When I decided on wisteria as my theme I was hopeful that I could find some pre-embroidered appliques to use on the dress. Sadly, this was not to be– for some reason, wisteria just isn’t popular enough to make appliques out of. Next I looked for some embroidered wisteria decorator fabric, hoping to make my own appliques. No luck– there was some gorgeous fabric out there, but it was something like $300/yard. Not going to happen. Machine-embroidery would be too expensive to commission, hand-embroidery was out of the question due to time constraints, but then I thought of silk ribbon embroidery. It was a lot faster than regular embroidery due to the width of the ribbon, and it would look lovely and dimensional. Right?
Unfortunately, silk ribbon is SILK, and therefore prohibitively expensive when one is considering making life-sized wisteria blossoms all over the skirt of a ballgown. And regular (cheap) satin ribbon is just too thick to really use for embroidery, especially when embroidering onto a tightly-woven satin base. But then it hit me– Hug Snug seam binding. It’s extremely light and thin, it comes in a million different colors, and it’s CHEAP. I could get a 100-yd. roll for about $10, so I bought two rolls– one in “Orchid Pink” and one in “Moss Green.”
Why pale pink, when wisteria blossoms are various shades of purple? Because I didn’t feel like buying multiple colors of purple and then switching back and forth in the middle of a wisteria spray. Instead, I dyed the whole spool in variegated shades of purple using Jacquard Dye-Na-Flow. It’s actually really easy to use, and unlike regular dye it doesn’t require a long soaking/boiling time to set. Here’s how I did it:
For the wisteria I bought Violet and Periwinkle Dye-Na-Flow (purple and dark blue, respectively), and used a combination of the two colors because neither one of them was just right. I did a few test swatches to see how various color combinations and concentrations would work, being sure to dry the swatches thoroughly before comparing colors.
I will note that when I made my first attempt at dyeing, I mistakenly thought it would be easier to wind the whole 100-yd spool into a single hank of ribbon before dipping. This was a mistake for a few reasons: First, because 100 yards of ribbon is really bulky and it took forever to dry; and second, because the drying process (tossing and fluffing the ribbon) tangled the whole thing up horribly. So if you’re going to do this, cut your seam binding into manageable 2-yard pieces (because really, are you going to embroider with more than 2 yards at a time?) before proceeding.
Anyway, fold each of your 2-yard pieces into quarters so you have 9-inch long hanks. Thoroughly wet them (they’ll stay together better this way anyway) and set them aside.
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or paper (to keep it clean) and place a rack on top of it. This is to dry your seam binding on. Preheat your oven to the lowest possible setting, around 175 degrees F (convection if you have it).
Next, get a shallow plastic bowl and add a few spoonfuls of Dye-Na-Flow, diluting as necessary with water to get your preferred shade. Gather together a few of your hanks of wet seam binding and dip one end into the dye. Use your fingers to mush it around and help get the dye thoroughly distributed. The dye will “climb” up the wet binding very quickly, so make sure you start cautiously.
If your dye looks too dark (keeping in mind that it’ll lighten considerably when dry), rinse in clear water immediately to try to wash out some of the color. If it’s too light, add some extra Dye-Na-Flow to your mixture and dip again.
Squeeze out excess dye and place the hank of binding on the rack on your baking sheet, spreading it out slightly.
(I will note that the purple/pink above turned out way too light and had to be re-dyed… no photos of the second version when wet, sorry)
Repeat until all of your binding is dyed, then place the baking sheet in your warm oven to speed the drying process. After about 10 minutes (more or less, depending on how much binding you’re doing at once), gently toss the binding to expose more damp surface area and return to the oven for another 5 minutes. Don’t worry if your binding gets a little tangled at this point, it won’t really matter. What you’re looking for is for it to be just dry enough to set the color– it doesn’t need to be crispy and dry (though that will happen eventually in the oven if you wait long enough), but it needs to be dry enough that the paint won’t rub off on your ironing board.
Okay, here’s the tedious part– ironing. You need to iron your seam binding, both to permanently set the color and to smooth it out again so it can be used for embroidery. Use a low setting and just glide it over the binding– it doesn’t take long, but if you’re doing a full 100 yards the minutes can add up. Once each length of binding is ironed, fold it up again and loosely knot it so it stays together.
At this point, take another look at your finished binding to make sure the color is what you want. If not, back to the dipping bowl for another coat of dye… I had to do this, as my finished colors were just too pale to work against my dress fabric. It’s a pain, but worth it.
So here are my final results– while I was originally shooting for more of a smooth ombre look, gently shading from color to color, that didn’t entirely work out. Unless you can really hang up all of your seam binding while it’s drying so the pieces don’t touch each other or anything else, you’re going to get spots of color at the points of contact. Also, the oven-drying process did tend to concentrate color at the edges of the binding, just like drops of liquid drying will form little rings on a surface. I like the final effect– more of a tie-dye than an ombre– and I hope it’ll look good when embroidered onto my dress.
Ready to get to work!
- Dye-Na-Flow isn’t really like dye (though I know I’ve been calling it that)– the color won’t really get stronger the longer you leave your fabric in the solution. It’s more like watercolor paint, so you can just dip it in once and you’re all set.
- I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to remember that your final color will be much lighter than the wet color. Not only is the dye darker when wet, but the seam binding itself is much darker when wet. So take the time to do some test swatches, and if you end up with some imperfections anyway, embrace them.
- Wetting your seam binding before dyeing it is also crucial– otherwise the paint will form a sharp line where you stop painting, rather than a gentle shading. Also it’ll be a lot darker, which you might not want, so just remember that wetter = subtler.
- You don’t need to use a rack to dry your binding, but it’ll make it go faster since there’s more airflow. Also, if you don’t use a rack you’ll get more points of contact between binding and pan, and that’ll mean more random spots of darker color in your finished product.
- You don’t want to crowd your drying rack– I got my best results when I put no more than 25 yards of binding on each rack, spread out.
- For the record, I used Brown Dye-Na-Flow to add a slightly warmer tint to parts of the Moss Green seam binding. I’m not entirely happy with the color– it hardly showed up at all on most parts of the binding– but I figure that I won’t be using a ton of green anyway, so it won’t matter that much, right?