I recently had the great idea of buying silk crepe de chine in bulk and dyeing it myself. Silk crepe de chine is one of my favorite fabrics to sew with. It has a silky smooth feel, a fluid drape and it does not have the shine of silk charmeuse so it is great for both day and evening wear. As well, it is super lightweight, durable and has excellent wrinkle resistance. It is an elegant fabric that is perfect for skirts, dresses, pants, and blouses.
The issue I face is that silk crepe de chine is not easy to find in Canada (or at least I have not yet found a store that carries the colors or patterns that I would like) so I often look to online fabric stores in the US or on sites such as ETSY.
Like any fabric, there are varying degrees of quality and that is reflected in the price. The quality of the silk is measured in mommes (mm). One momme is equal to 4.340 grams per square meter; 8 mommes is approximately 1 ounce per square yard or 35 grams per square meter.
The usual range of momme weight for different weaves of silk are:
Gauze—3 to 5 mm
Organza—4 to 6 mm
Habotai—12 to 16 mm
Chiffon—6 to 8 mm (can be made in double thickness, i.e. 12 to 16 mm)
Crepe de Chine—12 to 16 mm
Raw silk—35 to 40 mm (heavier silks appear more ‘wooly’)
Charmeuse—12 to 30 mm
Often the higher the momme weight the better the quality of fabric . A higher weight means a tighter weave and denser fabric and therefore greater durability which translates into a longer wear life. Although lightweight silk may not have the same life span, I find it much more wearable. In terms of silk crepe de chine, I prefer lightweight because it looks beautiful, feels wonderful and it is easy to sew with.
When searching for lightweight silk crepe de chine, you will find many different price points. You can find beautiful Italian silk crepe de chine for over $100/ yard. As much as I would love to buy it, my bank account app says I need to look for something cheaper.. The average price I see for a nice quality silk crepe de chine is around $25 – $40/ yard.
The problem is that I wanted to buy a large quantity of good quality silk crepe de chine but even at $30/ yard it adds up. So I decided to buy in bulk. On the Dharma Trading site I was able to get 15 yards of 16 momme white silk crepe de chine at $13.09 US/yard. I also bought multiple rolls of white silk habotai bias ribbon for seam binding which I can also dye. I picked the colors of Acid Dye that I wanted and I was all set to go.
The actual process of dyeing is easy. There are different methods to dye your fabric and I chose the stove top method.
The first step is to weigh your fabric because the amount of water and dye you use is based on weight.
You then get a pot, heat the correct amount of water and add the proper amount of dye. Once the dye has dissolved you add in the pre-washed cut silk , a bit of white vinegar and stir. The length of time required to stir the fabric is from 1/2 hour to 1 hour, depending on how dark you want the color.After it is done you can wash it with dish soap in warm water. They suggest doing a test run on a small piece of fabric which is the smart thing to do, but of course I just jumped right in and hoped for the best. In hindsight, probably not the right choice.
Although I am pretty happy with the outcome it is far from perfect. To the naked eye it looks good but there is uneven color in areas,
I played with the lighting on my camera and it lets you see the unevenness of the color. Again, this is not what it looks like when you are looking at it in person but there are some spots that are lighter than the rest of the fabric and I will have to cut around them when cutting out a pattern.
It could be that I did not move the fabric around enough in the pot or I put in too much fabric(4m) for the size of the pot. I was also supposed to pre-wash the fabric which I chose not to do because I was too excited to get dyeing. More than likely it is all three. Thankfully I still have 11 more yards of fabric to work with so I can practice. I will also be doing a lot more research before I ever try dyeing again.
As for whether or not I will buy more silk in bulk, at this point I am undecided. My fingers are crossed that I will learn how to properly dye fabric because nothing beats paying around $30 – $60 for a silk crepe de chine dress or blouse.