Shades of Style

When I first started dyeing clothes, I did it as something I had seen done that I wanted to try. Very quickly it became my ‘go to’ method of sprucing up old clothes. Eventually I moved on from old clothes to new ones. Now I dye almost anything.

Last month I wanted to make a dress and couldn’t find an accent fabric or trim to match the fabric I already had. I had some white cotton and white lace and just dropped them into the sink with some color. BINGO! I had what I needed.

The first time you try coloring it can be a little scary.  This guide will list all the tips and short cuts that I have learned. As I experiment with new things this page may grow. If you have any tips you would like to add to this just email me, so that I can keep this information as accurate and current as possible.  Hopefully, this guide will give you the confidence to at least try it.

Where to start. I recommend your first project be something simple. The first time often goes under the heading of experimentation.  Try dyeing an old piece of clothing that you were going to throw out anyways. That way you will be under no pressure to get it perfect.

Choosing a Color. Choosing a color is really one of the most simple steps in the whole process. If the item you are dyeing is starting out white, you can choose whatever color you want. If you are wishing to enhance the original color, just choose the shade that closest fits the desired effect. If you are starting out with one color and wish to change it to another, always go darker than the original color.  (Refer to color wheel at the bottom of this page)

Prewash. If the item you are dyeing has been worn or used before, you want to prewash. The salt in sweat is actually harder to get out of fabric than many people realize and can cause some un-even color distribution. I usually spray the armpits of a top with Oxy Clean and then let it soak for a few hours. Then I just run it through the wash with my other laundry.

Wear gloves. This is very self explanatory. I have a $2.89 pair of dish gloves that I use each time I  do a project. I use the nice thick ones rather than the .99 cent kind because I am usually dealing with HOT water and I can put my hands right into it with the better gloves.

Pre-wet fabric. Pre-wetting fabrics allows for a more even distribution of color. Just lightly rinse down item with water and squeeze out excess before dropping into the dye.

Pot vs Sink vs Washing Machine. This really is a personal preference thing. I used to use my Crock pot because I didn’t have a big enough pot for coloring. Using a pot allows you to do it over the stove with some constant heat. I now have a very large pot that is bigger than my sink so I can do more at once.

When I color in the sink, I find it most effective to boil some of the water on the stove before pouring it into the sink. Beware of using Plastic, Fiberglass or Older Porcelain sinks or tubs. They will discolor with the dye. I have used Metal, Stainless Steal, and Newer Porcelain sinks and they have worked just fine for me. You just have to beware of splatter on the surrounding surfaces. I usually lay down an old towel.

I have never used a washing machine for coloring. As I understand it, the washing machine makes it more simple and easy.  You throw in the dye as the water is filling and after it has agitated for a while and is well mixed, you add the clothing. The machine stirs it, rinses it, and rings it out.  (you can even stop the machine mid-cycle for a longer soak)You just have to run the machine through again with just water and maybe a little bleach or soap to clean it out after you are done. The ONLY reason I have not tried this is that mine, like most apartment complexes, won’t let you use dyes in their machines.

Mixing. Make sure color is thoroughly mixed into the water before adding the clothing. I use a very large plastic spoon to stir it around. Continue to stir your clothing throughout the process.

Using Salt. Salt is very often used in coloring, but is usually optional. I will not go into the science of it all, because quite frankly I didn’t understand it or care. All I care about is that salt does work well in creating more vibrant color and a more even dye. Read the instruction on your dye product to find out how much salt is needed.

Always Read Instructions. Carefully read the instructions on your dye before using.

Color Testing A couple of times after I have mixed the color, I question if I have the shade how I wanted it. Like tasting the cookie batter to see if it is sweet enough before cooking, there is a simple way to check your color. Take a plane piece of paper towel and dip it in the fully mixed dye. This will give you a pretty good indication of what the end color will be. Sometimes it is just nice to have that assurance that you got it right. 

After care. I had a friend tell me that she is afraid of dyeing clothes, because she is concerned of the color running every time she washes it. I will say, I have never had a problem with that. That having been said, you don’t want to put your bright blue shirt in with your whites. Wash it normally with like colors. If you are afraid you didn’t rinse well when you colored it or just for peace of mind go ahead and try washing it alone the first time.

Storing Dye. If you are storing dye in a cupboard some where, I advise storing it in plastic bags. This is more important for the powder dyes as humidity can damage and make it clumpy. Keep it far, far, far away from anywhere that a child could possibly reach it. It is perfectly harmless and will not hurt your child, but you may want to hurt the child if they get it anywhere. It is good to note that if even a small amount is spilled you will be dealing with the color until you move.  If you do have an unfortunate day and some gets spilled, clean it up fast. The powder is easier to clean than the liquid. If you spill the powder, DO NOT WET IT OR WIPE IT. Get a vacuum cleaner and vacuum it.

Variety. There are many different kinds and brands of dyes available.  You will probably like some more than others. I have tried a few different kinds and have found that Rit works the best for me. It is $3.99 for a bottle of liquid and $2.49 for a box of powder. I know many people that prefer the liquid to the powder. The difference between the two is that the powder takes a long time to dissolve and can cause some issues if you put your clothes in to soon. One of the reasons I like Rit is that it is sold in most Grocery stores, so I don’t have to drive to the craft store on the other side of town to get some. Many times I have found it on sale in stores that are closing and will stock up, paying a fraction of the price. For more information check out their web site.

Your Environment. As you work with color you will soon find what works for you.  There are many things that play a part in how well fabric takes color. From the amount of alkaline in your water to the kind of detergent used on your clothes, your environment will produce slightly different results than anyone else. As you continue to try different projects you will develop skills and find the solutions that work best for you. For more examples on dyeing Clothes.

Mixing Colors and the Color Wheel

Mixing colors can be a little advanced, but it doesn’t have to be a non-option. Here is a link to a website that can give you dozens and dozens of options on your color. Just click on the desired color and the recipe for it will pop up.

Learning how to use a color wheel can be invaluable when dealing with color in any facet of life from decorating the house to applying makeup. I want to give you a basic understanding of the science behind mixing color.

Start out with the three primary colors of red, yellow, and blue. When those colors are mixed, we get purple, green, and orange. For most people color theory education ends there. Let me take you just a few steps further. Looking at the color wheel, if we take two colors that are opposite from each other (or contrasting colors) and mix them we will get what is called a neutral brown. With that idea in mind we can calm down a color we feel is too bright by adding a small amount of the contrasting color. This allows us to pin point with greater accuracy what color we end up with.

Example: A bright red would be calmed down (or neutralized) by a small amount of green. Bright blue would be neutralized by a small amount of orange… and so on.

To darken a color just add black. To lighten a color add more water(or white).

The term “Color Theory” can sound so complicated and intimidating, but it is really just that simple. Sometime when your kids are busy try using their play doh to experiment with color mixing. When you develop an understanding of mixing, you may be surprised at how well color theory can be incorporated into your life and you may wonder how you functioned without that simple knowledge.

Using color in other parts of your life. If you want a color to pop, put it next to its contrasting color. There is a reason traffic lights are green and red. They are contrasting and will be easily noticed.

Many makeup lines have a color pallet for different eye colors. They are not always hard and fast contrasting colors. Telling a blue eyed person to wear orange shadow would be insane. So they develop colors that work as a contrast to make the eye color pop.

In that same vein many Blonds favor the color blue because of how well it works with their hair. I am a natural red head(not red at the moment) and my favorite color to wear is green. Most of these matches happen unconsciously. We look at a color that works and don’t always understand why it works just that we like it.


3 Responses to Shades of Style

  1. Jess Christensen says:

    I’m so glad I found this! I am about to try dying clothes for the first time. I have the (old) clothes. I have the dye. I’ve just been waiting for a good time. I’m glad I read this first.

    • I am so glad this was helpful to you. Good Luck with your projects. If you send me pictures of what you do I will post them on my blog. Just go the the contact me section.

  2. Suzanne Tatro says:

    This is especialy helpful to me, because I do not know anything about coloring. You have a gift for expressing yourself well in writing. I am imprested with all of your instrutions. Well writen with personality and personable also. I think they would make people feel like they know you. Well done.

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