Monday, 6 March 2017

Dyeing for Colour

I know that's not a very original title but it was just too tempting.

 If anything will lead me to accumulating more clothing than I need it is my love of colour.  I see colour combinations or a slightly different version of a colour I like and I think "oh I want that."   Having a whole new colour palette open to me, the purely warm, mainly medium value colours of the Autumn palette is definitely feeding that. Perhaps in time the novelty will wear off and I will be content to own and wear whatever suitably Autumn colours I have managed to find at the shops.  Otherwise one solution to this desire for so many colours is to dye things.

If you read my blog you may know I like to dye things.  I've had hits and misses with this but it has been one way to experiment with colours to find my best ones and often I dye thrift shop items.  I rarely get brave enough to dye something that is new and more expensive however I have done that.  I am, after all, the woman who cheerfully cuts her own hair and not always well.  I am fearless or stupid.  Take your pick.

Recently I used Dylon Terra Cotta Brown on a cardigan that began as beige   I pulled the cardigan out of the dye bath sooner after achieving something I'd call  peach.  

Here it is again, with a knit top that was a warm pink but a bit too bright and more suited to the Spring palette of warm colours.  I dimmed it by a quick dip in some gold dye. 

I also dyed a white pull-over sweater in the same terra cotta dye bath and achieved this...

But later decided I wanted a richer colour so dunked it a second time into a warm red I'd created by mixing some dye colours ( scarlet and gold ).

It takes some patience but searching for white, pale coloured or beige cotton sweaters as the thrift shop has worked out well for me.  They are easy to over-dye and if it doesn't work out it's not a big expense.   I did this sweater in the terra cotta colour and liked it better as a more muted colour with all that texture.  The darker looking bottom is a photography lighting issue and the actual sweater doesn't look like that.  I was rapidly losing my lighting as I took photos so shadows were making it look as though I didn't achieve a uniform colour.

This cardigan was a peculiar sort of greenish beige originally.  Warm but bland to my eye so I dipped it in gold  dye.

I bought this hat when I was experimenting with the Soft Autumn palette.  It was too pale and not quite warm enough.  It's wool which is a bit trickier to dye than cotton as wool is naturally water repellant so it resists the coloured water which you want to sink into the fibres and deposit the dye.  I made a dye bath that was very dark and I left the hat in longer than I leave the cotton garments and changed it from a light beige-pink to a terra cotta colour.  It was the same dye bath as the sweater above.

Not shown in photos but in this same frenzy of dyeing things I also changed a white cotton blouse to cream by a quick dip in the gold dye and then running it through the wash immediately. 

My current projects have been in the same colour family of the warm pink/red/orange/terra cotta/peach colours.  I love these colours but want to add more gold and warm green to my wardrobe as well.  Because I am nearly always in denim, and have over-dyed some faded/distressed jeans to a more medium and warmer denim blue tone, I am automatically frequently wearing something blue.  It's a no-brainer that someone using an Autumn palette might have coloured jeans, twill or corduroy pants in all those lovely autumn colours that are available every year,  at least in a nice rich brown.  Only in my dreams.  I have yet to find a brand that makes them in tall sizes (and by that I mean both a longer leg and longer rise) and offers rich autumn colours.  

Autumn colours are trickier to find except perhaps in the Autumn season. The pure warm colours of True Spring are warm but also clear and bright which doesn't work for me.  I need soft and muted, medium value purely warm colours.  I read somewhere that most people are a cool or neutral-cool season.  Whether that is true or not it seems that those colours are most popular and stores are full of them.  Half of the summer tee shirts and blouses I own were not in warm enough colours and I've dipped them in gold dye to alter that.  As the weather warms and we progress through spring and summer I will share more of what I have dyed with varying success. 

Some possible reasons to use fabric dye....

If you need very saturated colours you may find a top up with fabric dye can revive something that is fading or increase the saturation of a secondhand purchase.

If you need very soft colours a dip in very diluted dye can give a colour boost to something that is white, off white or light beige.

If your colours need to be softened by greying them or warmed by adding yellow or gold this can be achieved by putting a coloured garment into a dye bath.  To grey the colours, use a grey-blue dye. 

If you have something from a thrift shop that you like the style and fit of but it's in a colour that is too light or it's white or beige it's a good candidate for dyeing.

Tips on Brands

I have experimented with three brands available to me.  Rit dyes in liquid form, Tintex in powder and Dylon on powder.

Tintex- the cheapest and available in drug stores and discount stores, comes in primary and secondary colours, fairly bright unless diluted, for secondary colour and brown mix the powder with hot water really well and for a long time.  Theses colours are made by combining pigments and if they are not well mixed you can get separate splotches of blue and red on something you are trying to dye brown.  Blue, yellow and scarlet dyes don't present this problem.

Rit- I have used this in liquid form, from a bottle.  My local supplier doesn't offer a very wide range of colour and perhaps there isn't a wide range.  I have used denim blue with great success and would consider this brand for browns which really need to be well mixed and so are perhaps better used in liquid form.

Dylon- these are the most expensive and have a wide range of unusual colours.  There are two different sized package of powder offered and colours vary amongst the sizes.  There is a better selection of warmer colours and muted colours here.  This is my source for gold rather than yellow and for warm greens.  This is also the source for the terra-cotta colour. I buy these from the local Fabric Land.


  1. I think that you did a great job dying all those knit pieces, and love that you share some good advice: it's better to dye something thrifted, and it's also better to pick some beige/white cotton fabric. Anyway, I admire your dying skills, as you mixed different colors to create something different and more 'you'.
    I like particularly Dylon products, as my experience was positive almost every time I used them. I picked saturated bold colors, like royal purple or orange, so it was a quite different experience than yours!. Purple works on any blue-ish cloth, so it's really easy to use. Red, on the contrary, is the most difficult color I've tryed, because it fades easily into coral or peach, and it's very tricky!.
    Lovely to read about your experience on dying clothes.

  2. Interesting experiments! Your colour knowledge is showing.
    What receptacle do you dye in?
    Interestingly wool is one of the easiest to dye with eco dyeing. The plant dyes stick beautifully to the protein also. Cotton and linen need mordants such as milk ( protein ) to coat the fibres to adhere to the plant dyes. So now you know!
    I have two linen garments waiting for their milk bath and then they will be dyed with gorgeous orange eucalyptus! One has already been dyed with our mulberries, so will be interesting to see the result.
    Your dyeing is always so even. Very impressive. xo Jazzy Jack

    1. Natural dyes are gorgeous and I used to have a fantasy that I would cook up natural dyes in an outdoor kitchen and then dye recycled wool garments and hook rugs. Hah! I definitely don't always achieve even results. There are failures sometimes due to stains or uneven pigmentation I'd not noticed before I began. Strangely the sweater in the photo here is much more even in reality than the photo turned out but most of my dyed things don't stand up too close examination. It's not something I'd do to expensive or brand new clothing usually. though I admit I have done it to new things. It's a way to experiment with colour, refresh something older or try out a new colour I can't find in the shops. The other thing I forgot to mention is that the thread used in a garment isn't always cotton even if the garment is and might not take the dye or not take it as intensely. xoxo


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