distressing dress...off topic

Dear all,

I know that this is slightly off topic but, knowing what an all-round crafty and creative bunch you all are, thought I'd see if you had any suggestions.

A good friend of mine is a singer and she's performing a opera/music theatre piece by Peter Maxwell-Davies with the alluring name, Miss Donnithorne's Maggot and I said that I'd make the costume for her. Miss Donnithorne was an Australian lady, apparently one of the models for Miss Havisham in Dickens's Great Expectations; jilted at the last minute, she became a recluse, and the piece discovers her ranting among the remnants of her wedding cake still wearing her wedding dress.

I found an extremely nasty wedding dress at my local charity shop - kind of cream and lacy and polyestery and frilly and nasty and victoriany - and I have to make it look very old and distressed and as if Miss Donnithorne's had it on for the last 50 years. It's been through a hot wash to get rid of the charity shop smell and came out looking as good an new (The neighbours wondered what was going on when it was pegged out on the line)

So, I'm looking for ideas and suggestions for paints/dyes that are going to work on polyester and any creative thoughts on this dress-distressing exercise. I also have to make a suitably tatty wedding veil with a bat in to complete the ensemble - so some lacy disasters in a knitters stash could find a suitable resting place!

Any thoughts gratefully welcomed



Johnhansen-tarbox's picture

I was a costumer for years, and often had to distress clothing. The problem with polyester is that there are very few dyes that are easily available that will dye polyester. Some are available, but we ususally stayed away from them.
We usually used stuff that was readily available: coffee, tea, redwine, stuff that would normally stain your clothes on a regular basis. We have even used watered down latex paint. If the dress was never taken off to be washed as part of the story line, you can even use dirt. Many a garment have drug through the dirt.
There a fabric paints out there also if you would prefer to "paint" the fabric. I would water them down to give more of a color wash effect, much like you would do with water colors. Some permanent inks can work as well.

Bill's picture

If the dress is too white, I'd recommend dyeing it in boiling ecru Rit dye...that will knock down the colour. (Boiling Rit will tint polyester) Spattering with shades of lavender and grey paint will age it...(be careful about using browns...you won't want it to look dirty)
The edges can be distressed with a rasp or wire brush...and an artfully torn veil will help the look.
You might also consider an eccentrically kitted shawl...sort of dropped stitches, moth holes, lacy look...with some missing fringe...
Almost any paints will take on polyester...although they may be removed with drycleaning...so you can distress it with spray paint, or leather dye.

davidUK's picture

Many thanks Bill, The wire brush is a great idea

Joe-in Wyoming's picture

I can only say that the advice given is the best you can receive, both gents having done this professionally. Lots of luck on the project. I find it interesting that Miss Havisham was based upon a real person. Thanks for the history. -- Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.

Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.

Kerry's picture

I can't help your distressing, but thought I'd mention Miss Donnithorne is buried in the graveyard near the pub where our Sunday knitting group meets. It's in the suburb of Newtown in Sydney.

purlyman's picture

Wow... I think you have some great advice already and I have no experience with this sort of thing. But it sounds like a blast!! Have fun and good luck!


vsidart's picture

I'll second the coffee and tea suggestions.
Make a paste with coffee, water, and a little vinegar and rub it into seams, ruffles, etc.
Let it hang our for a day or two, then wash with warm water to which you've added (believe it or not) an entire box of salt. This will set the stains nicely. Good luck! Can we see the results?

davidUK's picture

sounds good to me - I was wondering whether to wash it post griming. I'll post a a pic. The show's in January

davidUK's picture

THanks John. Really helpful. I'll posta pic when it's done