Jan 30

Hand dyed silk velvet burnout scarves – with (minimal) tutorial!

When I was doing my design research for ‘Into the Woods’, I fell in love with Fortuny’s dresses – the intricate pleating and beautiful fabrics cried out me.  I especially fell in love with his Medieval-influenced line, which combined beautiful velvets and brocades with his pleated silks:

Mariano Fortuny. Gown, 1920’s. Silk velvet with metal stenciling, silk chiffon and beads. Gift of Mrs. Joseph McMullan. Photo by Ken Howie.  Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ.

Mariano Fortuny. Gown, 1920’s. Silk velvet with metal stenciling, silk chiffon and beads. Gift of Mrs. Joseph McMullan. Photo by Ken Howie. Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ.

Unsurprisingly, we don’t actually have a Fortuny gown in storage.  BUT – Dharma Trading Company sells these amazing cut silk velvet scarves, with the largest size being 22″ x 72″.  Two of those would be PLENTY of fabric for the front and back panels of my mock-Fortuny dress!

Over Christmas, I purchased some of the smaller scarves to experiment on (and give away as Christmas gifts!).  When I dye yarn or roving, I use a crock-pot method which involves pre-soaking the fiber in water with citric acid, piling it into a crock pot, sprinkling dry dye on the fiber, and gently pouring in hot water.  Let it simmer for a few hours, rinse – poof, instant color!  When I tried that method with my experimental scarves…

They came out one, single, solid color.  Apparently, the rayon base on the scarves wicks a lot more than my wool roving and yarn.  So, on to plan B:  space dyeing.


THIS is what happens when I used my old space-dyeing method, which I used to use for dyeing fiber.  It’s much more exact than the kettle dyeing method described above, but a lot more labor intensive.  But, apparently, necessary for the scarves.

I used Dharma’s acid dye and citric acid, and the scarf ate up the dye beautifully.

Quick breakdown of the method:

1) Pre-soaking.  Soak the scarf in hot water, with a couple of tablespoons of citric acid.  Dharma recommends about an hour – I let it soak for half an hour or so while I prepped my dyes, and it seemed to work out fine.  The trick is to make sure that the scarf is COMPLETELY soaked – any dry or damp spots will take the dye differently, which may not be the effect you are going for.

2) Dye prep – you’ll need to pre-mix your dyes in some sort of container.  I use 4 oz. squeeze bottles from Dharma, but if you’re just doing a one-off, you could mix in paper cups or old bowls.  I boil water with my electric kettle, and pour a little bit (about 1oz, maybe a little less) into the bottle.  I add in about a teaspoon of citric acid, and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of dye – the more dye you add, the more intense the color will be.  Swish the dye, water, and citric acid around until it is fully dissolved, and then top off the bottle with hot water from the tap.

3) Table prep – Lay a protective covering on your surface.  THEN lay down a layer of saran wrap (I like the large – scale industrial saran wrap you get from Costco).  Take your scarf out of the hot water, gently squeeze out the excess water, and lay down on your saran wrap.

4) Dye application – apply your mixed dye directly to the scarf.  Once the dye is applied to all areas of the scarf, fold over the ends of the saran wrap, and then the lengthwise edges, fully encasing the scarf in the saran wrap.  I gently knead the scarf a little at this point, to ensure that the dye has soaked through to the bottom.  Roll the saran-wrapped scarf up into a little sushi-roll of silky goodness.

5) Heat setting – you will need a pot and steamer basket that are ONLY used for dyeing.  (I use an old clam steamer – but I’ve been told that most people don’t have those in their basements!)  Put 2-3″ of water in the bottom of the pot, and the steamer basket on top of that.  Let the water come to a boil, and place the sushi-roll of scarf in the steamer basket.  Let it steam for about 45-50 minutes.

6) Final processing – let the scarf cool completely, and then unwrap.  Rinse completely in cool water until the water runs clear.  At this point, you can gently squeeze out the water and let it hang dry.  I am impatient, though, and like my things to dry quickly – so I put the scarf in a garment bag and run it on the spin cycle in my washing machine to get as much water out as I can.  Let hang dry.

7) Ironing – I found that I can GENTLY steam iron these scarves from the back, using a low heat, a good amount of steam, and a velvet press board.  If you don’t have access to a velvet press board, you can steam the scarf to get out the wrinkles.

Hope that’s helpful – this is just my method, I’m sure there are others.  If anyone is interested, I can take photos next time to illustrate.

Happy dyeing!

(NOTE:  I am in no way affiliated with Dharma Trading Company – I’ve just used their products for many years, and highly recommend them for both quality and customer service!)


1 comment

  1. Trystan

    I’ve looked longingly at those Dharma scarf blanks — well now I know how they can become gorgeously colored scarves! Not sure if I’d do it, but it’s tempting to try :)

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