Posted on 12 Comments

(Mis)adventures in tub-dying

Yarn & fabric, to be dyed

I’ve had this post planned for oh, two or three weeks.  I was going to show you this luscious bamboo fabric, the two fabulous shirts I sewed from it, and the magical transformation that came over them when I stirred them around in a few buckets of dye.

There were a few glitches along the way, but I’m going to share the story anyway, because I’m nothing if not stubborn 🙂

It started, as many of these dye-bath adventures do, with a virtual trip to Dharma Trading Company, wherein I purchased two yards of 57″ Bamboo Dobby fabric.  (I also bought some yarn and a little book of fabric swatches in case I felt like someday experimenting with another kind of unusual fabric.)  Bamboo dobby is dreamy.  It drapes beautifully, has superior moisture-wicking properties, and is pleasant to sew with.  My two yards were clamoring to become two summer shirts.  And so they did:

New shirt New shirt

I very much loved the one on the left.  Let me get sidetracked for a moment here and tell you about this pattern.  This is the ubiquitous Simplicity 3835 Built by Wendy top that is all over the internet.  I’ve made a good many of them myself in the last two years.  The thing is, when I bought my pattern two summers ago, I was brand new to sewing and I bought the size that was entirely too small for me.  I modified that pattern to make it fit, but it always seemed to have issues of one kind of another.  I finally splurged and bought myself another copy of the pattern in the correct size, and wouldn’t you know, this first try fit me right out of the gate.  I didn’t have to futz with the pattern one iota.  So nice.  Can’t wait to make more!

Anyway, moving on…  The shirt on the right was a modification of the Summer Blouse from Weekend Sewing.  And oh, what a bad modification it is.  The V in front ended up being entirely too deep for my taste (I actually pulled it up a little for the photo), and I just didn’t like the way it looked.  My hope was that dying it dark would make me love it more.

Four white shirts

This morning I assembled the two newly-sewn shirts, and two “slub tees” from Target that I thought would be perfect for this.  I tried various experiments with these, since, for me, that’s where the fun of dying is:

  1. The first shirt bathed for 30 minutes in chartreuse, then I wrung it out, put a few rubber bands around the middle portion, and placed the bottom half in a royal blue bucket for 5 minutes.  Then I wrung it out again, put another rubber band below the first two, and left the bottom third of the shirt in a dark avocado bucket for 5 minutes.
  2. Shirt number two bathed for 30 minutes in royal blue.  Then I wrung it out, crumpled it up in a tiny ball, secured it with a rubber band, and left it in the dark avocado bath for 10 minutes.
  3. The third shirt spent 30 minutes in chartreuse, then I wrung it out, tied it in a big knot around the middle, and left it in royal blue for 10 minutes.
  4. The last one spent 35 minutes in dark avocado, and 5 minutes in chartreuse.

Four colorful shirts

After following the dye manufacturer’s washing instructions, these are the four shirts I ended up with.  I really love the way the two t-shirts in the back came out, especially the dark one, which I happen to be wearing right now.  So, yay, Target tees!  The shirt with the v-neck doesn’t really look any better with the dye than it did without, so I think that one is still destined for the junk pile.

The Simplicity top?  I love it, I really do.  Except for a few things:

Dyed shirt Uh-oh

  • It seems to have shrunk, despite the fact that I pre-washed the fabric before I sewed with it.
  • I’m not too crazy about the placement of the dye pattern.  It seems a little “off” to me.
  • Worst of all, though, the !@#$%^&* bamboo frayed so much it pulled apart at least four of my seams!!  I’m not sure I can salvage it.  This photo op may be the last time I ever get to wear this shirt.  Poop.

So, what went wrong?  In researching bamboo online a bit this afternoon, I came up with two theories.  Either I should have pre-washed the fabric multiple times to get all of the shrinking potential out of it, or I should have ignored the dye manufacturer’s instruction to wash the finished shirts in HOT water.

If anyone has any wisdom pertaining to the successful sewing with and dying of bamboo dobby fabric, please leave a comment.  I don’t want to give up on this material.  I love the sustainability of bamboo, but even more, I love the way it drapes.

In the meantime, I’m going to see if I can fix this messed up shirt (the royal blue one got messed-up in the same way, but I don’t really like it enough to bother fixing it).

I also have an idea for a bamboo experiment that might answer all of my questions, if I’m patient enough.  Big if, though 😉

Posted on 12 Comments

12 thoughts on “(Mis)adventures in tub-dying

  1. Maybe I’m just sluttier than you are, Lis, but based on what I can see from the picture, I very much like the shirt you did not like as much (both pre- and post-dye). Bad news about your seams, though; sorry I have no wisdom to offer on that front.

    See what bzzzzgrrrl has been blogging about: Love in the workplace

    1. Hm, now if the seams were not falling apart on that one, then I might be inspired to give it another chance 😀

  2. I love it! I should buy it to go with my beautiful sweater vest! hee!

  3. Lisa, you always make me want to dye something! Now I’m thinking about my living/dining curtains. I just looked and they’re 100% cotton from India…Pottery Barn. They’re faded yellow….I’m thinking orange. Would I have to put them in hot water? I probably should check out the store you mentioned and see if there’s a cold water dye but maybe you have some tips? What a cool project that would be!!!!

    1. That does sound cool!

      The dye baths are lukewarm. When you take the items out of the baths, the instructions say to wash them in the washing machine in hot water. I’m not sure how important the temperature is in this step. It might be worth asking the manufacturer.

  4. As a professional seamstress, a long time dyer (and a fan of your charming blog) I have a couple of suggestions. To prevent seams from unraveling when sewing bamboo, either serge them or make french seams if you don’t have a serger. French seams are quite easy and just take a bit more time.

    I always wash dyed items in whatever temp water is proper for the fabric and have never had any problems with lingering dye. I also find that the dryer tends to shrink things even more than the washer, so hanging dry might also help.


    1. Ohh, thank you! Very useful tips! I am definitely going to keep both of them in mind next time I am experimenting 🙂

  5. oh…i hurt for you. that just sucks. i wish i had some words of wisdom…but i don’t. i hope you find your answers.

    See what dani@little fists has been blogging about: iPod’s New Home

  6. I stumbled upon your blog yesterday and got inspired to start making cloth napkins for everyday use. Now I’ve made six napkins, and I’m going to make many more! Thanks for the inspiration! 🙂

    1. That’s great! The best thing about the napkins is that they get softer and softer with each use. I’m loving the ones I made last year – they just feel so nice!

  7. I love the yellow-green one in front. I hope you can save it!

    Also, I nominated you for the Kreativ Blogger award. 🙂

    See what Tanya has been blogging about: A blog award for meeee?

  8. […] all started last week, when I destroyed my new bamboo shirts and was left with nothing new to wear, despite several hours of work and even more hours of […]

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