I ran into this Eileen Fisher bone-white leather coat at a local discount retailer. Oh, I tried to resist. I’ve never been a “leather-coat” wearer. But I was curious about how it would do in a dye bath. So Kim and I gave it a shot.
First, I used laundry clips to create a shibori effect I’ll call fireflies at night. My hope was to keep a smattering of dots white against the blue background. It worked! In my excitement, I neglected to wear gloves, so my hands were blue for a good two days. After about seven soaks, the leather bloomed a stunning deep navy.
Novices that we are, we ran into two big problems. One, leather shrinks when dyed, then dried. After about six hours in the sun, I put on the jacket and it barely fit. Yikes! So I re-wetted it and wore it soggy for a few hours. Even now, it’s probably 20 percent smaller than its original shape, and no longer has the fluid drape.
Odor was the second problem. Something about the hide when dyed (too nice a rhyme to skip) makes for a seriously pungent garment. My husband made me keep it out of the house. I’ve since tried leather conditioner, bought at Schatzlein Saddle Shop—the coolest Western wear retailer in Minneapolis—to restore its suppleness and reduce the stench.
Our experiment had a nice coda. At the 10th International Shibori Symposium in Oaxaca, one of the speakers was Stefani Mar, senior textile designer at Eileen Fisher. She talked about two corporate programs: Green Eileen, which allows people to return their used EF goods, and Remade in the USA, which upcycles those goods to reduce waste. Mar has since featured it in an company newsletter as an example of experimentation.