Sometimes something simple can sound tragic when different words sound the same. Don’t misread my post’s title. I have now discovered the joys of colored fabric dye, that’s all. Now, let me go back to cooking up my next re-coloring job because this is quite a lot of fun to do and very useful! I am by no means an expert on fabric coloring, I’ll admit, but this is a short recounting of my experiences in dyeing which started with this 2020 pandemic.
Yes, I’ve had a few other posts already for “Alter It August” 2020, but here’s one more squeezed in at the last minute because I need all the excuses I can find to spruce up my wardrobe’s unloved items! This is almost a dual project post because when talking about my new adventures in color dyeing is summed up in two examples. I not only fully revamped an old RTW shirtdress of mine but also dyed one of my son’s extra school polo tee. As he is doing remote learning from home, and he had a plethora of school uniform tops which still fit, we needed his wardrobe acquisitions to be a more fashionable color besides white for them to be useful for the “new normal”. My shirtdress was something I liked enough in its details, fabric, and general design to keep on hand for the last 12 or so years, yet I never wore it on account of the very blasé color, ill fit, and lack of a little ‘something extra’ to make it special. After I addressed the sewing part of my dress refashion, I took two completely different approaches to give a new color refresh to each item, and ended up with a shade of green in both cases.
It is important to note how both items became green because dyeing is generally an experiment even if you think you know how things should turn out. Just because the bottle you’re using says a certain color is inside doesn’t necessarily mean that is what you will end up with. Every little factor in the dyeing process – from the fiber content, to the way you stir, to the continuous temperature of the water – seems to affect how your item will turn out. It is fun, but always a happy gamble, I find. When I am up for a dye job, I have the mindset of being happy with whatever the result is. That’s when things are pretty desperate for the item to be dyed, and I am fed up past the point of tolerance for the way the original item looks. It’s a dye job or it’s out the door! Luckily, these two items for both me and my son were saved and now we can color coordinate our dressing, he he!
THE FACTS: Let’s lay this post out a little differently than the norm on my blog.
FABRIC – Instead of ‘fabric’ (as this is a refashion project), I started with a store-bought, button-front, RTW “Land’s End” brand dress my mom picked up for me on clearance about 12 or 15 years ago. It was cute enough, and I was appreciative, but the bland and dirty grey color of the shirtdress really made me feel uncomfortable with myself and down in attitude just to wear it. I was always at a loss as to how to accessorize it to become cuter and more ‘me’. It was borderline in the fit, too, as it was a petite sizing. Thus, the dress has a slightly higher waistline on me which isn’t that obvious because it is very classic and vintage inspired, I think. The side seams do have these super handy, super generously sized pockets that I love and the way they are hidden in the full skirt is fabulous to me. This is a pretty dress I can wear to church or wear to play in other words, and versatile outfits are both hard to find and something that I can always use more of.
The fiber content is a soft and slightly stretchy shirting. It is a blend of 67% cotton, 28% polyester, and 5% elastane. For some reason it seems to wrinkle up more than is reasonable because “Land’s End” normally makes very well-known iron-free shirts for both men and women. Even a thorough ironing job doesn’t banish the creasing. There is a slight rustling sound when I swish in this dress so I guess the fabric – although over halfway cotton – is a poly shirting at heart. Nevertheless, if there hadn’t been so much cotton in the content, my dyeing attempt on this dress would have been much more difficult and probably less successful. If you have something that is less than 50% cotton or any other natural fiber (in other words, a mostly man-made material), it will not want to take to recoloring using the regular RIT brand dye. I would have needed a special synthetic dye, which has a very limited spans of colors to choose from. I just made the regular dye work with this dress!
My son’s school polo also came from “Land’s End” as well, and was in 100% cotton. I did not change or refashion it at all, merely changed the color. As he is growing in height, and seeming not in weight or waist size, his extra short sleeve school shirts that he no longer needs still fit him…for now!
PATTERN and NOTIONS: For my dress refashion, I used no pattern – made it up as I went – and all I needed in notions was lots of thread and one long 36” coat zipper (which was happily on hand). I let what I needed to do find better fit for this dress on my current body dictate how the refashion would go. The dress was a size 2, and in a basic sense it did fit me, but was far too snug for a button-front shirtdress…if you get my unwelcome picture. So, I cut off the buttons, and stitched up the buttonholes, and sewed a zipper down the front to give me just a few extra inches across the front. All that I basically needed was some wearing ease in this dress. As the side seams were serged far too close to the stitching line, my only easy option was transforming this shirtdress into a zip front dress. Voila! As easy as it was to find a better fit with this dress, next it was a bit challenging to take it to the level of looking finished and appearing as anything but a refashion.
I did have a giant sash belt that came with the dress, luckily, so I had a little bit of something extra to work without having to cut into the dress itself. I snipped the sash belt in half, running down the fold and seam line, so that the width was divided in two but the length was kept as it was. I used 2/3 of the length of the two long pieces to make a little binding to cover up either side of the zipper all the way down the front of the dress. These self-fabric bindings cleanly covered up the top-stitching to the exposed zipper and also what was left of the buttonholes. The remaining 1/3 to the sash belt was sewn into tubes, turned inside out, and slipped into the binding on either side of the zipper right at the waistline. This creates a sort of attached waist ties that perk up the dress. There are thread chain belt casings at the side already, and the waist seemed rather plain without anything extra, so I thought I would use up what little was leftover for the attached tie belt. This was a zero waste refashion – not a single scrap leftover!
TIME TO COMPLETE: The actual sewing portion to refashioning my dress did not take all that long – only a few hours. That was finished on August 20, 2020. However it ended up taking much longer because of all the steps I needed to get my dress in this new color.
TOTAL COST: These would have been free refashions if it hadn’t been for the cost of the dyes, color remover, and setting liquid – in total about $15 for the four bottles of items I needed.
For my dress, before I did any dyeing, I began with yet another experimental job – using RIT brand color removing powder. I decided to try and do this in my wash machine, and I did not fix the setting correctly so that my dress did not sit in the liquid as long as it should have. I will chalk it up to a beginner’s mistake. However, as I did not follow the proper directions, the color remover did not work correctly and it only took out enough color to turn my dress into an ugly yellow. Weird, right?
My next step was to color my dress. I originally intended on dyeing my dress a blue so I had a bottle of RIT in blue turquoise. Yet, as the color remover turned my dress into a yellow, and I was dipping it in a blue, I ended up with a bright sage green. I know it makes sense under the principles of the color spectrum, but really – who would have guessed?
I was working with a bottle of liquid dye, and this has the best chance of turning out an even color as compared to the powder (mix with water). Even still, it turned out slightly splotchy in certain places on my dress. Why? Any pre-existing stain, or flaw, or mark on the fabric will be amplified when that item is color dyed. Yeah, not something to be excited over but definitely something to remember for any dye job.
Other than a few little marks that stayed with my dress, the color turned out very even for me. I dyed my dress in our large stainless steel sink, so there was plenty of room to have enough liquid to completely immerse the dress, as well as do some good stirring to spread the color. Technically, our sink is not the best place for dyeing. With the RIT dye, the temperature is supposed to be kept at 140°F or warmer, yet not boiling either, for the whole 30 to 60 minutes it ‘cooks’. That is why the best place to dye is in a pot on the stove because you can keep an even and constant temperature. Yet, the bigger the item – like my dress – the more room you will need and so an ‘on the stove’ option was not exactly feasible here. We made it work alright by starting off with a stronger water-to-dye proportion for quick color retention, and then add a small pot’s worth of extra almost-boiling water along the way to keep a relative constant warmth.
The final step to any dye job that is a cotton, linen, rayon, or a blend of these is to set the color with a liquid fixative. This is another 30 minutes of the same process as what the dye job was – stirred evenly in a 140 degree bath. I hate the fact that when I go through the dye fixative step, the color becomes a tad lighter than when my item came out of the dye. For example, when I first over-dyed these faded, true vintage items from my Grandmother, the colors were rich and just what I wanted…but that was before the setting liquid bath. Boo. When dyeing a nylon, silk, or wool, to set the color you merely run the item through your wash machine with an old towel and your regular detergent, and the colors seem to stay brighter. Oh well, as I said above, any color improvement, even if it is not the most ideal one, is enough to make the item worth keeping if I’m doing this in the first place.
There are different add-ins with each dye job depending on the fiber content of your item. I added salt and dishwashing liquid to the dye before adding my dress. However, for some silk I recently re-colored using a bottle of RIT Kelly green dye (for a completely different project coming soon) I added dishwashing liquid and white vinegar. It was into the dye bath leftover from coloring this silk that I threw in my son’s school polo. This should have been a no-no because his shirt was cotton – it should be in a dye bath with salt. However, I was not about to waste a whole bottle’s worth of dye without trying to dip something else. Thus, the green dye bath only gave my son’s shirt a light minty green color rather than a deep, true, Kelly green. Also, the water was hovering around 130 degrees by this time (as a second batch). Even still, I think my son looks good in pastels and he himself is happy with how it turned out – so that is all that matters, right?! Now we can go be twins in green for the win.
I jokingly have a little play on the fact that I am stirring up a steaming sink or pot full of opaquely colored ‘potion’ when I do my dye jobs. A little witchy cackle is all that’s needed (and I do believe I am good at that) as well as a recitation of “Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble” for a proper finish. Hubby usually just shakes his head with a smile. Yes, I enjoy how a simple color change – although a bit time consuming – can really perk up an item and is a creative way for anyone to personalize something with no sewing needed.
A few months into my dyeing exploits and I realized many colors became very hard-to-find or almost non-existent altogether, even looking through the internet shops (not counting the price-gouged items). Apparently, I must not be the only one this year who is finding the fun and usefulness of color dyeing. Have you done any such thing yourself? Are you an old pro at it by now? Do you have any great success stories or maybe sad disaster tales to share? Maybe you have not yet tried it. If so, I hope this post was useful. Thanks for reading!