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Designing Dance - The Dyeing Room

25th October, 2010
Jenny Butler
Monday 25th October 2010

Today we welcome The Australian Ballet who are sharing a very special Designing Dance series! Over the coming 5 days The Australian Ballet are opening their doors & showing us some super exclusive behind the scenes action from their design departments. Enjoy! - Jenny x

Photo by Melbourne-based editorial photographer Thomas Dallas Watson

I’m not the only one at The Australian Ballet who’s intrigued by the room of white tiles, metal vats, and rows upon rows of vibrant-coloured bottles with names like Alfalfa, Coral, Galah and Wombat.  Ask anyone here about the dyeing room and they want to know more; and not because of its sinister-sounding name!

Photo by Thomas Dallas Watson

It’s in this room that the fabrics for The Australian Ballet’s many costumes are dyed, painted or airbrushed into any number of shades and patterns. And we’re lucky to have master dyer Lynn Munro’s expertise in these areas.

The process almost always starts with the costume designer’s brief but after that it rarely follows the same path. Though the wardrobe department always tries to find the perfect fabric, a large amount of what is bought has to be dyed or altered in some way.

Photo by Thomas Dallas Watson

WOW! An absolutely stunning dress as seen in The Silver Rose. Photo by David Kelly

I love the fiery orange and red dress worn by the Marschallin in Graeme Murphy’s The Silver Rose. Lynn coloured the originally white fabric with two fibre-specific dyes which attached to the silk backing and the rayon pile respectively.

Madame Butterfly photos by Paul Empson

Most of the kimonos for Stanton Welch’s Madame Butterfly were dyed using a similar technique. Different lots of one type of fabric – mattress ticking sourced from a mattress manufacturer; full points for creative thinking by our buyer! – were dyed to create many different kimonos.

Photo by Thomas Dallas Watson

But it’s not just fabrics that Lynn changes, chameleon-like, from one shade to another. Occasionally pairs of pale pink pointe shoes are hand-painted black or a bright hue. The men’s canvas shoes require painting for most ballets to match the tights, socks or trousers. And once a custom-colour is mixed, a bottle ends up on the shelf of vibrant-coloured bottles, somewhere between ‘Molto Vivace Apprentice Cupid shoe paint’ and ‘La Fille Mal Garde chicken feet’.

- Fiona Howatt, The Australian Ballet

The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email