Cashmere Dyed with Food Coloring



Hey folks! I know it’s been a while. Just don’t seem to have enough hours in the day nowadays to blog as much as I’d like to, but I had to share this. I dyed my favorite cashmere sweater with food coloring.

The sweater had been getting kind of dingy, and although it’s machine washable (a-MAY-zing!) and had cleaned up well several times, eventually, the dinge was stuck and not coming out. I became embarrassed to wear it. And I looove this sweater. It’s Boden, was secondhand to me, and has held up beautifully, especially compared to other sweaters.

I knew food dyes could dye cashmere, having done it before on a smaller scale (see here , info on dyeing animal fibers here, and info on overdyeing here). I did some research on dyeing whole sweaters and found this post to be particularly helpful. I decided on a deep aqua and took the plunge, using (this color). I think I also added some Easter egg dye (pink?), but honestly, I can’t remember at this point.


I am really happy with how it turned out. The color is really intense though a bit mottled in spots, but for me, that’s part of the charm. The one thing I wish I could change is the fact that the thread didn’t take the dye. This is really to be expected since sewing thread is usually some combo of cotton and polyester, fibers that don’t take dyes in the same way animal fibers do. All in all, though, I’m just glad my favorite sweater has a new life.


In other news, I’ve been reading Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. Watching The Crown and Younger.

In general, I’m feeling the need to rearrange, weed out old stuff, mend things, and change things up—i.e. wearing jewelry that hasn’t seen the light of day in ages, mixing and matching new outfit combos, switching purses (which I do infrequently). What about you? What’s new?




Self-Dyed Silk Anda Dress

Dyed Silk Anda Dress

Tada! I finally worked up the nerve to finish this dress, after lots of fear over working with silk. It’s got plenty of flaws (ahem, wonky tonky hem), but I’ve gone ahead and declared it wearable because…I like it anyway. After all that work, I’m not resigning it to the closet.

The silk (crepe?) was gifted to me by a friend who was moving. The original color, blue-grey, was a bit too pale for me, so I overdyed it (click here for before and after). That was over a year ago!

I cut the pattern out way too big, I think overcompensating for fit issues in my first Anda, which was a wee bit snug in the booty. So then I had to cut the silk version down, but  when I finished, the sleeves stuck out in the oddest, ugliest way. I’ve since learned how to use bias tape better—-that might’ve been the problem. Great bias tape tutorial here at Collette Patterns.

I cut off the sleeves and used the bias tape as a facing, which worked much better.

Silk Anda Dress

I’ve worked on the hem some since these pictures were taken, and I will keep tweaking, but I don’t know if it’s ever going to be just so. I’m okay with that. I found another tutorial at Collette Patterns about rolled hems, but it’s too late to re-do this one completely.

I have to say, working with silk really is tricky, but I think I learned a few things, and I’d try it again. If you’re sewing with silk, another helpful resource is Sunni of A Fashionable Stitch. She offers helpful silk sewing tips here. Now I need a tutorial on ironing silk. I swear, I did iron it before these photos were taken.

Pattern: Burda Anda, with modifications

Sandals: gift from my friend (via Vietnam via Texas via Germany)

Necklace: a gift from my in-laws.

Photographers: my kids (5 and 9) Didn’t they do a great job? My primary photographer was, um, watching golf and could not be disturbed.

For more of my sewing, check out this link. This was my third Anda, the second being a linen colorblock one. I’m sure I’ll make more Andas, but I think it’s about time for me to move on to something else.

Have a great weekend! And oh, if you’re into Instagram, I’m finally actually using it, so you can find me there at emilysmithpearce. I’d love to see you there.

Overdyeing Silk

Dyeing things gives me such a rush. It feels like magic, and also like haha! I got what I wanted for next to nothing!

A sewing friend who was moving away (a long time ago now) gave me some silk (crepe de chine?) from her fabric stash. Silk! I’ve never sewed with silk before. But I was stumped. The colors are all very, very pale, and I just couldn’t imagine myself wearing them. Paleness tends to wash me out. Months later I had a brainflash. What if I dyed the silk? But silk. Silk! It took me a long time to work up my nerve.

Finally, months after that, I started with a small piece and used the old Easter egg/ Kool Aid dye technique.

Initially I was going to try some embroidery or resist or something to give it some more interest, but then decided to keep it simple. I ended up really liking the color. Warning, though—-this was German Easter egg dye. PAAS will work the same, but I find their colors to be a bit, well, Easter eggy—whereas this green was nice and grassy. You can always mix your PAAS or Kool-Aid colors to get something a bit more nuanced. I think there are even tutorials out there on mixing Kool-Aid colors—-usually with regards to yarn dyeing.

On to silk batch #2. I was a little bolder this time with several larger pieces of pale blue, and decided for an indigo color using two shades of Deka fabric dye.

I didn’t use a full load of dye, but the fabric didn’t take the color as deeply as I’d expected. The blue I ended up with was beautiful but dried a good bit lighter than I wanted:

I really liked the mottled effect I got in this first dye job:

I dyed it one more time to get a deeper color. It doesn’t show up quite true in this photo (below), but I really like the way it turned out–it’s just a tiny bit deeper than the middle tone. The mottled effect is gone, though. I’m planning to make another Anda dress out of the fabric. Wish me luck! My most recent sewing projects have not been going very well.

For tips on overdyeing, check out this previous post.  For more of my adventures in fiber art, click here.


Hand-Dyed Patchwork Duvet Cover

It’s finished! The duvet cover I started lo these many months ago is now on my son’s bed. His bed is a bunk, though, very difficult to photograph, so this bed had to stand in.

This duvet cover started out life as my son’s cribsheets, which I hand-dyed and batiked. Also thrown in are scraps from curtains I made for his room and the pieces from a failed attempt at a shopping cart cover and leftovers from his baby sling. For more information about how this cover was made, check out these posts: this one on the batik, this one on his original room, this one about the design for the bed cover, and here and here about the patchwork process.

I’m really excited with how it turned out. It just glows. The little man really likes it, too.

Here’s another view.

And below, a couple of detail shots:

On to other duvet covers for the rest of the family!

FYI I recently joined Pinterest, a social networking site where you can “pin” images from the web into an account so you can look at your favorite things together in one place. Other people can see them, too, so if you’re interested in seeing what I’ve pinned, click here. I seem fixated on quilts lately, so that’s most of what you’ll see. Be forewarned, if you’re addicted to beautiful images, like I am, it’s a bit of a dangerous site.


How to Overdye

I did this project a long time ago, but I thought of it recently after seeing this blog post about overdyed rugs. I made these curtains when I was first living in Boston. I moved there with no job, no furniture, and very little money. If you missed the post with paintings of my apartment there, check it out.

Cash was short, and fabric stores were really hard to get to for someone relying on public transportation, so I started sewing with things I found at the thrift store.

For some reason, I can’t remember why, I was determined to have red curtains for our living room. So determined the curtains be red that I dyed sheets and stitched curtains out of them by hand because I had no machine. Well, we did have some crazy boy neighbors who had a gigantic telescope which they swore they weren’t using to spy on us.

Anyway, tips on overdyeing.

1) Start with natural fibers in a pale color, or discharge first

These sheets/ curtains are 100% cotton and were originally a peachy color. You can also start with a deeper color and opt to soak your fabric in a bleach solution to remove the original color. This is called discharging. If you’re going that route, you’ll be better off with a fabric that is still fairly new, as the bleach will weaken the fibers a good bit. And I wouldn’t try discharging fabric for a heavy-wear item, such as a handbag, or something that will need a lot of washing, because again, the fabric will be more fragile.

2) Select dye color carefully

Remember that the color you start with, however pale, will influence the dye color, and the result will be different from what you’d get from dyeing plain white fabric. You’re layering color. A basic knowledge of the color wheel is useful here.

As a general rule of thumb, overdyeing is going to work better if the original color is in the same color family as the dye color. For example, my peachy sheets and the red dye color are both warm colors. Had I chosen to dye them blue, the peach would have tempered that blue, making it a little muddy. Not necessarily a bad thing, but a little unpredictable.

3) Follow dye instructions

Skip grocery store dye, which fades and bleeds a lot when you wash, and use procion dyes like those found at dharmatrading. For more even color, soak the item in clear water first before dipping it into the dye.

4) Have open-ended expectations

This is not an exact science. Chances are, your end product will not look the way you pictured it, and it’s best if you’re okay with that from the beginning. Also, don’t dye something precious. That’s why thrift store-finds are a perfect choice here. If it doesn’t turn out, you don’t get your heart broken.

For more reading about dyeing:

Read my earlier posts about getting started with dyes here (animal fibers) and here (plant fibers). Also check out these posts from ohfransson: discharging here and overdyeing here.

Wish I knew what to do with these old curtains. I can’t toss them, but I don’t really have much of a red thing going on in our current place. The vintage cream floral fabric came from a garage sale in Contoocook, VT, the same place where I got the braided rug “kit.”

It’s been a slow week creatively. I limped through a little writing and inched along on my son’s bedcover (almost finished!), but it took everything out of me just to keep the kids clean, fed, homeworked, and back and forth to school and home. Still, I have to keep in mind that even limping and inching are moving toward my goals. Have a great weekend. It’s sunny here and above freezing, which means spring fever is visiting us once again.


Silk + Easter Egg Dye

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I did these pieces right before we left for Germany. It’s really easy to dye animal fibers with food coloring, kool-aid, or easter egg dye. These dyes don’t work on cottons or linens but are very colorfast in wool and also work for silk, though in silk they’re a smidge less colorfast. Cashmere also works.

I figure a good frau can never have too many scarves. And now I know why (or at least I think I do) they’re such a big thing here in Europe. Part of it has to be the fact that during most of the year it may be the only item of clothing people see, other than your coat and hat. Now that it’s late May I’m finally emerging from my heavy wool coat and into my trench coat. And I’m proud to announce I’ve even ventured out a few times with no coat at all! Amazing!

Anyway, these are a few scarves I dyed using Easter egg dye. They were blanks from, which is a great resource for clothing blanks of all kinds. I started with the instructions here for dyeing playsilks (which I did last fall with kool-aid) and improvised a little. I wanted to create patterns on the scarves but wasn’t sure how to go about it. The good thing about dharma trading is the scarves are so inexpensive I didn’t have much to lose. I want to keep experimenting, but thought I’d share what I’ve come up with so far.

With the orange scarf, I tried a dip-dyeing technique where you fold fabric and, yes, dip it into the dye. First I folded, then wet with clear water, squeezed gently, then dip-dyed the edges of the triangle. I would make the dye a little stronger next time. It doesn’t look finished to me, so I think I’ll do something else to it but don’t know what yet.

With this bluish-greenish scarf, I think I just dyed it straight but of course it always has folds and all so the color never is perfectly even. Part of the charm of hand-dyeing. I forgot to heat-set the blue and over-dyed it with green later, ending up with a tie-dye-type effect. Then I heat-set so the design would stay.

I can’t decide if it’s cool or if it looks like something Ruth Fisher (from Six Feet Under) would wear. The kids definitely like it. They are always stealing this one, and it’s only fair since sometimes I steal a playsilk and wear it 🙂

In case you’re wondering, the scarves can be hand washed. The color washes out a tiny tiny bit but not enough to matter.


Another Recycled Cashmere Scarf

It may be summer here, but in southern Africa, Lesotho to be exact, it’s rather chilly right now. My friend Megan is a physician there, and to warm her up, I sent her this scarf. It started out life as a thrifted Banana Republic sweater in a dingy blue-grey color. I felted it (didn’t shrink much), dyed it greenish-blueish aqua with kool-aid, cut it into strips, and sewed it into a gathered scarf. I embroidered over the little bitty holes in it, too. See my other cashmere scarf post for more detail.

For information on dyeing cashmere, see this post. For information about overdyeing, click here.