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What i Made: Natural Dye Process Dress

natural dye process

Let me just start by saying, natural dye is a process. A process. The turnaround time when it comes to coloring your own fabric is not quick and even Rachael Ray couldn’t make a 30-minute meal out of indigo or pomegranate.

For the past year and a half, my affinity has been in bra and dress making and can you blame me? Who doesn’t love a good dress and a pair of underthings to go underneath? But this project called to me. It was in the middle of summer and during our weekly coffee date when Bekuh said to me, “Hey, you should check out a new blog I found. It’s called Blooming Leopold and it’s right up you’re alley.” Marce once said that finding a new blog was like finding a prize inside a cereal box and she was right. That toy becomes the highlight of the week. Living in my old stomping grounds, Savannah, Georgia, Lauren naturally dyes and sews simple, ethereal dresses. And she provides tutorials on many of her makings too! A month after I introduced myself to her, I sparked up another conversation. “Would you be up for a collaboration? I’ll make it super easy for you. You tell me what to do, I’ll do it, and we’ll both post about it on our blogs.” She agreed and since September, when she sent me her dyeing steps and tips, this project has slowly come together. The long process wasn’t a hindrance to my other projects either, as I sat in front of my sewing machine, this project was either cooking, cooling, or drying.

Later this week and in a super cool layout, I will visually show you each step of my natural dye process (plus tips!), but below is the story and the construction of the dress.

natural dye process natural dye process natural dye process

Because this was my first dye natural dye project ever, Lauren and I kept things simple and chose solid color design. Also, even though I admire the beauty of a shibori-like motif, it’s not my style. Before choosing the pattern, I bought the dye and the fabric – alkanet and bamboo rayon. I love purples and magentas, especially with my hair and skin tone, and bamboo rayon is just heavenly. Have you ever had your hands on the fabric? It’s light and airy and smooth as butt-ah. While my supplies shipped from Dharma Trading Company, I began looking for the pattern. I wanted the standout feature of the dress to be the fabric, so I chose a pattern that had lots of it – McCall’s 3912 (I omitted the sleeves).

The interesting thing about alkanet, which is the name of several plants in the borage family that give a red / purple color, is that it’s not water soluble. Under most circumstances, natural dyes are simmered anywhere between 1 to 3 hours prior to dyeing the fabric and the mixture is then left to cool, strained (to remove roots and powder), and then used as the dye bath. When I left alkanet over a stove for 3 hours, the mixture was light grey, not purple, and a test swatch barely picked up color. I emailed Lauren in a panic, but she calmed my nerves and wrote that most reviews said alkanet produced more of a greyish than purple tone and that I should double the amount of dye I used. I agreed and we decided to do another batch, this time increasing alkanet to 1 pound, the following weekend. On a whim, I called Dharma to see what they had to say about my first test. The packaging of the alkanet said to soak the roots in a bath of isopropyl alcohol for up to two days, but because Lauren’s directions didn’t include this step, I left it out. Turns out, alkanet roots don’t release their color in heated water like other natural dyes. The only way to get it to dye is by leaving it in rubbing alcohol. So, that what I did and for two days and boy, did my apartment wreak! Sorry neighbors.

The coloring of the fabric didn’t come out as I intended, I was going for a charcoal grey, but I love it. It’s not purple, but it’s not grey. It’s somewhere in between and both colors shine through just slightly. Because I dyed so much yardage at one time, the coloring was mottled and uneven, but the imperfections were consistent so it looks like it was the intention.

natural dye process

The construction of the dress was simple. Inspired by kimonos, I left the side seams open at 5″ below the armhole and wore this slip underneath. Both the side seams and bottom hem have a 1/4″ double turnback and the armhole was finished with self bias binding. To make sewing the side seams easier, I switched the order of operations. First, I finished the edges, and then I sewed the seam. For me, it was easier to make a tiny hem such as a ¼” double turnback when the side seams are open. The neckband was clean finished to the body and the top ply (layer) was fused with my newest obsession, Pro Sheer Elegance Light. People, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to Joann’s-bought interfacing again. This interfacing doesn’t shrink or bubble, and comes with clear instructions and maintenance guidelines. Interfacing for dummies.

Summer, fall, winter, or spring, this dress works. The design doesn’t fit in with my usual style, I’m drawn to structured fabrics and silhouettes, but this project taught me that I can look and feel good in garments outside my comfort zone.

Thank you Lauren for being patient with me for the past couple of months! Our hard work definitely paid off.

natural dye process


  1. Reply


    Love that slit! And thanks for the blog rec, too!

  2. Reply


    Gorgeous! So ethereal and goddess-like. I’ve always wanted to try natural dyes. I can’t wait for your post on the dye details!

  3. Reply


    Gorgeous make Maddie, I love the colour and the length. The consistent imperfections of the dye is what I like.

  4. Reply


    I love the color on this dress, it’s pretty amazing. I’ll have to check out this interfacing, that’s usually the source of most of my sewing project problems these days.

  5. Reply

    Amanda Adams

    This is so flowy and organic- the dye variations make this so special. Stunning work!

  6. Reply

    Midnight Laura

    Beautiful! Having ready access to a dye lab is one of the things I truly miss about Uni and I am always stinking out my flat with dyes!! My favourite is still Tea after all these years… especially different types 🙂 You should definitely have a go with Shibori, it’s a fascinating process, and can be very subtle if done in layers of colours… and I too shall also be checking out that interfacing!! xxx

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      Lauren (Blooming Leopold) has done some amazing Shibori like motifs that are subtle and therefore, an inspiration to me. One day I’ll try it, I just have to take it one step at a time.

  7. Reply


    Super cool!! I think the unexpected qualities of dyeing fabric is my favorite part! The whole process is full of ‘happy accidents’! I think your silhouette works very well with the natural dye colors, which are also soft and earthy. Great make, Maddie!

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      “Happy accidents” – I like that term!

  8. Reply


    What a fabulous dress! The color is so lovely. I think the unevenness gives it visual interest and a nice texture. As Sallie put it, a happy accident. I adore how the dress looks with the slip peeking on the sides. Way to go Maddie, It’s stunning!

  9. Reply

    Kim M. Ervin

    sooooo pretty!!!!!!!! beautiful accomplishment!!!!!!!


  10. Reply

    Carlee McTavish

    It looks fabulous! I can’t wait for the tutorial.

  11. Reply

    Lauren Taylor

    Aww, Lauren Winter! I love and miss her so much (she was my bestie here in Nashville until she up and moved to Savannah, boo!). I’m glad you are getting to know her too, she’s pretty awesome 🙂

    You dye job turned out beautiful, btw! Ethereal indeed 😉

  12. Reply


    I love everything about this! The color, the shape, the slip underneath, the color again. That’s an absolutely perfect color. Great work!

  13. Reply

    Lola Del Rey

    this is the third time i’ve come back to look at this dress. I need it in my life.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan


  14. Reply


    Really pretty! I love this! I really like that natural dyeing is unpredictable– it’s nice to just let go and see where it takes you!

  15. Reply

    F K

    I really, really love your belt!

  16. Reply

    Becky Stets


  17. Reply

    Latrice Smith

    Very nice dress and I like your styling.
    Yeah, interfacing from JoAnn is the worst. usually I use Palmer/Pletsch PerfectFuse interfacing.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      I’ve heard of the Palmer/Pletsch school but not their interfacing!

  18. Reply


    This is gorgeous. Can you give us a front view? I’m curious what you did with the shoulders.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      I got so caught up in the photo shoot that I don’t have any front views of the dress – I’m a bad seamstress! I know 🙂 For clarification of how the dress is finished – it’s a neckband with the body shirred and attached to it.

      • Reply


        I looked up your pattern link and that gave me an idea. Thanks!

  19. Reply


    What a fun collaboration! Beautiful color, love the pattern you chose, with the lace underneath.

  20. Reply


    Wow! That dress is just gorgeous. I love that you dyed it yourself, with the help of a friend, and that slip underneath is just perfection.

  21. Reply


    i read this in an airport today…this dress. holy cow. twenty prizes in a sugar smacks box.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      Airport? Where are you going? Can I come? 🙂
      I hope you’re back before November 15th because we have a date in the city!

  22. Reply

    French Toast Tasha

    Oh so so cool! That came out so lovely, I dig the color! I’ve been getting into natural dye more lately too. I have a friend in my hometown who dyes and sells natural-dyed yarn, so having her setup around to occasionally use myself has been awesome, all the smelly parts are at her house . . . although slowly I’m wanting more and have been researching and buying old pots for my own use!

  23. Reply

    Melissa Keyser

    Hi, I’m new to your blog, and just wanted to say that dress is amazing! I love the lace under. Have you heard of Rebecca Burgess? She’s a local women in my area (Northern California) who does natural dying. She’s got a great book if your not familiar with it. http://www.rebeccarburgess.com/

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      No, I haven’t heard of Rebecca Burgess, but I’ll check her out! Thanks again for the compliments on my blog and welcome 🙂

  24. Reply

    Carrie Elias

    Maddie I NEED that dress! Do you have a pattern I can buy? Also, if you want a little scrapbooking inspiration there’s a video sharing all the elements in a Christmas Scrapbook kit I’m currently selling with ideas on how to use them XO

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      I saw the video and I think it’s fantastic! My life has been consumed with sewing and I need to give that aspect of my life more attention.

  25. Reply

    Natasha Estrada

    Soooo purty

  26. Reply


    Just beautiful! Well done!

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      That means a lot coming from you, Missy!

  27. Reply


    Gorgeous dress! The colour is amazing, and I love it when the colour is a little different in some spots. I really like the split and the lace underneath. Jealous!

  28. Reply

    Amanda Russell

    This is absolutely gorgeous, Maddie… the colour is so ethereal, and the pattern you chose is absolutely perfect… I love the high high split up the sides, and the feminine peek of lace underneath. You look stunning 🙂

  29. Reply

    Cassandra Kranz

    So insanely gorgeous!! The colors, the shoot, and especially the dress. Amazing amazing work. I’m so inspired by you!

  30. Reply


    so beautiful, Maddie. And you’re so right, I love how the greenish grey and the subtle tonal shifts reflect off your natural coloring. Bravo!

  31. Reply

    Jessica Cangiano

    This dress sings with a soul of beauty and elegance. It is at once dreamy and concrete, elegant and just a wee bit whimsical, like so many of the very best garments of all time.

    ♥ Jessica

  32. Reply


    This is so beautifully done, Maddie! I love the subtle dye. You look very Grecian!

  33. Reply


    look really light and comfy

    Venus Puzzle

  34. Reply


    This is so gorgeous in an elfin/witchy way, I’m obsessed! Love the dye process, too. Where did the belt come from, or does that style of belt have a name? It’s really perfect.

  35. Reply

    Stephanie MacDonald

    This is such a beautiful dress! I saw a photo of it on Pinterest that was attributing it to the wrong website, and I’m really glad I was able to find the original 🙂

  36. Reply


    Saw your utterly mesmerizing, enchanting, and unforgettable dress on pinterest today. (Where have I been that I hadn’t seen it yet?) I also love the choice of the belt you put with it. It gives your fashion photos the look of a wonderful story that has happened and we are left to decide what it is! Where did the Belt come from? Can the general, admiring public acquire it somewhere?

  37. Reply

    Johanne Anctil

    I would like to have the pattern of this dress. I love her so much but I will like to make this very nice dress. Give me some news. Thank you very much.

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