As we increase our understanding of the environmental impact of wardrobe waste, we are looking for best ways to  Reduce, Re-use, Recycle.  Dyeing some of our current clothes to new, more flattering colors is one great way to head down the Re-use path, and it’s actually a lot of fun too.  Be aware that dyeing can be a little bit iffy – but if the item is one you aren’t going to wear in the current color you really have nothing to lose right?

The easiest starting point is to dye white cotton or cotton-blend shirt and tees to almost any color you want.  The website RitDye.com has an awesome downloadable guide with how-tos plus color-mixing formulas for literally hundres of gorgeous hues.  I always use the liquid dye rather than the powder.  It’s a bit pricier, but if you fail to totally dissolve the powder you will likely get flecks of the colors that were mixed to get that hue.  (Do not ask how I know about that problem.)

If the item you want to dye is  already a color – just not one you care to wear – you can use Rit’s chlorine-free color remover to remove the riginal dye, leaving a blank canvas for your new choice.  Or you can factor the original color into the formula for the new one.  If your original color is pink, for example, and you want a softer blush color instead, you could simply dip it into a camel or tan dye bath (warm) or a gray one (cool).  Not an exact science there, but amazingly effective in general terms like this:

That the starting color can be moved warmer or dustier, but can only go brighter or cooler if you also go darker, covering rather than just adjusting the original shade.

Dyeing is also a great way to refresh dark wardrobe pieces that have faded a bit with age.  Blacks, navies and brown are all great candidates for this update.  I’ve also dyed lighter denim pieces to a darker blue for a more slimming and somewhat dressier look.  That may darken the contrast stitching too – but in my book that’s a good thing.

You can over-dye prints too!  I often use that trick for client garments that are too high-contrast to flatter the individual.  Black/white can readily become black/camel or black/teal or black/anything-you-like-better.  It’s also a fun way to tone down a too-bright multi-color print.  Unless the new color is terribly dark, you will still see the print design very clearly.

For years all this color-change flexibility has been limited to natural fibers (plus rayon, which although synthetis is made from a plant base, therefore absorbent).  But Rit has recently introduced a limited color range in DyeMore – a colorant specifically for synthetic fabrics.  I couldn’t find it in local stores, but ordered from their website it in Sand Stone and Frost Gray to experiment.

Disclaimer  – I was a lazy tester.  I didn’t mix the full recommended strength – figured why waste a lot of the product on a first-level test.  And I didn’t stir the fabric consistently through the 30-minute process. I used a polyester satin-stripe fabric that somehow looked a LOT better when I ordered it online that it looked when I saw it in person.

Here are my results.  The changes – especially the Gray Frost version – are fairly subtle, but often that is all that’s needed to modify a too-bright color to a more flattering, toned-down one.  It didn’t fix the aesthetics of my test print, but it did take away the jarring white of the background – exactly the effect I am often looking for in a client’s wardrobe.

If you want to dive in to dyeing for yourself, you might also check out the products and tutorials at Dharma Trading  and whether you sew or buy your clothes, you might enjoy the dyeing tutorial by Angela Wolf available (and currently on sale!) through PatternReview.com.

I’d love to hear about your color-change adventures.  You can comment below or email me pictures of your own projects [email protected]

About Nancy Nix Rice

I help other women feel confident about how they look every day - regardless of their age, budget, lifestyle or the size tag in their pants - so they put wardrobe concerns on the back burner and go share their gifts with the world.

10 Comments

  1. Susan on February 17, 2020 at 6:32 am

    Nancy, I am curious, did you dye in your washing machine?

    • Nancy Nix Rice on February 17, 2020 at 6:48 am

      I didn’t because we have one of the low-water, front-load machines. If there is a way to do that, I odn’t know about it. But I used to when I had a top-loading machine. Now I use a giant soup pot on the stove for bigger projects. Obviously just used a small saucepan for these test pieces.

  2. anne jewell on February 17, 2020 at 9:08 am

    my dying coup happened because i needed a pale yellow, long-sleeve blouse made of woven fabric. hunting produced zero candidates. i finally pulled out a (new) white sheet and used rit liquid dye at half strength–eureka! then i sewed it up by my favorite blouse pattern and have worn the blouse for several years now.–anne

    • Nancy Nix Rice on February 17, 2020 at 6:24 pm

      A sheet no less – aren’t you the resourceful one!

  3. reanna on February 17, 2020 at 12:37 pm

    Avocado pits, boiled, create a beautiful soft pink dye for natural fibers. I have dyed several white things pink already. My next idea is to take some black & white items and dye them to black and pink.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on February 17, 2020 at 6:11 pm

      I haven’t played with natural dyes – who would imagine avacado pits creating pink – how fun!

  4. Katie Knoblach on February 24, 2020 at 8:31 pm

    I experimented a lot with this after you did my colors. Ended up saving much of my stash by simply overdyeing to a more flattering tone.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on February 24, 2020 at 10:05 pm

      IF you happen to have before-and-after pics we’d love to see them. If you email them to me I can do a blog post about them.

Leave a Comment




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.