whatever width the extra fabric is on the seam allowance.  I'm assuming since this is a silk dress it's also good quality, so you should have at least 1/2" or more of width to work with.  Make sure to leave at least 1/4" near the stitching so the seam doesn't come apart and you don't accidentally cut the stitching.  Measure your samples so you know how much they might shrink, and test them using hot water and various dyes.

Personally, I would use the Rit dye and be content with whatever the outcome is.  You could also over dye the black with a coffee dye to give it more depth of color.  Fortunately, we don't live in the actual time period so one isn't required to obtain haute couture perfection.  That's the beauty of Steampunk. 

Thanks!  Excellent advice.  I'm looking at the iDye products which seem to be a step up from Rit, and since I am not overly concerned about the final result being perfect I may be OK.

Test strips are a very smart idea!

I'll definitely let people know how it works out!

You're welcome! 

I've used iDye products before.  They work pretty well...better than Rit.  You'll still need the vinegar and salt in the hot dye bath.  Weigh your dry dress so you know how much dye to get then double their recommendations.  I always have a better outcome with dark dyes by doubling them.    

I am a student of fibers and we learned surface design techniques at my uni. Lady B gave fantastic advice in my humble opinion, but I hate RIT dyes. Check out to get good dyes and supplies for a good price. She is very right about different weave structures and stains being affected differently. I think dying with coffee and tea when using silk turns out absolutely beautifully, by the way.

Thanks for the link, Ms. Kaufman.  I've been planning a project that requires better quality dye products.  This looks like a great site!  I like to keep several colors of Dylon and iDye on hand for late night projects, but still prefer coffee and tea dying. 

I might, but luckily I'm not too attached to the dress, so I won't be heartbroken if it doesn't make it.

The marriage is still good - the dress is a bonus!

RIT liquid, at least 3 bottles--perhaps 5 depending on how much he dress weighs

a pot big enough for the wet dress to cook in


Bleach and paper towels handy for cleanup

first, test out how far you can pack down the dress into the pot. Then, fill the pot up that far with water.  Add salt and set to boil.

When the water is rolling gently, turn the heat on low and add the bottles of dye. You stir with a big plastic spoon or something you donnt mind staining. Have plastic bags handy to dump the dress in when ou get ready to wring out.

Cook the dress for several hours. Yes, I said cook. The heat is part of what sets the dye, but keep the heat on low, don't boil it. Stir occasionally.

Use enough dye and you WILL get a good glossy black. Not enough dye results in a violet color from black, and silk will soak everything up, even if it was white.

I recently did a silt skirt because it had a swath of pink on it and I hate pink. It came out a beautuful deep black.


So when you've cooked and stirred this for a couple hours, you can use the spoon or several spoons to kindof lift the dress into a plastic bag, carry this and dump it in your washer. Set for gentle or handwash cycle, and put a tablespoon of detergent in the cold water. Hang dry when it is done, silk usually doesn;t bleed as bad as other fabrics.

Afterward, bleach whatever stains, including your hands and nails (or wear rubber gloves)and wash some towels or a bleach load in you washer to clean out any residue.

I've done this a few times and often find garments I like at garage sales or thrift stores, but are a hideous color like pink or yellow. I dye them green, purple, burgundy or black usually. once or twice I've done blue and sometimes i get into a tye dye mood. RIT works well enough if you use some heat and enough of the liquid dye. Been my experience that the powdered dye is not nearly as effective and leaves spots.

If you're doing this in your kitchen, I recommend getting the plastic drop cloth/sheeting at the local home supply store and taping it to the adjacent cabinet fronts and cover the floor.  I made enough of a mess in my utility room with blue RIT to learn my lesson.  (Of course, I am a klutz)

I just spoke with my sister who lives on a farm in NH.  I will be able to use their outdoor cookstove or a firepit to do the dyeing - which should cut down on the mess and make the whole process easier!

Love that idea! Just make sure the dye pot is non reactive, like stainless steel or enamel. Otherwise, you'll have to go with the plastic bucket next to the cook stove. Having another large bucket available for rinsing is important too. The rinse bucket/pot material isn't as critical as the dye pot.

Doing this outside will also be good for ventilation. These are powerful chemicals you are using, don't forget! Use proper safety equipment. :)


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