Clothes to Dye For

By now you probably know I’m an unrepentant clothesaholic and fabric hoarder.  I cannot pass by a garage sale without stopping to see if there’s something that will fit me.  Thrift stores have this magnetic pull.  I have to fight my car’s steering wheel or it will take me into the parking lot.   Right.  You know the drill.

Before I went on my mission to discover my own personal style, I bought clothes without a clear sense of purpose.  My closet is an overstuffed riot of colors, with no sense of connectivity.  I don’t have a foundation of simple basics.  Much of it doesn’t fit my lifestyle as a home-based business owner.  Or if it fits, it’s the wrong color and doesn’t work with my Autumn skin tones.

Ugh.  It was so much easier getting dressed in the morning when I didn’t know what I was doing!

Short of tossing it all and starting over with a brand new wardrobe (I wish!) — I’m committing myself to doing some pruning, altering, and re-purposing.  It’s a slow, painful process at times, because I don’t have a lot of time to work on it, plus there are pieces that I love and don’t want to give them up.  I remember a cream colored Irish knit vest I bought at Goodwill – adorable on the hanger, and at the time I thought it was really cute on me.  But now I realize it made me look like I’d gained 15 pounds because of the bulk of the fabric around my waist.  I looked like a Lego brick with legs.  It has finally, reluctantly, made it’s way back to Goodwill.

There are other things that I’ll keep because the colors and fabrics work for me but they need altering – the waist nipped in or the shoulders brought in, buttons moved, darts in the shoulders or hem, etc.  Those things are in a huge pile in my sewing area.

And there are things that fit but just aren’t my colors.  Rit Dye to the rescue!!  Or Dylon if you can get it (try JoAnn Fabrics).  It’s a better quality dye than Rit, in some cases.  But I’ve used Rit many times with success.  So let’s talk about that!

One of my sisters was saying that she’d wanted to try dyeing things but was too afraid to do it out of fear of ruining it.  And that’s a legitimate fear!  Some fabrics take dye better than others.  And people worry that they will stain their washer or otherwise ruin it.  If you follow the instructions on the dye bottle, you will be just fine.  I’ve dyed lots of things in my washer and we’ve had it for 12 years (go Kenmore).  My washer is still nice and white inside.  If you’re still unsure and want some advice before diving into the dye, the Rit website has a great section on what you can dye, and how best to do it.  It also has a fun blog to read.  If you’re crafty, you’ll like their site.

So armed with my two bottles of dark brown Rit Dye and a container of salt, I headed to my top-loading washer.  (Top loaders are better than side loaders because you need to add wet fabric to an already agitating washer.  But if you have a side loader, don’t worry.  There are other methods of dyeing, and they are all on the Rit website.)

I set my washer to large load, because there were a bunch of things I wanted to dye:  a silk skirt, a denim wrap skirt, a pair of pants, and that length of corduroy fabric.  I set the temperature to hot wash and cold rinse, delicate cycle so it wouldn’t splash but would agitate, then put it on the longest wash cycle.  As water started filling the washer, I poured the dye into the hot water, being careful not to splash.  After that, I measured two cups of salt (one cup per dye bottle) and poured that in, too.

While the washer was filling, I put my fabrics in the sink and got them thoroughly wet.  If you put dry fabrics into a dye bath, they will dye unevenly.  So making sure the fabric is thoroughly wet is important.  Once that was done and the washer was full and agitating, I carefully slid the fabrics into the washer.  It’s important to be nearby, because the washer will need to be reset on it’s wash cycle at least once to keep the clothes in the dye bath for a minimum of 30 minutes.  I put Allen’s laptop on the kitchen table and started working on this blog post.

When the time was up, I allowed my washer to finish it’s cycle naturally.  Then I left the dyed clothes in the washer and reset the wash cycle, let it fill full of water, and added clothes soap.  My silk skirt is a hang-to-dry type, so I added fabric softener to the final rinse.  After the washer was done, I pulled the clothes onto the edge of the washer.  Look at how each different fabric took the dye differently.

After all the clothes were out of it, I reset my washer to a hot wash and large load, putting clothes soap and a cup of bleach into it.  The bleach cleans my washer beautifully, removing any residue of dye that would get on other clothes.  I’m confident that the washer doesn’t retain any residue from the dye, so I washed a load of white clothes right after I cleaned the washer.

Ready to see how the dye did on the clothes and fabric?  I had some mixed results.

My denim wrap skirt, which used to be a traditional denim blue, has darkened a couple of shades to an indigo.  I was expecting brown!  But I hadn’t checked the fabric content first, just assuming that it was 100% cotton.  My mistake.  The skirt is actually 65% Tencel, which is considered a subcategory of rayon made from wood pulp.  It has a rayon-like consistency – no wonder I liked the skirt.  Rayon is my all-time favorite fabric, hands down.  However, Tencel doesn’t dye easily, so my skirt is retaining most of it’s blue color.  No matter; it’s a darker blue and will flatter my figure better than the lighter blue did.

The cream pants that I dyed were an unknown manmade blend – the tag had been bleached so that I didn’t know what the material actually was.  So I was happy when it took the dye at all, coming out a dark tan color.  Problem is, I found a stain that I didn’t know was on the pants.  I could use a color remover and remove the dye, then try to remove the stain… but chances are, that won’t work.  So I’ll toss the pants.  I could keep it an try to make a gored skirt, but I have so much fabric and clothing already that I really don’t need it that much.  Out it goes!  Since the pants only cost me $4.99 at Goodwill, it’s not like I’m losing an investment piece.

The silk skirt took the dye beautifully!  It’s a rich, deep chocolate brown and I absolutely love the color.  Only problem is, I also found a few small stains on that skirt.  In this case, however, I’m going to cut the skirt apart to remake it, into a skirt that is slightly less full but which doesn’t have the stain spots on it.  Silk is expensive, and a skirt easy to make.  So it’s a keeper in spite of not being able to wear it right away.

The brown corduroy is a grand success, I’m happy to say.  It’s a wide-wale cord with a beautiful braided style to the wales.  I’m going to be making a sporty riding jacket with it, with a suede collar and elbow patches, something like these.  This will be my g0-to fall jacket when it’s done.  (By the way… yes, that blue marble is my kitchen table.  Ooooh that’s a subject for another post!)

Oh, and those white clothes I washed right after I cleaned the washer?… See, Ma?  No dye!

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trina Williams
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 10:56:38

    I’m glad you mentioned the part about stains/old stains. In my dottage stains are high on my list of things to avoid. I have taken to immediate removal of the offended item for treatment lest it make it through a wash unseen. It is the number one cause of a garment being good-willed.

    Reply

    • Charlene
      Sep 19, 2011 @ 12:34:05

      Trina – one of my favorite tools in the battle against stains is the Tide To Go pen. Lemme tell ya – that stuff really works! I’ve used it many times and I keep one in my purse, one in the kitchen, and one in my bedroom. Worth every penny.

      Reply

  2. Rachel @ Grasping for Objectivity
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 14:23:53

    Wow – I’m impressed! I’ve never been bold enough to try dying fabric – seems like something I’d fail at for sure! Now I just might have to give it a try sometime! Or just send my clothes to you to do for me… 😉

    Reply

    • Charlene
      Sep 19, 2011 @ 12:36:12

      Hey Rachel! Thanks SO much for stopping by and leaving a comment. That means a lot to me.

      LOL about sending your clothes to me! You know, as much of a clothesaholic as I am… I might find something of yours that I absolutely love and you would have to peel it out of my cold, dead hands before you got it back. So you’d take a big chance if you sent them here!

      Reply

  3. bluedamselflyjewelry
    Sep 22, 2011 @ 19:44:35

    Well if Rachel brings them over I am sure she should consider the item in your cold dead hands would be payment for the dye job.
    Good job I would have messed them up.
    Julie

    Reply

  4. ilovescience@juno.com
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 01:01:27

    Dear Charlene,
    I have not been focusing lately. My husband passed away from Cancer this past November. My daughters and I had a memorial service for him last weekend..This week, I wanted to wear one of his and my favorite green Big Dogs sweater/shirt. I mistakenly put it in the washing machine with my whites today and bleached it!
    When I took the sweater/shirt out of the wash after the cycle completed, there were patches of one shade lighter throughout this sweater/shirt. Is there anything I can do to dye the entire shirt? Will the dye ruin the Big Dogs logo? Any information is greatly appreciated…

    Reply

    • Charlene
      Jun 11, 2012 @ 10:15:44

      Oh dear, I’m so sorry about the sweatshirt! Unfortunately, I don’t think you can re-dye the shirt without ruining the logo on it. I’d do an internet search to see if there’s any possibility of restoring the shirt to a single color.

      As a last resort, you could carefully cut out the logo and attach it to a different shirt, by either using fabric glue and puffy fabric paint, or if you’re handy with a sewing machine you could stitch the logo onto the other shirt.

      Another alternative is to do a shabby-chic look, by sewing colorful patches of fabric or iron-on embroidery over the bleached areas.

      Good luck to you! I hope you find a solution that will help you to restore the shirt to a wearable condition, but if not, that one of my suggestions will work.

      Reply

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