In the pink

Original gown- a bit pinker than the photo here shows.
Original gown- a bit pinker than the photo here shows.

It's been a whirlwind of emotions as I've hand-stitched a gorgeous, palest pink woolen gown, only to wear it once for a few hours for some photos, wash it and have the dye run out unevenly leaving me with a blotchy mess and a hand-stitched gown which was essentially unwearable. 

At the right is the original gown- a basic T Tunic shape, loose sleeves and it's not terribly form fitting.

Usually, I wash anything I make in a vinegar rinse to set the dye. I just hadn't had a chance to do that with this gown just yet and had worn it without. I had thought that it would stay clean enough for a few hours, and I'd do it afterwards.

This is not how it played out. 

For no apparent reason, leaving it to soak in lukewarm water caused the dye to run out of the gown. This had never happened before, and I was really unsure what to do about it. I did realise that whatever I did needed to be done while the fabric was wet or it would dry the stains in.

The disaster zone
The disaster zone

After the initial soak and hand wash, and while it was wet, I made the anxiety-inducing decision to put it in the washing machine before it dried to try to even out the blotches or maybe get the rest of the dye out. 

This only resulted in felting the gown and shrinking it a bit. It still fitted, but as a body-hugging gown rather than the loose, overgown with soft folds like it was originally. 

The felting was a disappointment, as the original fabric was so soft and light. 

Anyway, it was blotchy and awful and unwearable.

Suggestions from the hive mind on social media for dealing with it included:

  • attempting to strip the remained of the dye out
  • overdying it 
  • stripping and then overdying
  • cold water dyes
  • dye with food colouring
  • using it as a peasant dress

All of these ideas had some kind of a drawback. I only ever hand wash my medieval clothes, so I really wasn't keen to put it in a washing machine again with a commercial dye like RIT or similar. These require hot water anyway, and as the wool hadn't been washed in really hot water, only luke-warm water for the initial wash, I was concerned about further shrinkage. I have a front loading washer and I was also concerned about dye sitting unevenly.

Of course, a large pot is easier to manually agitate the fabric to ensure an even dye. The entire gown in a reasonably snuggly wool made for a really, really large pot, and then, getting an even heat under it. It just wasn't possible with the tools I have at my disposal. I laundry tub filled to the brim would hold the water, but wouldn't heat without a fire or heater under it. 

Stripping the gown first to white had it's own set of issues. Commercial dye strippers are harsh or wool and bleach wouldn't do it any favours either. Then hoping the dye would take evenly over the top was a worry also. 

Cold water dyes seemed possible but again, I'd need to use a washing machine to try to get it even and I worry that my machine cycles have periods of sitting, so it wasn't ideal. How much dye to use was a worry. Most importantly, would it dye evenly? I didn't want to end up with the same patchiness only in a different colour. 

Dying with food colouring was a surprise suggestion, but it has produced successful results for a friend in cold water. 

I have some wonderful natural dyestuffs from DAHAD, some Australian friends who sell them (along with wool and threads), but again- pots, heat, even colour, wasting proper dyes on what may not end up with a good result.

Using it for peasant clothing wasn't really on option either. Just because people were poor, it didn't mean they didn't have skills. Their clothes might wear out or become torn and mended, but their cloth itself would not necessarily have been poorly woven, dyed or sewn. Presenting an outfit as poorly dyed to represent a person of limited income is, I feel, not particularly accurate. 

Fast forward to last month when a purchased a few meters of wool fabric in a scarlet red. I know enough to wash that by itself before I make anything lest it turn a whole wash pink. 

Lightbulb moment!

My idea was this- I needed to wash the red wool in the machine to make sure I get the initial dye run out. I have a blotchy used-to-be-pink gown which is unwearable. Everyone knows that even in cold water, if you wash a new red thing with anything else, the whole load comes out a beautiful pink. 

Since I pretty much had nothing to lose, I crossed my fingers and put the new red, wool and the blotchy gown into the washing machine, selected the wool setting (lukewarm temperature, gentle agitation) and hoped for the best.

The result.

Post red wash. It's less patchy in the daylight, but perhaps a second red wool wash?
Post red wash. It's less patchy in the daylight, but perhaps a second red wool wash?

First pulling it from the washing machine, I was so excited! It looked like it had worked!! The gown was definitely almost even, with the side gores looking a little browner for no real reason I could think of. The gown was made from a single piece of cloth is a single dye lot, so the simply was no reason for discolouration other than the disaster at hand.

Of course, it needed to be dried before I could get too excited about the whole thing, because, as well all know, dry looks a bit different to wet. I hung it to dry and then had to leave for late shift at work where I wouldn't know if it had actually worked until I returned home and saw it in the morning light.

It was a very long late shift, let me tell you. I did a facebook post about putting it in the washing machine and wanted to say it worked, but had it? Had it really? I just wasn't sure.

10pm. I'm home and it's dry and under fluorescent lights, it looked pretty good. How would it look in the morning? I was hopeful but not entirely convinced. Fingers crossed.

6am. Coffee and examination time. Nope, wait. The kitty wanted to go for her walk and have breakfast. Oh, kitty, you're killing me! Finally, I could look at the gown properly. Happiness ensued! For all intents and purposes, it's wearable again. It's not even, but it's also not terribly noticeable in broad daylight when it's on. 

It's fixed enough to wear. I may still do another wash with red fabric to see if it evens it up just a tiny bit more. I'm concerned that it might be more patchy if darker.



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