Should I Alter my Dress Before or After Dyeing?

Fine Fabrics and Formalwear: Shrinkage and Stretch When Wet or Heated

When subjected to the elements - water and heat, in particular - fine fabrics behaviors can be surprisingly varied. Some fibers tend to shrink, while others might stretch or distort. Understanding these nuances is important, especially when planning a timeline for alterations and dyeing. Let's delve into the characteristics of a few popular fine fabrics to decipher their reactions to moisture and heat.

About Fusible Interfacing

Before we dive into how fiber content effects our recommendations on whether to alter before or after dyeing, one factor to consider involves the construction of the garment.  Interfacing is a layer of stabilizer that may be either sewn in or fused to other layers your garment.  It's commonly used around armholes and necklines, but sometimes on the entire garment.  

Silk or cotton garments will use a cold dye bath and avoid heat as a factor, but every synthetic fiber will be in a heated vat of 200° F for somewhere between one minute and multiple hours.  While we take great care with every garment entrusted to us, there is a risk that heat melts the microdots of fusible interfacing's adhesive to the extent that it separates, shrinks, or shifts.  Many times, the presence of an interfacing is undetectable, without opening seams of your garment.

For you, if no other variable is a significant factor, we lean toward suggesting dyeing first, then alterations, so that time resources are allotted for your tailor to make any adjustments, if such challenges arise.

This really only tends to be a concern with minimalist, sleek garments.

Natural Fine Fabric Fiber Types


Silk, a protein fiber spun by the silk worm, is perhaps the most iconic fine fabric.  Silk weaves include heavy, glossy Duchess satin, slinky lightweight charmeuse, sheer and billowy silk chiffon, and slubby silk dupioni ("raw silk").  Silk can shrink when exposed to water, especially hot water, so we use reactive dyes and cold water exclusively.

For dye projects involving silk, we recommend a larger swatch if possible, to allow us to measure shrink to predict whether you'll lose length or size dimension.  Equally important is how even cold water can change the sheen and feel of some silks, and we prefer to be equipped to inform you of any such changes ahead of dyeing your whole garment.

Stretching is possible if the water weight pulls a garment longer while hanging, which is more likely on a loose weave such as chiffon or charmeuse.

Silk is usually found exclusively in luxury garments and is significantly less common in bridal than polyester and other synthetics.  


Wool fibers are crimped, and when they are wet and heated, they tend to lock together - a process known as felting. This leads to significant shrinkage. Therefore, wool garments are among the few fibers we do not recommend as a dye collaboration.  In women's formalwear, wool crepe is about the only fabric weave in which you'll find this fiber (and polyester crepe is far more common).


Increasingly popular in boho style laces, cotton is durable and can usually handle higher temperatures.  It has a tendency to shrink when washed in hot water, however, even with air drying. Stretching is possible if the water weight pulls a garment longer while hanging.


Linen, derived from the flax plant, is a fine fabric celebrated for its breathability and durability. Linen garments can shrink when exposed to water and heat, although not as significantly as wool or cashmere. Most linen items can be machine washed in cold water and air-dried. Ironing should be done when the garment is still damp to avoid overheating.

Synthetic Fine Fabric Fiber Types

Synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, and spandex are often blended with natural fibers to create fine fabrics with specific characteristics. For example, a silk/spandex blend can offer the lustrous look of silk with added stretch. Synthetic fibers, on their own, don't typically shrink.  Stretch is a common occurrence with loose weave fabrics like chiffons and organza.  Our process and dye experts guide you through considerations specific to your dye project.  

Get started with a complimentary Zoom Dye Consult

Our understanding the behavior of various fine fabrics under the influences of water and heat is critical in quality results for your color and maintaining the integrity of your design. 

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