A Touch of Magic: Alice Temperley Uses Natural Dyes to Revive Old Wedding Dresses

When designer Alice Temperley, founder and creative director of Temperley London and Temperley Bridal, discovered a rail of beautiful unwanted bridal samples in her warehouse, she was inspired to rescue them using natural apple-based dyes. Here she shares the story of her process.    

“I hate wastage and everything can be re-worked,” says designer Alice Temperley, who was inspired to rescue 30 “very beautiful used, unwanted, damaged bridal samples” found in her warehouse.  “I literally felt sorry for them. They were at the end of the road.”

Alice first tried natural dying 10 years ago with anything white she could find.  “It’s the textile person in me wanting to make things – it’s like creating magic and it makes everything unique and one off. All stitch work and fabric layers take slightly differently and it literally brings clothes into a new life,” she explains.

The 30 bridal samples were soaked in natural fixers, mainly cider vinegar from Alice’s parents’ farm, and were each hand-dyed one by one in a large stainless steel vat, heated by gas. 

“The dresses are made of the best silks, lace and beading, and just because someone might have got make-up on it or put a heel through it in the showroom, does not mean it’s redundant. Old wedding dress samples can come to life by being dyed, shortened, cut up and re-modelled – so this is what we are doing,” says Alice.

“Some might end up as mini dresses and we will show everyone the before and after on our social media.”

The dresses are mostly made of silk, or cotton viscose lace lined with silk, and Alice explains that each different material takes differently to the dye, depending on its weave, creating magical and unique combinations.  The dyes themselves were made of mixtures of madda, bettles, henna, various tree barks, and some silk dyes, with apple cider vinegar as the fixer.

The actual dyeing process was a real family and friends affair, with everyone aged 3 to 80 getting stuck in. “Everyone loved it,” says Alice. “We started by hanging up a strong washing line, getting lots of buckets for the rinsing and making a system for soaking and dyeing different hues in each vat. Lunch was cooked there outside my mother’s amazing cabin by the very handsome Gill Meller, while we looked like modern day witches in our marigolds.”

What are Alice’s tips for home dyeing?  “Always soak a dress before so very evenly wet; make sure the dyes are also pre dissolved in buckets so they thicken and always add to the dye bath in a hot to touch temperature. Moving the garment around is key if you want it to be even.”

Following the dyeing, one dress per week will go through Temperley’s atelier to be re-worked, before being launched on social media and the Temperley Bruton Street store. “Why not create a story, re make something magical out of something that has had a story and is literally still a hand made piece of art?” Alice says she is planning to repeat this process yearly so there is no more waste. “I literally see it as magic and I love the process.”

The experience has also inspired Alice’s further sustainable story.  “It keeps me thinking about the churn of the industry. ‘You are only as good as your last collection’, they say. Well we are bringing things back from 10 years ago and we are very happy about it.  Old and new – nothing should be so seasonal.  I want to continue to make and treasure beautiful things – and yes I have some exciting things up my sleeve!”