Indigo dye and shibori techniques make a great summer dress.
Wren's summer 2013 collection is one of my favorite collections to date, inspiring a lot of wishful thinking, window shopping (online) and, eventually, this sewing project. The best piece in the bunch is a halter dress with a simple striped tie dye pattern. When I realized it was out of my budget, I decided to make my own version.
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What you need.. two yards of bamboo rayon, cotton, or silk (the original Wren dress is made of polyester), indigo tie dye kit, halter dress pattern, a yard or more of 1/2 inch elastic, single fold regular and wide bias tape (a package of each), and a yard or two of cotton cord (depending on the desired length of the neckline). The halter dress pattern I used is Simplicity 9885, which worked wonderfully. I also used cotton crochet thread and an embroidery needle to create my shibori pattern on the dress - but a regular needle and thread should work just as well, provided you double up the thread on the needle.
First step - lay out your pattern pieces and cut. Simplicity 9885's halter dress consists of two simple parts - the front and the back. The front piece is cut on the fold, but I wanted a small opening at the front neckline so I added a 5/8 inch seam allowance at the front center and cut two pieces. I sewed the front pieces together at the center, leaving about a four inch gap at the front, pressing the seam allowances flat and serging the ends. I repeated the same process with the back pieces, leaving an eight inch gap at the top.
To create a finished arm opening, sew a bias tape hem along the arm holes at the top of each piece with the bias tape facing the wrong side (the pattern calls for a rolled hem but bias tape hems lay better, especially when used for arm holes). Then, it's time to create a casing for the cotton cord at the neckline. Fold in a quarter inch at the top of the neckline, sew in place, then press an inch inward, forming the casing. Sew in place on the bottom edge.
Sew the front and back pieces together at the sides and finish the bottom hem. The pattern then calls for a bias tape waistline. Using your single fold wide bias tape, pin in place inside the dress at the waistline (the pattern should mark this location out for you - if not, pin in place, try the dress on, and see if you like where the waistband will hit you). Sew the top and bottom edges of the bias tape, leaving an opening where you can slide in the elastic post-dyeing.
The shibori technique used here is a stitch resist method called horse's teeth. It requires two layers of the fabric (with an area about an inch wide) to be sandwiched together with a basting stitch, then the thread is pulled and knotted in place, resulting in tight gathers along the layers of fabric. Creating this effect horizontally allows interesting stripes to result. I followed an instructional video in order to learn the horse's teeth method in detail, check it out here.
Time to dye! Now, this is the fun part. I highly recommend purchasing the indigo dye kit as it includes everything you need and walks you through each step - for first timers, it is fool-proof. Grab one of these kits and follow the instructions.
Once you have your indigo dye vat ready, dunk your dress in water, squeeze out the excess, then gently hold it under the dye vat for one to three minutes (the longer it is submerged, the darker the fabric becomes), manipulating the fabric carefully with your hands. Do not let it fall to the bottom or rise to the surface. Squeeze gently and pull out of the vat, laying it on the ground to allow for oxidation. The color will go from green to blue over a period of twenty minutes. Make sure the air touches every part of the garment you want to turn blue, so plan on rotating it several times.
Rinse the garment with cold water and carefully cut the strings used for stitch resisting. Wash in warm water with textile detergent, tumble dry low, slip the cotton cord through the casing (knot the ends to prevent fraying) and the elastic through the waistband, and you have a finished dress!