Or: Adventures in dyeing a silk J.Crew wedding gown a different colour.
I have a couple of spare J.Crew wedding gowns laying around as the victims of Ebay trial and error. As far as wedding dresses go, the J.Crew Sophia is bog standard simple elegance. It is a lovely dress, but slightly too plain for me to want to wear it for my wedding. Nonetheless, it is gorgeous on and I find myself with a black tie wedding to attend in a month. And it fits me (I am a freaky tall alien shape), so… What to do?
So, a couple of days ago, I decided to dye it. That way I could have my Sophia and wear it, too! Now, be forewarned, anyone who is googling dyeing wedding dresses: J.Crew changed their silk tricotine fabric to polyester last year, and polyester won’t dye. So if your Sophia is newer than mine, you can avert your eyes now. You can only dye silk wedding dresses, ok! Only silk! Not polyester! Check your tags carefully!
After a bit of research online and prevarication and discussion with my mom, I took myself on down to the fabric store and bought three packets of Dylon hand dye in China Blue and a kilo of salt. One packet of dye covers the equivalent of a shirt, so I went with three packets since it is a floor length gown with a fair amount of yardage. You also need the salt to fix the dye to the fabric.
Once home, I bit the bullet and plunged my dress into a sink of warm water and gave it a good rinse. While it was soaking, I followed the directions on the back of the dye packet and mixed up the dye with some hot tap water in a metal bowl. I also ran hot water into an enamel bathtub (it’s best to do it in a stainless sink, and do NOT do this in a fibreglass/plastic tub or it will be stained forever). Then I added 250 grams of salt for each packet of dye, and then mixed in the dissolved dye.
Then I took a deep breath and added the already-damp dress to the dye bath. I swished it around and made sure that it was all covered in the dye as much as possible. I kept swishing and smushing it for about 15 minutes to ensure even coverage, then I left it in the bath for another 45 minutes, checking on it fairly often and giving it another stir.
After the dress had been in there for a total of an hour, I took it out and then drained the bath and rinsed the dress in fresh water until it ran clear. I rolled it up in a towel to get as much of the water out as I could, then I hung it out in the sun to dry. The packet said not to do this, but it was a hot sunny day and that dress was heavy when wet, so it would have taken an age to dry otherwise.
While it was drying, I would pull on the hem every so often because silk does shrink a bit when it gets wet. I kept pulling and shaping the dress until it was mostly dry (but still damp), and then I put it on and wiggled around a bit to give me some more room up top. Basically, I custom fit the dress to me, but don’t assume you’ll get all your shrinkage back by doing this — it’s a risk you have to take! Fortunately, I got about 95% of the shrinkage back by pulling and stretching. Once it was dry, I gave it a good iron and et voila! A blue dress, all ready to go for any future black tie events!
I was really happy with the results. The colour is fabulous. It is not completely even: there are some places in some seams where the dye didn’t take as much, but this is why I chose a pale colour quite close to the original shade of the dress. It ended up being a really elegant soft powdery pale blue. The polyester lining did not dye at all, but that’s okay because you can’t see it. The zipper also didn’t dye (of course), but a lick of pale blue fingernail polish on the zipper tab will sort that since the rest doesn’t show.
Overall, I feel like I just got a whole new silk gown for the small investment of 10 quid! Definitely a positive result, and I can’t wait to wear it in a month.