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How-to

How to Dye Silk Organza

Mar 12, 2013
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It’s mid-winter, and as usual, I’m back teaching in San Diego at the studio of my friend Cindy Dahlin. One of my students has been working on a very beautiful Valentino-inspired dress – the skirt and bodice are lavender 4-ply silk, and the upper bodice (the area that covers the shoulders and the upper chest) is lavender Alencon lace. While the lace is reasonably strong, it still needs support from an underlining. Silk organza is the perfect choice: it’s lightweight yet firm, and nicely stable. And of course its transparency is key, and it really does need to match the skin tone of the wearer.

Unfortunately, bleached white and even natural white organza – both of which are easy enough to find – look milky against the skin. I used to spend hours searching for just the right shade of silk organza for a particular project. Then one day it occurred to me that it would make far more sense just to dye my own. You can use tea, or even dye that’s made especially for skin tones, but I find that coffee works best. Cindy has often worked with lace that needs to be toned down from bright white, so she’s accustomed to using coffee as a dye. She shared her method with my students and me.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 – 1-½ c. hot water
3 heaping teaspoons of instant coffee crystals (regular or decaf)
½ tsp. of table salt
1/2 cup white vinegar
silk organza (not polyester)

Here, Cindy is holidng up the white silk organza we’re starting with.

The ingredients you’ll need.

1. Heat the water so that the coffee crystals and the salt will dissolve completely.

2. Mix in the coffee.

3. Add the salt

4. Here is the coffee and salt mixture.

5. Fill the sink (or a bowl, or a basin) with about 2 qts. of warm water and pour the coffee mixture in for bath #1.

6. Add 1/4 cup of vinegar; it will help set the dye

7. Dip the silk organza in the coffee solution and swish it around.

Let it sit for 30 seconds to a minute, depending on how deep you want the color to be. The stronger the coffee, the deeper the color. 

8. Drain the coffee solution and fill the sink with warm water and 1/4 cup of white vinegar for bath #2.

9. Let the fabric sit in the vinegar for 1-2 minutes.

10. Then rinse it and drain the vinegar/water mixture.

11. Fill the sink again with warm water for bath #3 (no vinegar is necessary this time); rinse the silk organza then remove it from the water a final time.

12. Roll the organza in a towel and gently wring out the water to dry it as much as possible. It can then be ironed or air-dried.

Here’s the original white oganza under a piece of Alencon lace; you can see that it looks a little milky. Not only that, it obscures the design of the lace.

Here’s the dyed organza under the same piece of lace; you can see how it disappears against the skin – and the design of the lace is much more visible.

Here’s what we started with and what we ended with.

There are, of course, variations of this method – I’ve heard that letting the fabric dry in the sun deepens the color. And I’d caution to be gentle when wringing out the organza in the towel. While you want to remove the water, you don’t want to disturb the grain of the organza too much (and that’s easy to do if it’s over-manipulated), so easy does it.

And my thanks to Joanne Alkazin for her photographs.

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  1. User avater ASiverson March 27th

    Wow! Easy to do, and the before and after photos at the end really show why you would want to do this. Thank you!

  2. User avater NinaLBoston March 25th

    Thank you for the clear instructions. What sold me was the "before" and "after" photos as the end with the organza under the lace. What a difference!
    I look forward to using this technique.

  3. SuzSews March 22nd

    Would this work for silk crepe de chine? I'm thinking of using this for an underlining for a lace dress, as well as a slip to wear underneath.

  4. whoneedlesthis March 14th

    I have used both tea and coffee to dye ready made bra straps just to see which colour I liked better. The bra fabric was almost a flesh colour but the straps I had on hand were cream.
    I found that black coffee gave me an almost brown result, while tea resulted in a much more pinky shade. Neither of them was a good match for the bra fabric, so I just re-ordered the fabric kit!!
    I did accidentally turn a cream silk shirt brown when I spilled tea on it, and without thinking threw it into a sinkfull of hot water and bleach!! Took almost six months of laundering to get it back to cream!

  5. squilter March 14th

    Tannin weakens another protein fiber, wool. Does tea weaken Silk?

  6. feathers16 March 14th

    I have read that it is possible to dye synthetic ribbon using methylated spirits and food dye - but I can't speak from personal experience.

  7. Boatmom March 13th

    I just want to comment on how brave I think you are to do this in a WHITE jacket!! Thanks for the very clear instructions and photos. With easter coming up, it's good to remember that these natural dyes make lovely easter eggs. Use beet juice, red cabbage, blueberries, onion skins, paprika, turmeric and grape juice. Do a search on the web for tons of ideas.

  8. SusanKhalje March 13th

    So glad you all find this helpful - and yes, an extra bath (and stronger coffee) can get the fabric to just the right shade you need. And of course, there are commercial dyes for this purpose, too, should you prefer to use something other than what's on hand. And that's exactly why it's so useful to be able to dye your own organza - clearly, the range of skin tones is huge - and digging through even the best fabric store to find just the right shade is pretty much impossible.
    I've only tried dyeing polyester ribbons, and that's not been successful at all - as you might imagine. So I don't think poly organza would be dyeable, at least not this way.

  9. User avater MrsGrimaldi March 13th

    Which Salt was used...iodized or non-iodized?

  10. User avater yourwildestseams March 12th

    I have used vanilla extract to 'warm-up' the stark white elastic loops for a natural colored (button/loop back) Bridal gown with great results when coffee/tea wasn't quite the right shade. Thanks for the salt idea!

  11. User avater kershawgirl March 12th

    One reader wants to dye polyester. Dyeing polyester is toxic, so you want to take extra precautions, with the powdered dye, mixing, and clean up all liquid spills immediately. I am going to tell you to use Rit dye because it is easily obtainable, but if you want more information about dyeing poly, you are heading into a more complicated game, and more toxic (as I said earlier) than dyeing natural fibers. You'll have to do your research, and seek out help from companies like Dharma Fibers, Pro-chem, etc. You may eventually have to chose between pigments and dyes, or a little of both, but I don't know what your intentions are.

  12. user-2046226 March 12th

    lots of things in your pantry make beautiful color but some of them are fugitive meaning they don't last; try onion skins for the most gorgeous golden tones!

  13. User avater mrj2 March 12th

    any suggestions for dyeing polyester organza? or other fabric?

  14. NeuroticNeedles March 12th

    Is the wet color the same as the dry? Or does it lighten as it dries? Can this be re-dyed if you don't dye it enough?

  15. SueV March 12th

    Gotta go with the decaf. Can't have jittery undies.

    What happens if you combine coffee and tea? Has anyone tried it? Does it make the silk darker or have no additional effect? Hmmm.

  16. EasilyAmewsed March 12th

    Wow, we once dyed with tea to soften a white fabric for a costume..never thought of it for underwear! I HATE white underwear.
    Also, how to clean something that is dyed this way? Does it hold up in a washer? The costume I mentioned above was only spot cleaned and needed for a few wears, not everyday stuff.
    Thanks for the extra tips, TigerB

  17. Quesan March 12th

    Loved this, I use tea often to tone down whites, but it never took well enough on silk organza, in particular. I guess it's not porous enough. Instant cofee is a perfect solution (pun intended)

  18. User avater LuvThreadsMagazine March 12th

    So resourceful!

    Beautifully explained.

  19. User avater LuvThreadsMagazine March 12th

    So resourceful!

    Beautifully explained.

  20. User avater TigerB March 12th

    Having done a lot of dyeing of silk, here are a few comments on this method...

    --> The vinegar isn't "helping set the dye," it IS setting the dye, because you are making an acid dye bath. Making the dye bath very very warm will help as well, as silk likes heat with an acid dye.

    --> More heat + more acid + more dye + more time will make this a darker color. But it's really important that the coffee be fully dissolved to prevent speckles... not a bad idea to pour it through a filter or piece of pantyhose if you are worried about that.

    --> One option for keeping a bath warm with food-safe dyes would be a crock pot.

    What a nice little article. It's hard to get a skin tone on silk that isn't too orangey, and I look forward to trying this one out.

  21. User avater sewdomani March 12th

    Very interesting! But I find that when I'm dyeing white underwear (so that it won't show under sheer clothing), I find that using only coffee is too 'pink', so I use tea-bags, and a small amount of coffee, and hot water. It's necessary to keep the items moving around the whole time, otherwise the tannin in tea will leave streaks. No need to use salt or vinegar, just rinse well, and the colour lasts forever.

  22. User avater JeanSp March 12th

    Can extra baths be used to make the fabric dark enough for African American women?

  23. User avater bWhitehawk March 12th

    great idea in dyeing natural fibers! I'm wondering if other things in your pantry could be used...worth experimenting!

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