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K-State Today

March 27, 2018

Cover worthy: Sherry Haar's naturally dyed dress graces cover of new book

Submitted by College of Human Ecology

"Sustainable in Stilettos" book cover

When Tracey Martin envisioned the cover of her book, "Sustainable in Stilettos," she knew it would have to be special and significant.

Her vision was a versatile dress created locally in the Tempe, Arizona, area, with all elements of the dress being representative. A simple halter gown underneath with a large shredded overlay skirt on top. For the color, Martin wanted to bring awareness to the current state of our waterways around the world due to synthetic dyes. She knew the dress had to be dyed with natural indigo. Martin commissioned a local seamstress in Tempe to assemble the piece.

Once the dress was assembled, Martin headed to her dye house in Los Angeles to begin the coloring process with her natural dye, where she encountered her first hurdle. Her dye shops' machines were too aggressive for the one-of-a-kind dress and would destroy it.

Enter Sherry Haar.

Haar, a professor of apparel and textiles specializing in natural dyeing, is known worldwide for her work. Haar, along with research and design students, have been investigating colorfastness, biomordants, alternative dyestuffs from waste, all-natural surface design, metal amounts in effluent water, and care methods for naturally dyed textiles. Martin, familiar with Haar's work, asked her to dye the dress.

"Indigo dyeing is a fascinating chemical reaction of changing blue powder to a yellow liquid that changes back to blue on fiber," Haar said. "The cloth is immersed in the vat for a minute and as it is lifted from the vat and exposed to oxygen the yellow turns blue. It is important to note that we use non-toxic chemicals, such as fructose and pickling lime to process the indigo." 

Haar recruited Emily Andrews, senior in apparel and textiles, to assist in the coloring.

"It was exciting to be part of a project that focused on sustainability in the apparel industry," Andrews said. "This is one of the dirtiest industries in the world, and as one of the largest industries, it is more important than ever that this discussion be brought to the attention of the average fashion consumer."

The two began with the dress itself, creating an ombre effect to the body of the dress. Once the dress was complete, the team spent hours prepping the shredded overlay for dyeing.

"The ombre or gradual change in blue saturation was accomplished by varying the number of dips and amount of time in the indigo bath," Haar said. "However, we needed to preserve finished sections and protect sections we weren't ready to dye. Thus, we spent a lot of time planning the dye sequence as well as wrapping and unwrapping fabric in plastic wrap."

The result was a multilayered vintage denim-appearing dress, the exact image Martin had in mind for her book cover. In addition to being featured on the cover of "Sustainable in Stilettos," which is the first of several books from Martin, the dress will be entered in green — as in sustainable or environmentally friendly — dress competitions and eventually auctioned off with proceeds going to a charity or scholarship of Martin's choice. Haar will be credited as a co-designer for the dress at these exhibitions.  

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