Archive of ‘Fabric and Color’ category

White to Ivory: Dyeing with Tea


I am working on a design idea for a bridal lingerie set, but had the hardest time finding ivory elastic to match my chosen lace. White just looks like an eyesore next to ivory, and I didn’t want a contrasting color.


I’ve learned through my elastic dyeing experiments that pale colors don’t always turn out as well as darker ones. And ivory has been the hardest color to get. It doesn’t matter what color or how little dye I use, there’s no in between white and a mottled greige that looks just plain wrong.

Tea dyeing turned out to be a perfect solution. I could have also tried coffee, which is far more common in this house! Tea is a really low-commitment, no mess dye, with no need for separate pots or gloves.

I’m just starting to read about natural dyes, especially those that don’t need any mordants or additional chemicals to assist in helping the dye bonding process. These are called “substantive dyes” and include stuff like tea, coffee, onion skins, tumeric and ooh, pecan shells, which are overrunning my garden right now. (We have eight mature pecan trees.) I see a dyeing experiment coming up this fall! But, and a big but, from everything I read, these dyes are the most permanent on wool, and a little less so on cotton. And there isn’t much information about using them on nylon.

But really, all I wanted to do was just “off-color” my notions. I tried a few different teas–PG Tips, chamomile and Lady Grey. The first elastic came out kind of icky gray-ish tan. The chamomile didn’t add much color. The Lady Grey seemed to have more red or warm colored tea leaves in it and that gave me my best results.


First I made the tea by steeping one teabag in a pot for about 1 minute. Just one teabag, because I really just wanted to dim a white color, not go any shade of pale brown. I let things cool down a bit before dunking my notions. In my experience, anything with spandex starts to curl above 140°. When it was ready, I immersed my wet and elastic and notions and stirred them about until they looked like it had just taken on a slight stain.


I think this will work just beautifully. For all I know, I may have just stained (rather than actually dyed) these elastics, which is just fine. I’m pretty sure they will never fade back to blinding white. If you know the secret to that without using bleach or high heat, pass it on to me, because a few of my white t-shirts would thank you!

Have you ever dyed with tea?

Good Dye Reading:

*Dyeing with Tea

*About Natural Dyes and *some interesting science about mordants

*Handbook of Natural Dyes by Sasha Duerr

(p.s. Thanks to everyone for the kind wishes and suggestions on my WordPress commenting problems. My problem was very simple, and I think I got it solved. I was on Akismet’s spam list, and one of my gracious readers helped me get through to Akismet support. There are sometimes more problematic reasons behind why one’s IP (the address that identifies the network from which you work) would be flagged by spam filters, but thankfully none of those sticky reasons were my situation. Computer is all clear, network is all clear!)

I Heart Norma Kamali (A Bombshell Suit)

bombshell bathing suit

I’m not naturally a performer; that is, becoming a symbol, a larger-than-life self in front of an audience. My husband is. I’m an introverted intellectual. And so he was giving me cues about what one does taking pictures of oneself in a bathing suit standing in a hallway. Like read the New York Times? Yeah, he actually handed me a paper, shots of which did not make it to my final cut. Any prop will do, he said.

But I really wanted you to see my fantabulous swimsuit. (And after this I’m going to resume posting pictures of lingerie on mannequins (or friends, or models!).) It makes a body feel good. This is the super-glamorous Bombshell Swimsuit pattern by the lovely Heather Lou of Closet Case Files, which she just released Friday and is available here. When she asked me to test her pattern it couldn’t have come at an easier time, since I’ve been up to my ears in spandex lately.


For this pattern Heather was inspired by Norma Kamali, which made me love it all the more. I’ve long had a fascination with the queen of nylon and mesh. Kamali is a smart and adventurous businesswoman with an eye for lean production. She was the first designer to open an Ebay shop, and one of the first to offer “a try before you buy” online shopping experience and forgoes the traditional fashion week catwalk for collection releases featuring cut-out paper dolls of models and 3D displays. She’s got a flare for costume and irony–anyone remember her designs for The Wiz?–especially with her famous Victoriana dresses out of parachute nylon and “sleeping bag” coats. Every year she comes out with a new take on her classic ruched one-pieces, which you can see in action on a young Bette Midler here:

[vimeo 32116475 w=575 h=323]

I hope I look that healthy at 67.

But back to Heather and her amazing, ageless Bombshell. If you’re up for an adventure in swimsuit sewing and like a bit of oohlala retro, this suit may be your gal. It’s got a very clever design that allows it to sit low on the bum, which all comes down to the way the back back seam is shaped. And I’m of the opinion that ruching in the right places has a svelting effect on the body. But you’ll have to prepare for some swanning and answering some “where did you find that!” questions if you wish to wear this in public.

The pattern has two versions: a halter style which I’ve made, and a bandeau-top style. Alternatively, you can cut the pattern to create a high-waisted bikini and top. Heather is hosting a sew-along starting next week that will walk you through the process of each.

bombshell suit closeup

I chose a pattern size based on what I thought was my hip (an 8), but it’d been awhile since I measured myself. Oopers, I’m closer to a 10, which explains why I had to artfully wiggle to get into the bottom but it’s quite comfortable once on. The front is composed three layers, a lined flat front which is then covered with a ruched and skirted bodice. My fabric is a matte 4-way spandex which I dyed to a creamy pale daffodil. My crush on yellow is getting out of control, but at least it’s going into purchasing dye rather than fabric.

I love love this bathing suit and the pattern. And so does my husband. He followed me around for the hour complimenting me for looking as if I was on the set of a Fellini movie. Thank you, Heather!

Pattern: Bombshell bathing suit pattern from Closet Case Files
Fabric: white 4-way nylon spandex from my pile
Fabric dye: Vanilla Cream acid dye from Dharma Trading
Rubber elastic & swimsuit lining: Fabric Depot Co.

This Week in Dyeing

picking flowers

Sometimes I need a little blog break for mental sanity. The last couple of weeks I’ve tried hard to spend less time on the internet, more time using my hands, for things like… picking flowers! May signals the end of the early spring wildflowers in Austin, so I’ve been rummaging around the garden dead matter in search of the last bluebonnets, poppies and sweet peas. And then of course taking bunches of photos of the pickings (my other favorite pastime).


Who doesn’t love poppies…

The explosion of spring color inspired me to keep up my dyeing adventures. Pale peaches, mink browns, lemons… And mint is next. Except I can’t decide if I want a seafoam mint or a kind of pale cucumber-y mint.

I won’t lie, dyeing takes time, especially if you’re as exacting about color as I am. And all that stirring can get laborious, but it’s so worth the results. Washer-dyeing is a way out of all the stirring, but unfortunately, my washer is front-loading and doesn’t pause on a soak or agitate cycle. For these fabrics, I used fiber reactive dyes from Dharma Trading. They’re carrying some lovely colors inspired by the Pantone palettes for spring and fall. One of my Pantone favorites at the moment is “Linen”, a sort of peached-up ivory. It reminds me my fading roses…

dyeing cotton

The funny thing with dyes is that they mix really differently than I am used to with paint. And if I’m using a mixed rather than primary color, some parts of the dye can “stick” faster than other parts. Dyeing fans always say it’s part science, part art, and now I can see why. So my “linen” came out more pink than I had hoped but I found a way to use it. These are cotton and modal knits I’d stashed for possible t-shirt projects, but they’re very soft for some simple summer lingerie. I’ve got my eye on some Tencel knits, too. I love soft knitted underwear especially in the hot months.

All of this dyeing led up to samples of several lingerie projects. And that’s another place my hands have been–sewing, sewing, testing, more sewing. I love making things for myself but over the last year I got an itch to do something more with my sewing and designing. It was an itch that wouldn’t go away. My business ideas are still in the nascent stages but the more I plunge into them, the more I realize that designing clothes and patterns is something I’ve dreamed about for many years. I would never have guessed it’d be lingerie!

Anyway, promise I’ll be back with some of the finished projects. Some of them aren’t too exciting; I’m working on developing my distinct style and then there’s just a lot of me trying to improve at handling elastic and stretch. And then some of them are downright secrets until they’re ready. And that’s what lingerie is about, right?

Lingerie Friday: Dyeing the Notions

It’s been awhile since my last Lingerie Friday! We are still settling in and finding new rhythms after what feels like eons of moving and sorting and unpacking. This week I’ve been dreaming up color ideas for future lingerie projects, and so I’ve been playing around with dyes again. I never aspired to be a painter, but I went through a phase where I was completely taken with mixing paint colors. I would spend hours mixing watercolors and gouache to get exacting shades of olive, lilac, pale pale coral. It was inevitable that I’d fall for dyeing, and I have fallen hard.

I’m dreaming about yellows at the moment, specifically lemon-y or acid yellows so I’ve been experimenting with a few dyes. My friend Stephanie came over and took some photos of me in the “lab”.

Dyeing Elastic & Notions for Bras | Cloth Habit

Ingredients: Dharma acid dye in “Fluorescent Lemon”, vinegar, hot water. For the small amounts I am dyeing, I use a Pyrex jar. Don’t forget the gloves and “not-for-cooking” spoon.

What I’m dyeing: bra rings & sliders, hook & eye, and a few samples of elastic and stretch mesh. I wash these in a mild soap to remove any residue. (You never know; some fabrics have surface treatments.)

Before I commit to larger amounts, I’m dyeing just these little bits to see how it turns out. A teensy bit of powder dye goes a long way for so little… even a sprinkle is almost too much. I add the hot water to the dye…

Dyeing Elastic & Notions for Bras | Cloth Habit

The nylon-coated rings take the longest to accept dye. They usually sit and take on barely a pale stain until I add the vinegar. The water has to be hot. They tend not to dye well if the water doesn’t stay hot. If I’ve already added vinegar and they’re still being stubborn, I take the rings out and microwave the dye water to heat it up a bit.

Dyeing Elastic & Notions for Bras | Cloth Habit

Oops, here’s what happened when I didn’t take the rings out before re-heating the water in the microwave. Melted nylon!

The rest of my samples seemed to take mere seconds. I used to pull fabrics out and rinse them as soon as they got to the intensity I wanted. But I’ve since learned that the time in the acidic hot “bath” is also important to how colorfast the dye will be. I’m still experimenting, but if there is still some dye left and I don’t want the notions to take up any more, I transfer them to another pot/jar with just hot water and vinegar for about 20-30 minutes.

Dyeing Elastic & Notions for Bras | Cloth Habit

Since I had a bit of dye left, I threw in another set of rings and sliders to make up for my melted ones. This lemon is super neon! (It really does glow in the dark.)

Dyeing Elastic & Notions for Bras | Cloth Habit
Note that I’m dyeing nylon (and my elastic is nylon), so I’m using an acid dye. You can also use RIT, as it contains a form of acid dye along with another type of dye for cottons and such. With either an acid dye or RIT, the heat and acidic pH (via vinegar) are the key to encouraging the dye to bond and this works for nylon as well as silk. I love the “professional” acid dyes. They’re much less expensive than all-purpose dyes and the colors are more brilliant and predictable. I still happen to have a bottle of RIT not-fluorescent “Lemon” waiting for my next experiment…

Happy colorific lemon-y weekend everyone!

Lingerie Friday: Thread Tales

stretch mesh panties

Has it really been two weeks? We’re still in the throes of moving… boxes and boxes everywhere in both places. In the midst we’ve both managed to preserve tiny corners of creative spaces for our own sanity, so I packed up everything but my sewing machine and a few lingerie projects. I’ve been tweaking another new pattern lately which gave me an excuse to play with my latest fabric love, sheer stretch mesh. The mesh I’ve been using is so delicate and soft, and of course I had to spend an evening dyeing it, too! First minty green and then a pale gold-yellow…

stretch mesh pale yellow

But it is a little picky about needles and stitch lengths. And even thread. So today I wanted to share a couple of my new favorite threads for lingerie and especially for these more delicate fabrics. Both are delicate but don’t snap under tension. I love how tailors are unequivocal about their buttonhole threads, and it was inevitable that I’d be that way about lingerie thread, too!

Gutermann A192 (or Mara 150) Fine Thread

Gutermann thread A192

Funny enough, it was the Cutter & Tailor forum where I first read about this as a good thread for fine shirtmaking. It is also recommended for silks and lingerie. It’s impossible to capture in photos the difference between these and their all-purpose brother above, but this is a remarkably fine but strong thread. It just sinks into fabrics and makes the topstitching on bra cup seams less bulky.

I’ve only found A192 in tailoring supply shops but it’s well worth the hunt! Mine came from from Oshman Brothers in NYC and according to their gracious owner, Gutermann is phasing out their A192 threads to a new thread called Mara 150, so you might find this thread under either name. I got one of each, since Oshman’s stock is still mostly the older type, but both are very fine, strong threads. I placed such a tiny order from them, but Mr. Oshman sent me a long email explaining the transition and the technology difference behind the new threads (core-spun polyester with microfiber core, etc.) If you want to understand thread, you have a willing teacher!

Wooly Nylon or Wooly Polyester

wooly nylon thread

These are much easier to find in your local store, but I was missing out on a good secret! In knits and especially in underwear, wooly threads make the softest, airiest seams against the skin.

woolly nylon seam

Until about a year ago I was in the dark about wooly nylon. And the first time I shopped for some I accidentally confused it with blindstitch thread. Oops, big difference! I ended up with a bunch of cones of plasticky thread I doubt I’ll ever use.

Wooly threads are kind of springy and spongy, and as you can see look like little cloud-strings. The most common type is wooly nylon but there is also wooly polyester.

wooly nylon serging

I don’t have tons of room for serger threads, so I have a bit of a color strategy. There are a few neutrals that seem to blend with everything. Ivory, dark grey, red, nude and a light grey have been great basics for most of my lingerie. The ivory blends into most pale warm colors. The light grey blends into most pale cool colors. The dark grey is good for blacks and very dark colors.

When serging, it’s easiest to use wooly thread in the loopers and regular serger thread in the needle. And the best way to get those spongy threads through the loopers is by tying the them onto the tails of your previous looper threads, then pulling them through. I learned that one the hard way…

Do you have any favorite threads?

Happy weekend! Now back to those boxes…

Sewing With Leather, Yeah!

When I got back into sewing a few years ago, I was like a kid in a candy shop. Bras! Tailoring! Jeans! Handbags! I never imagined I’d end up sewing with leather but like so many finer aspects of sewing, it’s not as arcane or specialized as it used to seem.

And it’s so fun! My first leather project was this handbag from Hotpatterns:

It’s a bit lonely. There are other parts, including a strap and a tassel, but I can’t find them at the moment. It’s been a UFO for two years, mostly because I screwed up the binding inside the handles, ripped it out and never started over. Ahh, you know how it goes. But it was a good first experiment. I learned the hard way what kind of interfacing doesn’t work on leather. And I went crazy with the studs.

Anyway, I know there can be a bit of intimidation when approaching materials like leather or faux fur. Perhaps I can take some of the edge off for my fellow stitchers by sharing the process of my faux fur coat? Not out of expertise but jumping in, mistakes and all!

In my previous post about the coat, Sallieoh asked where one could buy these kind of materials so I thought I’d start by sharing a few of my findings, particularly with leather. I wanted black lambskin for my coat trim and serendipitously, Gorgeous Fabrics was selling a few when I started gathering materials. They were at a great price and are absolutely luscious!

The first place I look for leathers is ebay. I don’t live in NYC, sigh. There are gads of leather sellers on ebay, but here are a few places to start:

  • Leatherwise from Santa Cruz is my fave. Beautiful quality, colors and great prices.
  • Fashion Leathers. They sell scraps or small pieces as well.
  • Santos Leather at Etsy. (From Montreal.) Unusual and pretty surplus from a leather designer. She even sells grab bags of scraps that’d be great for little projects.
  • Fabric Mart sells quality skins every so often. I don’t have much experience with this shop but have heard good things.

As you can see by the top picture you can find all sorts of finishes: suede, metallic, distressed, matte, shiny, patent, what have you. Some leathers have finishes on both sides. The leather for my handbag, for example, was pearlized on one side with a gorgeous suede finish on the other. I love those kinds since they’re really versatile. Here are few things I’ve learned about size, weight, and cost:

  • Hides come in different weights, and are either described by weight (ounces) or thickness (mm). For example, my black skin is probably about 1 ounce. It’s very lightweight, almost paper thin, and drapey, and good for a more delicate garment or trim.
  • Skins are usually described in square feet or inches. Lambskin is going to be smaller, of course, than other types of hides like cow or goatskin. The skin pictured above is about 5 1/2 square feet–you can see by the yardstick that at its longest is about 32 inches. Because skins are irregularly shaped and the outer edges a little thinner there’s some creative cutting involved.
  • Prices tend to be higher for lambskins, anywhere from $15 to extremes like $80. You can get absolutely beautiful skins of a decent size for $20. Check to see if they are described as “second quality” or something like that. (Sometimes the lower quality will have dye imperfections or holes, which are still perfectly workable if cost is a concern.)
  • Goatskin and calfskin can also be lightweight and supple as well as less expensive–and give you more square footage to work with! High quality calfskins can be cheaper than ultrasuede or pleather so it’s not always more economical to go for the fake.

Now as for sewing, it’s sooo easy to cut! It’s really a dream to sew! But there are a few good tools to have around and I’ll save the sewing hints for the next post or two. Till then!

Fall Color Inspirations

Hurrah for fall! (And thanks all for the birthday wishes!) I love how the light starts to sleep. I love the smell of decay and compost and fall-blooming flowers. It’s probably my entire motivation to for gardening in Texas. There is nothing like those cool mornings and starting from a fresh palette after the hard summer. (I’m sure it works in reverse in spring-oriented climates!)

Back in July I was already oogling over the mustards, ochres, turmerics, old gold colors that showed up in a lot of fall trends. I’m finally getting around to making up my list of fall inspirations, and put together a color palette as a start:

{Marc Jacobs Spring 2011, Gucci Fall 2011, myrakim at Etsy, Mucha sketch, my fall palette, Jaeger Fall 2011}

I’ve been really inspired by other bloggers who use Pantone or Colour Lovers to come up with schemes. I might form an addiction to Pinterest. Finally, I can collect all those visual ideas and save my hard drive.

I really enjoy planning my wardrobe seasonally as a creative exercise. It helps me define my mood and personal life goals for the next few months–visioning through fashion!

Once I get a mood, I start thinking about actual pieces I’d like to add to my wardrobe. I make a huge, unruly list of dream clothes, shoes, accessories and then pair it down to the manageable and affordable (I have a budget twice a year). A little over a year ago I started adding sewing projects into the list, as I finally started sewing enough to rely on it for fashion.

My sewing ideas are also unruly at the moment but I have a few things I’d really like to try, like a take on the saffron cropped jacket:

It’d require some drafting, and probably be my most ambitious sewing project yet, so we’ll see how far I get.

And something like this 60s-ish coat dress.

I love the military silhouette and found a similar style in a pattern, but am thinking it’s those colors that are really attracting me more than anything else (can you tell I liked that collection?).

Practically speaking, fall and winter planning is difficult for me–I love fall clothes the best but serious outer layers are only necessary for two months and the rest of the year just plain hot. So while I’m having fun plotting fall ideas, I’m trying to look ahead to February, when I usually ditch my must-have-wool-cape fantasies.

How do you keep track of sewing or fashion inspirations? Do you make plans with fashion or do you just go as you go?

The Hunt for Red

Since there is a dearth of fabric stores in Austin, I buy most of my sewing stuff and especially fabrics online. Which, yeah, is always a gamble especially in terms of color. I am so picky when it comes to color. I bought 5 rose bushes before I found the perfect shade of coral-y shell pink flower I was looking for. Coral is not coral is not coral.

And color always shifts in relation to its surrounding colors.


Not to mention some fabric stores take pictures under flourescents and using flash, making things much warmer than I know they really are.

I get certain color combinations in my head specifically with fabric. For the longest time it was orangey coral with a bright cobalt blue. Last winter I wanted a red wool crepe dress to wear with red tights and black boots. Have you ever tried to shop red fabrics? I wanted bright, clear red. Not an orange red, not a blue red, not a dark red. I wanted the kind of primary red that looks straight out of a cadmium red paint tube.

It was impossible to find. Lots of fabrics were/are described as “lipstick red” and anyone into red lipstick knows “true red” is in the eye of the beholder and the skin tone of the wearer. MAC has at least five good but wildly different reds. I took a risk on a doubleknit described online as “true red” but ended up with a very brick red.

Right now I have a fascination with tomato red, a risky color on me because I tend to look pallid in very warm orangey colors. And uh, what exactly is tomato red? I mean, some interpretations of “tomato” are almost purpley red, as tomatoes can be. But I’m thinking more like a flame red pigment. Argh, I blame this all on that four-month color theory class.

Speaking of fabric stores, one of my favorite textile shops of all, Britex in San Francisco, has just recently opened an online shop to include an edited selection of fabric. Britex in person is a bit of an experience. Be prepared to have opining salespeople bringing you fabrics left and right–it’s not a place to sneak–but I like talking fabrics with them. Be also prepared to drop your jaw and see prices up to $100 a yard both online and in person. They have Valentino silks and Dior leathers, after all–but once in awhile it’s fun to just see such gorgeousity!