In April of 2020, I joined the Chicago Fashion Incubator at Macy's on State Street as a Designer-in-Residence (DIR). It has been an incredible opportunity, and I have a lot of wonderful things to share about my past and current experience as a DIR. One of the highlights has been meeting and collaborating with former-DIR, Goli June Bridal.
In Autumn of 2020, Goli had seen my blog post about naturally dyeing fabric with kitchen extras, and thought it would be a great look for her upcoming silk robes. I love working with Goli, and I love naturally dyeing silk, so it was a very easy "Yes please!"
For our original robes, I used yellow onion skins, turmeric powder, and leftover coffee grounds as my dyestuff. The fabric dyed beautifully, and I had a blast working on this project.
One of Goli's brides saw our work, and reached out about customizing a set of robes for her bridal party. After some back and forth about style, color, and cost, I put together a few color samples.
Our bride chose a sample, perfect for her September wedding, that comprised of yellow onion skins, turmeric, used coffee grounds, and soda ash.
Soda ash is an alkali, so it shifts the pH of the turmeric and of the onion skins, giving us lovely burnt oranges, smooth café au lait browns, and soft periwinkle purples.
Now that I had a blueprint, I needed to source a HUGE amount of onion skins. For our original robes, it took 100 pounds of onions to give us 1 pound of onion skins. This project called for 50 yards of silk, which is more than three times as much fabric as the original robes, which means I needed more than three times as many onion skins. 300+ pounds are way more onions than I can possibly eat in a month, despite my best efforts.
I reached out to my community, and a friend connected me with Marcos Ascencio, an owner of Taqueria Chingón, a taqueria in Chicago that makes incredible tacos, salsas, and churros.
The team at Chingón absolutely lived up to their name. Marcos told me they go through about 100 pounds of onions a week, and they graciously saved and shared their food waste with me to use as a dye. With the help of Taqueria Chingón, Floriole Cafe, and individual onion eaters, I was able to collect 14 pounds of onion skins and scraps.
In order to dye 50 yards of silk, I needed to make the fabric portions a more manageable size, so Goli cut the fabric into 10 separate sections of 5 yards each.
I scoured the fabric in a solution of synthrapol and soda ash to prepare for mordanting and dyeing.
I then mordanted all of the fabric at once using potassium aluminum sulfate, aka alum.
The next day was showtime! One by one, I scattered the dyestuff on the pre-wetted silk. First the onion skins, followed by the coffee grounds, then the turmeric, and finally, the soda ash. Turmeric's reaction to the soda ash (an alkali) is instant, so the bundles took on a lurid alizarin hue.
I rolled each bundle, first like a snake, then like a cinnamon roll, to make the bundles as tight and compact as possible. You can watch the process at my tutorial for at-home bundle dyeing here.
Once I had all 50 yards prepped and rolled, I steamed the bundles for about an hour, then left them to sit overnight. The extra time allows the dye to more strongly bind and cure to the fabric.
The next day, I unrolled the fabric and shook out the dye material. Clean up was a lot, but it was definitely worth the effort. The initial color was so vibrant and bright, but we won't know the final results until the fabric is washed.
After washing the silk, I dried, ironed, and documented the final results.
No matter how many times I do this, I am always blown away by the beauty and intricacy of the final results. This fabric calls to mind Claude Monet and J.M.W Turner's watercolors.
I am so proud of this project, and I hope our bride loves it too.
If you're interested in custom-dyed robes for your wedding (or other group), let us know! You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Goli at email@example.com
Thank you Taqueria Chingón, Floriole Bakery, and all of the individual onion eaters who shared your kitchen extras with me.