Dye this dress
July 8, 2011 6:56 PM   Subscribe

I bought a new dress. I very much like everything about this dress except the colour: it is white, and I look terrible in white, and I would like to wear it to a wedding where I am not the bride. I bought this dress thinking "well, I can always go to askme to find out how to change the colour", and here I am: how do I dye it?

The dress is this dress, I got it on sale and would like it to be dyed well enough to be wearable and not look like something I dyed badly, though if it turns out not nice enough for the wedding, I have other options.

I will probably dye it blue, I would prefer to dye it darker rather than lighter but don't really know enough about where to start, if it makes sense to do a darker colour or if it is better to do a lighter one, etc.

The tag says the shell is 100% cotton, the combo is 97% cotton, 3% elasthane, and the lining is 100% cotton.

I haven't dyed anything since a bit of batik and tie-dye in camp.

Can you walk me through this -- including recommended brands of dye -- as if I am a complete idiot?
posted by jeather to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Sherry at YoungHouseLove just linked to when she dyed her wedding dress. I think you'll have better results at color-matching with the dye you pick given that your dress is mostly cotton.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:02 PM on July 8, 2011

Get it commercially dyed. Loving hands at home will look like crap.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:04 PM on July 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

Wanted to mention that while the eyelet overlay fabric is cotton, the thread edging the eyelets themselves likely has polyester, thus will absorb less color than the fabric (although in an even, predictable fashion). Maybe see if there is enough hem to take a swatch of the eyelet and test to see if it's acceptable.

Also, if you DIY on the stovetop, plz heed this previous ask and avoid using your good stockpot!
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 7:07 PM on July 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

Rube's idea of testing the process first on a swatch is a really good one, I think. Ralph Lauren is a decently upscale company, so it might be worth calling them to see if they'd be willing to send you any extra swatches of the dress fabric (Land's End, for instance, will do this with many items).
posted by Bardolph at 7:16 PM on July 8, 2011

Response by poster: There is not very much hem, so I cannot get a swatch from it. I will try to phone Ralph Lauren to find out about a swatch. I have a sink that I can use without fear of staining it.

I am in Montreal, if that helps with any advice.
posted by jeather at 7:21 PM on July 8, 2011

This is a crap shoot, for at least 3 reasons:

1. It's very likely that the 100% cotton fabric will shrink at least a little, maybe more than a little, especially if you use hot water. But you would need to use hot water to get the dye to take well, especially for a dark color.

2. The lining may shrink to a different degree than the overlay fabric, causing weird puckers, and possibly changing the fit or drape.

3. Like Rube R. says above, the thread around the eyelets (and elsewhere) will probably take up less color than the fabric, so all the eyelets will look like they're outlined in a different (paler) color. This effect could be either icky or gorgeous.

If it were me, I'd try it anyway, but be prepared to be surprised by the result, and possibly to have to buy a different dress (don't wait til the night before). I do think that a lighter color is more likely to give a good result, though.
posted by Corvid at 7:37 PM on July 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

Instead of dyeing it, how about adding some neat appliques to convert it into something more casual?
posted by Leezie at 7:38 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Marisa at New Dress a Day has tutorials for washing machine or stovetop dyeing. She does a lot of dyeing, so you can check out her archive of dyed projects to see how different fabrics, linings, and embellishments can take color.

She uses Rit dye, both powder and liquid. You can find it at fabric and craft stores or Target/Zellers. They have a tutorial for sink dyeing as well as formulas for making custom colors.
posted by stefanie at 7:41 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I use cold water dyes, to avoid shrinking natural fiber garments. My color comes out even, but I definitely use a timer to make sure about the agitation times, and make sure nothing is sticking out of the dye bath during rests. The thread is probably polyester, so it will probably look as if you have light colored topstitching.

This store is having a sale on the type I usually use. Dharma also carries a cold-water dye.

I do not recommend rit. it is not permanent, and tends to be streaky. It is easy to find, however.
posted by annsunny at 7:45 PM on July 8, 2011 [6 favorites]

You may be able to find a professional garment dyeing shop. A wedding or formal dress store might know where to find one. I don't know how much they cost or how long they take.
posted by SarahbytheSea at 7:55 PM on July 8, 2011

Do you happen to have a front-loading washing machine? If you do, I highly recommend Dylon machine dyes. I get them in the UK, but maybe they are available in Canada? They give a great even colour, and it's much less work (and no stained hands!).

That said, I agree with others that the risk is that the eyelets will take less colour or no colour. As long as you are willing to take the gamble that you may end up with something you don't like, or love, then go for it.
posted by Joh at 7:56 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For dyeing cotton, the keyword you want is fiber-reactive dye. Procion MX, which you can by from Dharma Trading (linked above), is one that will work. The caveats upthread about any polyester threads not taking the dye are still true, but fiber-reactive dye will turn your cotton super bright colors if you want.

(The problem with Rit is that it's a union dye: it contains fiber-reactive dye, for plant fibers, and acid dye, for protein fibers like wool or silk, but not enough of either.)
posted by clavicle at 8:05 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

...the thread edging the eyelets themselves likely has polyester, thus will absorb less color than the fabric...

Usually this can be a gorgeous effect that makes the eyelets stand out and gives the material character. Don't use Rit, and do a cold dye.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:17 PM on July 8, 2011

Following stefanie's link to New Dress a Day, you might like to watch the video in this post. In it, Marisa dyes a white cotton dress with white embroidery. The cotton takes the colour beautifully but the embroidery stays pale.

I imagine something similar will happen with your dress. If you dyed it a pale colour (duckegg blue, perhaps, or even a soft yellow) it might look very pretty for a wedding.
posted by Georgina at 8:22 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Or why not leave it white and accessorize with a colored shawl or bolero. If you have the color near you face that should solve the not-looking-good in white problem.
posted by lazydog at 8:33 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm embarrassed that the genesis for this idea is the final collection done by Kenley from Season 5 of Project Runway, BUT, could you find a local artist to hand-paint a "print" of flowers (or maybe something more abstract, whatever) onto the dress? I'm picturing some hybrid of the middle and right-hand images here (with my apologies for not crediting/linking to the original designer by whom Kenley was, ahem, "inspired.")
posted by mauvest at 8:36 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you have access to your own washing machine, I'd recommend washing machine dye rather than stovetop. I can't imagine a laundromat would allow customers to dye clothes in their machines. If you do use a washing machine, make sure your next load in the machine after the dyed dress is a bunch of old towels or sheets that you can add bleach to, and this will ensure that machine is then completely free of dye.

But I love mauvest's suggestion about getting something hand-painted on it, or you could look on etsy for appliqu├ęs to sew on it.
posted by essexjan at 2:56 AM on July 9, 2011

Best answer: It's not that hard. Here is what yoy have to do:

1. Go to sewing store, buy dye in the color you like.
2. Read instructions and see if you need to buy a bucket, lots of salt, etc.
3. Follow instructions to the letter.

That's it. Most likely the dress will come out fine, they always have for me. But you must accept going in that it could get ruined, and be prepared to let it go if that happens. Or maybe you'll be able to salvage it: taking up out-of-sync hems, that sort of thing. You could look up local tailors who you could take it to in case you need a rescue operation.

Life is risk. Embrace it! Live! Live! etc.
posted by tel3path at 3:40 AM on July 9, 2011

It's so very worth it to use fiber-reactive dyes! (I've only used Procion, because I've stuck to cotton and linen.) They're a bit more expensive than Rit and require some planning ahead and an additional step or two. But the process itself isn't nearly as much of a hassle -- no washing machine or stovetop simmering needed -- and the results are much more even and colorfast, with more (and more interesting) colors available.

Here's Dharma Trading's very clear tub-dyeing instructions.

A few tips:

* Get together with some crafty friends and combine an order to save on shipping. I'm a huge Dharma Trading fan but if you're on the east coast, it's faster and cheaper to order from the lovely folks at Pro Chemical in MA. (Dharma's instructions are much clearer and easier to follow, and they have a broader selection of other fabric-arts stuff.)

* Instead of ordering soda ash, just use regular washing soda (from the laundry-products aisle in your local grocery). Same thing, with no shipping cost.

* Instead of using a bowl and spoon, I shake up the dye powder, urea, and bit of warm water in a clean seltzer bottle before mixing up the tub bath. Make sure you have a cheap plastic funnel!

* I've never used the optional calsolene oil or Milsoft on cotton or linen and have never had problems with streakiness or stiffness. Synthrapol is worth using, to boost the colorfastness even more.

* They say to use the dye within a week after mixing but I've used dye that's months old and gotten perfectly good results. If I know I'll want to use a color again fairly soon (for instance, black to refresh older garments), I'll mix up the whole 2 oz. of dye with the appropriate amount of urea in a 2-liter soda bottle. I'll use what I need and store whatever's left under my sink until I'm in a dyeing mood again.

* If you're nervous, try it on a t-shirt first. Pretty soon you'll be dyeing everything within reach!
posted by dogrose at 10:49 AM on July 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'd be very nervous hand-dyeing a dress if I hadn't done it before. (Disclaimer: have dyed fabric, tie-dye, but nothing like you're trying.) What about hand-painting flowers or something like that on it with fabric paint instead? You'd have much more control over what you're doing that way.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:50 PM on July 10, 2011

Response by poster: Update:

I bought dye, and the dress turned out well, I think -- it's still wet, but it all turned out the same colour, the edges of the eyelets were dyed just like everything else. So I might try again with a darker blue. (I used Dylon China Blue, and am thinking to try Ocean Blue on top. But I will try it on first.)

I did not want a white dress, whether or not there were other decorations on it.

Thanks for all the advice, it was very helpful.
posted by jeather at 6:37 PM on July 15, 2011

Response by poster: Final update:

Dyed the dress a darker blue, and it looks very nice. The zipper is a bit light, but it's under one arm anyhow. It still fits perfectly.
posted by jeather at 11:54 AM on July 22, 2011

« Older you know, the mercurochrome song, the french one...   |   You won't get your drugs if you don't eat your... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.