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Mar 10, 2015

Today I Dyed -- and Lived to Tell About It

Readers, remember that post I wrote a few months back about some shirts I'd made in colors that weren't flattering and which I was considering dying?

Well, today I took the plunge, using this Procion dye set I'd purchased on Amazon.

First, the good news: I didn't destroy any pots or make a huge mess.

Now the bad news: My results were poor.

I followed directions I'd found online: they were very involved. 

I thought my water was the right temperature and that I had the right amounts of salt and soda ash.  I dissolved the dye as instructed.  But evidently something wasn't right.

First, I prewashed my shirts:

I dissolved about two cups of salt into two quarts of water (that's a lot of salt, btw).

I heated two gallons of water.

I dissolved four tablespoons of soda ash into a cup of warm water:

I mixed my dyes, a combination of turquoise and fuchsia:

I made a dye vat in the largest pail I had and soaked the shirts in the dye vat for roughly six minutes (as per instructions).  I stirred occasionally and kept the fabric under the dye.  I then added the soda ash and soaked the shirts for roughly 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

I removed the shirts from the dye vat, rinsed them a few times, and then machine laundered them with mild detergent and let them drip dry.

The plaid shirt held the dye better than the tan one did, but there are splotches/under-dyed areas on both.

The tan shirt didn't take the dye well at all.  I did manage to remove the yellow undertones but the result is a rather blotchy/streaky mess.   As expected, the poly topstitching thread didn't dye at all.

The plaid shirt is kind of cool but still flawed. 

I think I could have benefited from a larger pail and much more stirring, but otherwise I'm at a loss.  Even the fabric swatch I threw in the mix came out blotchy.  Could it be the fabric itself (100% cotton, I believe)?

Is it worth trying this again with the same shirts or should I just chalk it up to experience and wear them proudly as exemplars of wabi-sabi?

Experienced dyers out there: thoughts/advice?
Have a great day, everybody!


  1. I get good results with simple Rit Dyes. As long as the fabric is wet going in to the dye bath- you get an even finish. Best results with a washing machine rather than a bucket.
    Nice to see your Mom looking so well!

  2. I think linda is right-- the problem was that the fabric did not soak up the dye/water combination evenly. I remember that in my grad student apartment, I didn't have a washing machine, so I had to pre-wash all of my fabric in the shower stall. It was extremely difficult to get the fabric uniformly soaking wet-- no matter how hard I tried, there were always areas that stayed slightly damp or even dry. I've never tried dying, but getting the fabric soaking wet first, and a lot more stirring, would probably help. You might have gotten air bubbles trapped in the fabric as it sat in the dye bath, which would have made it harder for the fabric to soak up the dye/water.

  3. I've not had so much as a near-dye experience but for a first try, these eyes think you did OK. Only you can determine whether the time, effort, and expense were worth the results. Chalk it up to experience, try it again (since you have the materials), and have fun with it. Both shirts have very nice details -- if you're not satisfied, why not remake them?

  4. Try the Rit color leacher to remove all the old dye and redo it. I've also had excellent results with plain old cheap Rit dyes. They're more user friendly, too....

  5. You are right, you need much larger dye pot for the amount of fabric you wanted to dye. If you try again, try with only one shirt in the pail, that should give you better results.

  6. Hmm, I've never seen 6 minutes on any dye instructions before. I usually leave 45 mins with stirring before adding soda ash fixer. Stirring ensures eveness as dye will miss folds & fabric protruding above the water. Temperature is important but I can't quote details. I learned loads here:
    Over dying can get fun results but once it's uneven it's hard to cover up. Good luck & I hope you enjoy the process, I love dyeing!

    1. Stirring. More stirring. Topstitching never dyes. But uneven dyeing is a stirring issue. And experience admission has been paid, so you're golden (or magenta) now!
      New Vintage Lady has done lots of dyeing; go check her blog for deets. She's my guru on all things dye.

  7. I get the best results using a bit of urea to dissolve the dye first (especially for pinks), using a small container with just a tiny bit of water, making sort of a paste, then adding more water to make it pourable.

    And, yes, not enough water or agitation makes for streaky fabrics. Get the fabric very wet, squeezing out all air bubbles. I dunk it in the clean water I'm going to use for dying, adding the dye after the fabric is wet. I use a washing machine for anything larger than a shirt, but I found a large clear plastic ice bucket on clearance at Target that makes the best dye tub. It's nearly the size of my kitchen sink but much deeper and oblong so it fits securely. Try doing the 2 shirts separately, to give more space to move around.

    Dharma Trading sells dye salt that is a power so it dissolves really fast and they have the urea (though I'd be happy to send you some, since it takes just a few granules, and the smallest pack they sell is a few cups worth)

    At this point, I'd probably bleach out the tan shirt and see what you get to start over with. With so much poly in it, it's hard to say how bright you can get it, but it shouldn't be so splotchy.

    1. meant to say get the fabric wet then REMOVE it from the clean water, add the dye, then put the fabric back in =)

    2. I do a lot of fiber dying and I am in Total agreement here. Your dyes are fine you need urea and more soak time.

    3. I agree plus maybe rinse the shirts with some dilute soda ash solution before you place them in the dye.

  8. Dharma Trading is an expert company for dye products and their instructions are flawless. Also a 5 gallon Home Depot type bucket is really needed to disperse the dye as is Synthrapol, a prodct that captures loose dye from the washing step. I've used procion Dharma dyes and got great results. Dyeing is a lot like old-fashioned print photography, the fabrics is exposed to the dye, the color is devleoped i the fabric, then stopped and then the color is fixed, then the fabric is washed to remove all of the chemicals. It's the same process as exposing a negative to the paper, delveoping the print, stopping further deveopment and then fixing the image permanently. I really recommend Dharma Trading!

    1. I agree with Dharma Trading dyes are best. Some of the women that use dyes in my sewing guild swear by Dharma.

    2. I have had excellent results with Dharma dyes as well. I also highly recommend Jane Dunnewold's Craftsy class. She does suggest different ratios than were used here, and she says you should leave the dye on the fabric for at least 4 hours, preferably 24.

    3. Sonia's smile heralds spring's arrival.

      Phyllis you're phantastic! You deconstruct everything into the easily understood.

      Dharma Trading is the last word in dyes. Synthrapol is a must have in your dye kit.

      As for 6 minutes...I too think an overnight immersion will serve your efforts better.

      If you're in for a pound, consider a double dye. If you're in for a poke, send Sonia to the store.

  9. I have had mixed results using buckets, but always seem to get good results when I dye my fabric with heat on the stovetop in a giant pot (bought this cheaply) and i like to use the iDye brand of dyes. This involves constant stirring for 45-60 minutes though.

    Good luck with your experiments :)

  10. I love to dye fabric. If you've ever worn either shirt before dying, the tiniest splotch of a grease stain can keep the dye from taking. Also, I agree, you need to use a very large pot and do one shirt at a time. I use Procion only for silk. Rit for cotton. Dharma has great instructions and dyes. Good luck. Maybe Rit dye remover will enable you to start over!

  11. hi...i've been following your blog just for the fashion interest/entertainment value...your mom and me selfie is adorable :)

  12. Unlike all your other commenters, I've never had much luck dying things, even when I follow the instructions to the letter. They always turn out uneven. Expect for that red shirt my MIL gave my hubby, that dyed everything else in the same wash an even shade of pink.

  13. I agree a bigger dye container would have helped. The best is if you can use a washing machine. I think you should give it another' try! The color is nice!

  14. I would also suggest Dharma Trading. Also, it's worth it to wash already worn garments in a special detergent that removes skin oil and whatever else. Can't remember what it is called but it's on the DT website. Also, reds don't always dissolve well. I haven't used it, but there's something called Casolene oil (?) that's suppose to help and/or putting the dye through mesh to catch clumps. Don't give up!

  15. A few thoughts. As a previous responder has said, the fabrics must be free of oil or grease in order for them to take the dye properly.
    I'd use a strong degreaser to wash them in first, then add Calgon to the last rinse. Calgon helps the fabric absorb the dye more easily.
    For the tan shirt, I'd try the Rit colour remover and start again. Do you know if the fabric is pure cotton? Maybe there's some other component mixed with the cotton which is resisting the dye.
    You could also try dyeing it twice with iDye which has a dye for cotton and a dye for synthetics – that way you would cover your bases.
    Last resort is wild and crazy tie dye.
    Have fun.
    Vancouver Barbara

    1. I wonder about how well fabric softeners come out of fabric in a regular wash as well, considering how it builds up on towels over time. Maybe a jug of vinegar in the rinse?

  16. Hot dye, not procion. iDye is great and got from Dharma. They do poly dyes too if you want to catch the stitching but peew, it is stinky and obnoxious. But you have a big enough pot so why not hot dye instead of cold, far better results. Promise, I go it all the time :)

  17. I have never had much luck with dyeing either, but in the few instances it did turn out, it was always when I sprung for more dye to put in a bigger container. Also, I find that leaving it in the dye all day, especially for poly, works out better, but I like bright colors so it can't really get too intense! I usually use the Dylon brand dyes.

    It is nice to see everyone's tips here in the comments, maybe we will all have a better dyeing experience in our future!

  18. For me it also helps to take the fabric out completely (just so it leaves the water) and then place it in the pot of dye again. Just to move it a bit more. When it's out of the water I can see where it's not wet enough so I can fold it to have those parts on the outside of the bundle next – if that makes any sense.

    That's especially helpful for when the pot is too small for the amount of fabric, which seems to be part of your problem too.

  19. I think it looks cool. The Japanese have a term for it, wabi sabi, the beauty of imperfection, as it should be.

  20. I would keep them as is -especially the plaid shirt and wear it well. I love the wabi-sabi concept of beauty in imperfection.

  21. In fact, I might do a shibori dye technique on the "tan" shirt, over-dyeing it with more of the same OR a contrasting color.

  22. I've had success with that brand and Jacquard has different instructions in their own website. They say to stir frequently for 10-15 minutes, take the fabric out when adding soda ash, and then stir frequently for another 30-60 minutes. That would make the color much more even.

  23. A couple of points:
    -Synthrapol is a great detergent for hand-washing anything to be dyed. It strips/degreases beautifully and is still very gentle. Great for restoring vintage fabrics and weeding out the most stubborn stains in your table linens.
    -Did you weigh your shirts before dyeing? You will likely have more success if the recipe is built on weight of the dyed materials vs. volume. This works out to have the ideal amount of dye, reactants and catalyst present.
    -having your fabrics thoroughly wetted out is super important too. Think of it like trying walk a crowded sidewalk vs. an empty one. Dry fabric is like a series of potholes, roadblocks and vast crowds to the dye process.
    -increase the size of your container, or, dye one shirt at a time. Have enough volume for the fabric to move through will improve the evening out of color and rate of absorption. I like long tongs for stirring so that I can pull the fabric apart and push it back together. The stirring is far less effective if the fabric essentially stays in a uniform shape while it moves.
    -Lastly, I agree about use hot/warm dyes. The heat opens the fibers up to accepting foreign material and liquid. Cold water rinsing helps the fibers close back up and rid you of excess dye after you have let the dye set.

  24. A lurking-reader comment: honestly, I dye stuff with Rit in the washer, using neither salt nor ash, and I almost always get better results than you seem to have.

    I used to vat-dye, back before I had my own washer (which it sounds like you do?) and it was very difficult to avoid streaking. If I were to return to vat-dying, I would use a really, really large container (like a small trash can), agitate the shirt in hot water before adding the dye and then basically stir non-stop until I was ready to remove and rinse.

    100% cotton should take dye really well and evenly if the container is right.

    I've found that washer dying makes the biggest difference, far more than using different dyes or using a fixative.

    I've also found that certain colors work very well and others don't - blue dyes are usually great, pinks are good, browns are good, purple is okay, pastels are green is tricky, true black and true grey are very, very difficult.

  25. I'm probably repeating a lot of advice...
    1. Definitely use synthrapol to pre and post wash, especially fabric that is not new. You may have residue on the shirts that interferes with the dye. There are also some products that remove existing dye, that may make the dye process more effective.
    2. Also the powdered salt dissolves better.
    3. I also bought a cheap stock pot from Walmart which I use as my dye bath, on the stove, and stir/agitate with a large pair of tongs, so the fabric gets separated and moved frequently. Some of my dye jobs have lasted as long as a couple of hours on the stove.
    4. Dharma's fiber reactive is my favorite for cotton, which I use with soda ash. The acid dyes are magnificent on silks.
    Over dying is sort of a crap shoot, especially with older garments. But you learned something!

  26. Hi Peter, the dyeing I have done has usually been with Dylon that is designed to use in the washing machine. I don't know if you can get that brand, but probably something similar. I believe they do a core range and then seasonal colours as well. I get what you are saying about polyester thread. I had a tank that was white, which ended up dark brown with white topstitiching. Looked fine though.

  27. Pretty much what folks have said: Synthrapol, larger pot, simmering, constant stirring/agitation.

  28. It depends on the dye and the amount of stirring you do. I checked the Amazon listing you have and it says, "For use in cold water on natural fibers". So first oops: heating the water (RIT Dye is a hot water dye); second oops: any synthetic material, whether pure synthetic or a blend. I learned that some tropical wool I had was [part] synthetic because it didn't take the dye I was using very well (swatch test, luckily).

    I was amazed to read the little amount of stirring the instructions required. With RIT I had to stir constantly for 30 minutes straight, and not just in swirls but pushing and pulling the fabric to open up the deep folds.

    Not sure how to remedy your color. Probably have to go darker with a hot water dye.

    Good Luck!

  29. Whoa. These are the bestest comments. Marking this post for future dye matters.
    MPL, I love your readers!

  30. Have used both procion dye and Dylon, both with good effect. I always used the biggest bucket I can find. The garden tubs you can get are ideal. Procion dyes should work well on wool too. Make sure you have enough dye for the weight of fabric.

  31. Goodness, this looks complicated! I had excellent results using Dylon Wash & Dye -- just put the clothes to be dyed in the washing machine with the dye powder. I do think that your main problem was not a big enough receptacle, but then the quantise hardly lend themselves to a good sized tin bath, for example.

  32. Ooh . . . forgot to mention . . . washing with a professional textile detergent before the dye process got me my best results. The one I used is from Dharma ( ) but I am sure you can find something similar in the garment district.

    You do not seem to have any dye splotches from the powder not fully dissolving, but funneling the dye in a small amount of water through a piece of fabric was also very helpful for me. I think some colors have more of a tendency to separate than others, but a dress I dyed green years ago had spots of yellow and blue show up in certain places).

  33. Rosemary B here:
    Once you are pleased with the result using any dye. I recommend using a large recycle type looking bin, or a large storage container. Let it soak much longer.
    Do not wash and dry right away. Just hang to dry (over the tub or shower, or lay it flat until just damp. Toss in the dryer with some old dark towels. Let the color really heat set. If you are really happy with the color, let the shirt hang dry for a day, then wash and dry. I get rich perfect results. I have dyed so many shirts using Rit. I have not tried any other brands, so these others are intriguing. Best wishes in your dying adventures.
    The photo of you and your mom is a gem. Treasure her. I am taking care of my 92 year old parents. They are both doing fine. I call them The Twins. They are a handful, and I feel like my life has really changed now. My free time is precious. As you might notice I used to have a kitty blog, but pfffff, no time for that silliness - and sewing is more important, and my kitties lounge on all of my sewing stuff. I found your blog on the Pink Chalk Studio "share your sewing space" I love your Featherweight. I have three, and a host of other olden musheens.
    I will sub to your blog now. What fun, and I hope to loosen up a little and be inspired by your fun exploits in sewing.

  34. I like to use Rit dyes to freshen & deepen black pants & tops. Washing machine works great; be careful to clean the machine afterwards by washing a dark load, maybe even two. Check out a costume shop that already has dye-stained machines; they might have good advice too. Good luck.


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