A Little Tea-Dyeing Adventure

Now that my corset is done, it’s time to move on to the next phase of the Edwardian project: the combination chemise, petticoat and corset cover. As always, I like to prep my fabric before I use it, and that’s what this post is all about.

For those of you who follow the Facebook page, you may have noticed my picture of the cotton voile I ordered.

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Cotton voile and cotton batiste are the most highly recommended fabrics for historical undergarments. This is because they are very soft and lightweight. Cotton is one of the most breathable fabrics out there. Cotton batiste and cotton voile are not very coarse weaves of cotton, so they’re not scratchy against your skin. Very important for the underwear that’s right up against your skin! I got cotton voile partly because it was cheaper than batiste, and partly because I love the semi-sheer nature of it.

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Depending on the lighting, the amount of detail you can see through cotton voile varies, but usually you just sort of see a shadow of what’s underneath. Perfect for Edwardian undergarments to go with an evening dress! (Cotton batiste is opaque, so it would be more practical for everyday wear.)

Before using this fabric, I noticed that it was very obviously true white, whereas my corset is a creamy off-white color. Those two didn’t go well together. I didn’t want the true white cotton voile to make my ivory corset look dingy! So I decided to try something that many people in the DIY community are quite fond of: tea dyeing. Basically it’s where you dye fabric with tea. Lots of people use it to warm up true white fabrics to make them match an ivory thing. Figured it would be a fun thing to try, and super cheap!

First I cut out some test swatches of the cotton voile and put one in some lukewarm water with a moderate concentration of regular tea. (It was just the Lipton iced tea stuff.)

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Testing a swatch in lukewarm water, for five minutes, with a moderate concentration of dye is always a good place to start, because that will dye silk and anything else that dyes easily. (Mortal fabric! Haha, get it? Sorry, I’m bad at bad jokes!) Anyway, five minutes in lukewarm water with moderate concentration didn’t put a dent on my fabric, so I heated the water on the stove to almost-boiling (steaming and swirling, as I think of it) and put another two bags of tea in. A few more minutes in that did the trick! Here’s the test swatch, and a control swatch (one that was not dyed) both against my corset:

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Funny how a little bit of tea makes such a difference! Now, just looking at the dyed swatch, all by itself, it doesn’t match the corset color exactly. It’s considerably paler. That’s because the fabric is semi-sheer, so it will look more like whatever color is underneath it… so putting it on the corset makes it look more like the corset color. But at least it’s not as blatantly white as the control swatch!

I was satisfied with how those two came out, so I split my 7-yard length of fabric into 3 yards and 4 yards, because they didn’t both fit into my pot, and dyed them separately.

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Setting them out overnight to dry:

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Except, when I woke up this morning to check on them, there was a problem! The tea dye did not dry evenly, so there were these ugly brown streaks all over…..

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Talk about a big OOPS!

I think those streaks came because I didn’t rinse off the fabric before setting it out. Rather a silly mistake, isn’t it? I guess I was just afraid of washing out ALL the tea! This stuff isn’t as strong as Rit dye, after all. Oh well.

Thankfully, it was an easy fix. I found out that you can use white vinegar to remove tea stains from cotton! So I put the fabric in the washing machine, and added vinegar instead of detergent, and it washed it all out for me.

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(I actually think the warm water was more important to have than the vinegar, because the stains started to come off in the washing machine even before I added the vinegar. But I’m sure it helped.)

The one last thing I was worried about was that I might have washed the fabric TOO white… that it no longer had that same nice ivory color as the swatches. It still looks pretty pale against the corset. But after cutting a swatch off the dyed fabric, and comparing it to the control swatch and one of the test swatches, I found that it still matched the corset more nicely than the control swatch. (Top is the control, middle is the final product, bottom is one of the test swatches.)

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I decided I’m happy enough with the result to not go through the whole process and dye it again. I don’t think the tea will ever make it match the corset perfectly. The tea is more reddish while the corset is more yellowish. The important part is that I can reasonably call my fabric ivory now, and not true white, even if it’s not a perfect match.

Sewing is like gambling. You are constantly making choices about whether you should stop and take home what you already have, or keep going and risk losing it all! But unlike gambling, with sewing (and art in general) mistakes are easily fixed. Sometimes you may lose a little bit of time or money, but it doesn’t ruin your life or your project.

Stay tuned for posts about the chemise construction! I hope to start that today. Thanks for reading!

Oh! And if you haven’t taken the fashion era quiz on the previous post, or if you have and you haven’t told me your results through the poll, I encourage you to do one thing:

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