Do or Dye: How to Use Color to Give Old Clothes a New Life


Whenever I’m bored with a piece of clothing that still fits and is in great shape, I think, “Hmm, what other color could this be?!”

In fact, dyeing cloth is kinda fun, not to mention easy, quick and cheap. It's a small thrill to fall in love again with your favorite sweater or dress, or to custom-color a fabric before sewing to get the exact hue you want.

Before you reach for that dye, consider these tips.

1. Start With the Right Garment

Start with a solid-colored garment first — you're more likely to end up happy with your dyeing experiment.

Pay attention to the material. In my experience, natural fibers like cotton, linen, silk, wool and ramie are the most dyeable. Most fabric blends will work too, including synthetics like rayon and nylon-fiber blends that are at least 60 percent dyeable fiber.

But some fibers just won’t accept dye. You'll have a tough time with anything that’s 100-percent acrylic, polyester or acetate.

Keep in mind that any plastic parts of the garment, like buttons and zippers, might not accept dye, either. So you’ll need to swap these out to match the new color of your garment. Or just embrace the contrast!

2. Choose the Right Dye

Depending on the brand, you’ll need to select your dye based on the fiber content of your garment.

For example, RIT dye is good for both natural and synthetic fibers, but iDye has separate formulas for natural and poly fabrics (for natural and poly blends you can use both formulas together). iDye also makes a dye specifically for items that will be laundered frequently.

You'll also want to think about the dyeing method you're planning to use. I prefer to dye things in the washing machine because I think the cleanup is a lot easier, so I try to avoid dyes that involve the stovetop.

3. Read the Directions

A little obvious maybe, but each brand of dye is a bit different, so mind the manufacturer’s instructions. That'll help you get the color saturation you’re looking for.

4. Set Up Your Workspace

Have a plastic dropcloth or plenty of newspapers on hand, as well as paper towels to clean up any spills immediately. And be prepared to clean your sink and buckets or washing machine right away to avoid staining and/or turning your entire wardrobe the same color (#dyefail).

5. Get Creative!

Consider mixing a couple of shades of dye to create your own custom color, or layer a few different colors on top of each other — start with the lightest color dye for the best results.

6. Treat Your Dyed Items Right

It’s a smart idea to wash your freshly dyed items by themselves two or three times. That way, you won't run the risk of residual dye bleeding into the other clothes in the machine and making your life a vaguely monochromatic mess.

Your new (old) clothes are going to look so fresh. Enjoy them... until you feel the urge to maybe dye them again!

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Do or Dye: How to Use Color to Give Old Clothes a New Life