Teach me to dye curtains and un-grayscale my house
August 14, 2017 6:41 PM   Subscribe

I have light gray curtains. (How) can I successfully dye them a color like a vibrant marigold orange or golden yellow? If that's not possible, what about a turquoise or a cobalt? I think they are a natural fabric like cotton or linen, but I'm not sure. How do I find out what fabric they're made of so I can select the correct kind of dye? And, to help match the color scheme, what color should I paint the fireplace mantle?

Dyeing to me seems kind of arcane and mysterious, so I'm grateful for any technical advice you have on making it work and not ending up with weird-colored, unevenly-dyed curtains.

Currently my house is painted white, with gray curtains and gray trim for the fireplace. I want to move toward a more vibrant color scheme but keep the white walls. I'm loosely basing my desired house color scheme off the colors of the stained glass in my front door. The colors I'm going for are red (already have a deep red couch so that's covered), orange (like in this painting of a lobster mushroom on my wall), yellow (don't have anything yellow yet), and some sort of turquoise or cobalt or other striking blue (planning to use this color on the fireplace mantle).

I am leaning toward yellow or marigold or orange for the curtains -- I feel like the filtered sunlight through the curtains would look better with a warm color than a cool color. I don't think I want my living room to feel like the inside of an aquarium. Also I think that a dark blue would be too dark next to the dark red couch... But I'm open to ideas. There are three windows in my living room. I've thought about having them all the same color, three different curtain colors (one per window each of yellow/orange/blue), or two curtain sets of the same color and one of a different color. What would look best?

I am planning on painting the fireplace mantle (which is currently gray) in whichever blue I decide to go for, which is part of why I'm hoping to make the curtains a warm color (for contrast). I I could potentially do the mantle yellow or orange instead of blue, but I think that would clash with mostly beige colors of the ancestral family map that's above the mantle, and also has a thin stripe of blue in its matting. Oh -- I also sometimes throw flowers up there in the little ceramic vases next to the map, usually a stem or three in orange, red, or yellow. Should I just match the mantle to the blue in my stained glass but make it a bit deeper?

I'd love if people can suggest (1) explain dyeing to me, especially what my options are for fabric that already has a light gray shade, (2) suggest color schemes, and (3) link to specific suggestions for shades of blue for the mantle.

Thank you for hoping me be coherently colorful!
posted by cnidaria to Home & Garden (19 answers total)
You can do a burn test to identify fabric type.

I'm sorry I can't help with the dye-related questions. I've dyed a lot of fabric and most things turned out fine-to-lovely, but I don't think I've ever gotten exactly what I was going for.
posted by she's not there at 6:52 PM on August 14, 2017

Oh, and I don't think it's critical, but just in case: The windows face the street and the exterior of the house is a pale sea green.
posted by cnidaria at 6:56 PM on August 14, 2017

Yes, you can dye your curtains! If they are super super big it may be tricky to get a perfectly even color. See this AskMe for a run down of what you'll need and where to find it.
posted by ananci at 7:06 PM on August 14, 2017

I can't see your photos, I get a 403 Unauthorized Access message. Anyway, rather than try to overdye your curtains (the gray would probably muddy the bright colors you seek), check out these inexpensive colored sheers at Wayfair
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:43 PM on August 14, 2017

Dammit I made a Flickr account just to post those photos but whenever I try to confirm my email address I get stuck in this endless "we need you to confirm your email address" loop of doom. Working on it.
posted by cnidaria at 8:08 PM on August 14, 2017

Well, another question came up about dye today, so.... I'll just link to that.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:10 PM on August 14, 2017

Okay, photos should be public and accessible now. I'm able to view the links logged out. Are you?
posted by cnidaria at 8:10 PM on August 14, 2017

The links are visible now, thanks. Okay, some random thoughts... The sofa, needs pillows (Home Goods/TJ Maxx/Marshalls) and an area rug, say in a pattern. I would keep the curtains all in the same color and personally, I'd keep the mantle gray. To add more blocks of color, you can buy fabric/textiles and staple-gun it to artists canvas stretchers. Your preferred color scheme seems to be primary colors which is not my thing, so I'll leave it to others to suggest actual colors.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:53 AM on August 15, 2017

Also, I wonder if you can put those bookshelves in another room (hallway?). They are pretty dominant, take up a lot of wall space and aren't "colorful". Like the large map over the mantle, if you squint your eyes, you will see that they are grey/beige/brown. I have a lot of books, not as many as I used to, but I keep them in separate stacks/spaces so they are spread out. Just a suggestion.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:15 AM on August 15, 2017

Seconding that, in addition to any other problems with the fabric or grey color, I think it's going to very difficult to get even color on such large pieces of fabric. Honestly, I would just buy new curtains and repurpose the current curtain fabric. You could make pillows and dye the smaller pieces, and you'd be able to use more than one color.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:52 AM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was thinking about dying something much smaller (athletic socks) and was surprised that dye was not cheap. My other thought is that getting a large long tub (it possible to do in the washer I guess) may be needed for consistency and extreme care may bee needed for consistency over batches. Seems like a great project if going for a unique look/new hobby but not so much if the goal is to save cost.
posted by sammyo at 7:35 AM on August 15, 2017

And sorry but to get vibrant, a white base may be essential.
posted by sammyo at 7:37 AM on August 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

My few experiences with dying, turned out to be far messier than expected, and the colors came out... not like I wanted. I was dying cotton, first with RIT (no more of that thanks, it faded pretty quickly after just a few washes) than with a well-reviewed dye from Amazon. I do not now remember the brand. It held up better in the wash, but was quite expensive. I was dying small T-shirts, some in white, some in light colors like yellow. Results varied dramatically, white coming closest to the color I actually wanted. I can only imagine what it would cost to dye a large swath of fabric like a curtain. Cotton took the color pretty easily. The nylon seaming was absolutely impervious to either RIT or the other product. I do think you would have the best and easiest results with silk, and silk would most closely complement the stained glass effect you are looking for. That said, nylon sheers in your desired color, would probably get you the look you want with far less fuss. Unless you want to experiment, then go for it, I tried home dying for the same reason - for fun and to try it out.
posted by Crystal Fox at 8:14 AM on August 15, 2017

You CAN dye your curtains, but it's gonna be an involved process. First, you need to determine if your existing drapes are cotton or not. If they are not cotton, you do not want to attempt to dye them. As Crystal Fox mentions above, chances are high that the thread used to stitch your drapes together will be polyester and will not take the dye. You will need to decide if you can live with gray stitching on you colored drapes. You will not get a pretty yellow or gold, overdyeing the gray drapes, but I think a darker cobalt or other blue will work.

The best way to do this is using Procion dye from Dharma Trading (some colors are available on Amazon, too). Dharma has instructions for tub-dyeing. You will also need to purchase some Synthrapol (prewash), a lot of non-iodized salt and soda ash. The absolute best way to do this is in an "old fashioned" top-loading washing machine, one of the ones that fill the tub with hot water - not a newer water-saving machine, even if it's a top loader. You'll need to be able to reset your machine's wash cycle to keep swishing the curtains and salty dye water around the tub without draining it for up to an hour. Then you add the soda ash and let it swish for another 30-45 minutes. You can replicate this with a big rubbermaid tub and a stick that you use to stir everything around for those timeframes.

Two more caveats: how many curtain panels can fit in the machine/tub with room for them to swish around pretty freely? If only half your panels can fit, you are going to have to do this twice and unless you measure your dye very precisely, you run the risk of 2 batches of different colored curtains. Also, have you washed your curtain panels before? Dyeing works best with hot water and if your panels haven't been washed in hot water, they may shrink.

Sorry to be a buzzkill - I've dyed lots of stuff, but the process is a bit fiddly (definitely do-able, if you can follow the instructions) and you have to be prepared to take what you get, color-wise, especially if you are overdyeing an existing color.
posted by sarajane at 9:15 AM on August 15, 2017

I would relocate the map that is hung over the fireplace - it's much to large for the space, as it almost meets the picture rails above it.

I'd probably pick my curtains out first (and not try to dye gray curtains of unknown fiber type) and then go for a pale, slatey blue for the fireplace surround.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:38 AM on August 15, 2017

If you use a washing machine, please use your own. I have seen a neighbor's clothing ruined from a previous user's community laundry room dye job.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:47 AM on August 15, 2017

I think I'm just gonna get the cheap curtains Twinbrook8 linked to -- thanks! They're inexpensive enough that it's worth a gamble to see if I like how they look in the space.

Interesting to hear other opinions on the space, but I'm only looking for advice on colors. :-) (Particularly choosing a shade of blue for the mantle...) The books and the map are actually my fav things in the space. I love my books and it makes me happy to see them all in one place. If anything, I'd add built-in shelves in a more interesting pattern, but it's not at the top of the (extensive) to-do list right now. The map is important to me because it's my grandfather's escape map from WWII. Also, it's a 900 sq ft house... There is literally nowhere else appropriate to put this stuff!

And thanks for the tip, Room 641-A -- I've used my washing machine to dye fabric before, with mediocre color outcomes but no damage to later loads of laundry. In my experience, running a rinse load is sufficient, but I'd never risk using a communal machine.
posted by cnidaria at 6:37 PM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hey, we have twin sofas!
My curtains are a coppery orange, (not, like, bright orange). They also have a structured weave and the material is slightly shiny.

I suggest having all three the same color. 3 different colors says "circus tent", 2 looks unbalanced.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:03 AM on August 16, 2017

as for the blue, I'd go with a dark- turquoise. Sea colored.
Avoid using similar colors to your curtain.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:06 AM on August 16, 2017

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