How to Dye Silk Organza
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.