TUTORIAL: Easy Fabric DYEING

by Dana on July 6, 2008


Fabric Dyeing does NOTneed to be:
Hard, Messy, Scary, Done in your washing machine, Done on your stove.

Fabric Dying CAN be:
Simple, Done in a bowl right in your sink, Fun, Experimental!
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Now, I’m not a professional or skilled fabric dyer (if that’s a real word). Most of my DYEING projects have been baby onesies and knits. The first time I attempted to dye fabric, I followed the instructions from the RIT website. They were useful and I’m sure tried and true. But I found it frustrating that dyeing had to be done in my washing machine (or slaving over a boiling pot of water, constantly stirring). I felt wasteful, when all I wanted to dye was a couple of shirts. Basically, I was disappointed with the process.

Then I found a much simpler method HERE on This Mama Makes Stuff. I combined it with my own experimentation. And I’ve been sticking with that ever since. It’s a simplified and fun method for dyeing fabrics.
So let’s get started!
Each step will be explained in detail below but here are the bullet points

5 Easy Steps for DYEING fabric:
1. Gather supplies
2. Mix Dye and hot water in a bowl
3. Add fabric and mix periodically for one hour (+)
4. Drain and rinse fabric
5. Wash and dry fabric in a machine
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1. Gather your Supplies.
* Plastic Bowl- large enough to hold 3-4 onesies or a couple T-shirts.
* Mixing Spoon - use one you don’t care about. It will be dyed along with the fabric.
* Clothing for Dyeing - Today I’m dyeing 4 things: some white onesies, a clearance t-shirt from Old Navy (which I’ll sew some sort of applique on top of), and a green onesie that I dyed a year ago but hated the color.
Have an old onesie with milk stains? Or pink onesies that once belonged to your daughter? Dye them for your baby boy!

* DYE Options:
- RITdye, both liquid and powder forms, are the only ones I’ve used. They’ve both worked fine for me. Haven’t had any problems. However, I’m anxious to test out some other DYE brands which have been recommended by our readers….
- DYLON Dye (which you can find at Joanns). Just looking at their fantastically designed website gets me excited to start dyeing.
-Procion MX Dyes, found at Dharma Trading.
The quality and spectrum of colors is simply amazing. The site states:
All 110 colors are brilliant, mouth-watering, and permanent. They don’t fade, even after repeated washings. They are economical, safe, and easy to use. Superior to supermarket dyes in every way! Buy in small quantities, in bulk, or in kits.

So, grab your DYE of preference.
In this Tutorial, I am only using RIT, “Dark Brown” powder in the box. If you want to mix colors, go for it! Experiment on your own, or reference the Custom Color list on the RIT site (of course then you have to follow their washing machine instructions). Dyeing should be fun, not a pain. And if the color isn’t what you hoped for, you can dye it a different color! (like the green onesie above).
In this tutorial, I used THE ENTIRE box of Dark Brown powder dye. At other times, I’ve used just half of a box. Again, I’m always experimenting. If you decide to save half of the powder, make sure you fold it up, put it in a ziplock bag, and store it where little hands can’t reach it:
* Rubber Gloves - your hands will be plunging in the fabric dye, so these are a must:
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2. Mix Dye and hot water in a bowl. Just turn your tap to the hottest water you can get and fill your bowl (no need to boil water on the stove):
Pour the dye (powder or liquid) into the hot water. I chose to use the entire box of RIT Dark Brown powder. It also helps to add a bit of table salt to the mix….about 1 Tablespoon:
Mix it all together for a minute or so, making sure all the powder dissolves (like making Jello):
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3. Add fabric and mix periodically for one hour or more
Get your fabric or clothing wet first with water (this will help it to dye more evenly).  Then with your gloves on, plunge the fabric into the dye bath (mmm, looks like a bowl of hot chocolate)
Squish and plunge all your fabric around in the dye so that every piece gets an even dye. Then submerge everything back in the DYE and let it sit. Repeat this every 10-15 minutes, stirring/squishing/sitting. You can stir it with a spoon or use your hands (with gloves) to squish it around. If you forget and it sits for a 1/2 hour, no worries, just mix it when you remember! There are no right and wrong answers here.
Leave your fabric in the dye for as little or as long as you like. The finished color will be slightly lighter than it looks like when wet. I recommend leaving it in for at least ONE hour, or longer.  But for a lighter shade leave it in the dye bath for only a few minutes (make sure the dye has spread evenly on the fabric).

For fun, I experimented and took out one of my fabrics at the ONE hour mark, and the rest came out after FIVE hours. Here’s how they look after being washed/dried (both were white at the beginning):
NOTE: the Green onesie (mentioned in Step 1) was left in for 5 hours, and looks just as brown as the white onesies which also stayed in for 5 hours. I can’t tell them apart.

Also NOTE: the Poly thread on store-bought onesies does not dye along with the fabric, which is a nice touch! I love the contrasted stitching look!
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4. Drain and rinse fabric
When your fabric is the desired color, pour the dye/water down the drain. Rinse each piece there in your sink. No need to be thorough. It will be get another wash in your washing machine.
Ring everything out and set it all in a bowl. You don’t want anything dripping on your floor as you walk to the laundry room!

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5. Wash and dry fabric in a machine
Wash your dyed fabric on the Smallest Load setting with soap. When you’re done, dry it in a dryer. And….you’re done!

Washing in the future: If you’re nervous that not all the dye got out, you can wash them again (I usually only wash once). And when you wash your dyed fabrics in the future, continue to wash them with like-colors. I have incorporated Owen’s dyed t-shirts into our normal laundry routine and haven’t had any problems. If you’re worried though, keep them separate.
If the color isn’t exactly what you hoped for, dye it again!
Or add a little Freezer Paper Stencil on top:

And you have the perfect Baby Gift! Enjoy your colorful life.

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{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Merry Edwards February 4, 2012 at 7:23 am

Thanks for the info I want to dye some jeans but just recently bought a front loader washing machine, plus I hate cleaning the mess it leaves in the washer.

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2 Valerie March 6, 2012 at 11:25 am

Thank you so much for this tutorial on dyeing. I love the way you take something that looks hard or intimidating and make it easy to do. I am actually excited to dye my first onsie. You are an inspiration!

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3 Valerie March 11, 2012 at 1:47 am

Well, I dyed my first onsie, a shirt for my daughter, a long sleeve onsie for the baby and I think I needed to leave it in the dye longer than 2 hours. After rinsing until clear, like you mentioned, then I washed and dried them and noticed white clouds of places that didn’t get enough dye. I only had a wooden spoon to use, no gloves…..too excited to dye! I am going to do it again. It doesn’t look too bad, but I made my daughter a cute orange and yellow simple skirt (your tutorial) and I dyed a white shirt orange and its only noticeable on the elbow. She look so darling. I even made her a summer scarf (again, your tutorial) to match he’d skirt. I cant thank you enough for your inspiration, making things easy, and so much fun.

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4 Laura J. March 21, 2012 at 9:37 am

The first commenter noted a mess in the washer. Should I be concerned with what will happen to the inside of my washing machine? Or will rinsing until the water runs clear avoid that? Also– I liked that original green! Would’ve been cute paired with pink!

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5 Dana March 21, 2012 at 10:26 am

I never do it in my washer but in a bowl in the sink. So check the instructions on your dye packet for washing machine tips. It might be a good idea to run a cycle when you’re done to make sure it’s clean. Of course that requires using more water and I hate wasting water here in TX since we’re in a drought, so that’s why I use my bowl :).

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6 Jennifer D March 22, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Hi Dana! Great tutorial. Can I use a metal bowl? That’s all I have that’s big enough for a gauze blankie. Also, do you think this would be the easiest way to make a set of play silks for a baby? Your link to Dharma reminded me I’ve always wanted to try that. Any suggestions? Thanks. And congrats on that lovely new baby!

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7 Chuck March 24, 2012 at 8:50 am

The custom color guide at the Rit website is now at: http://www.ritdye.com/colorit_color_formula_guide

I have dyed shirts and I’m a guy. It’s easy in a top-loading machine. Use the liquid type, soak the fabric thoroughly first, then follow the instructions. To clean out the washer later, just run it on “full capacity” with hot water and detergent and it will clean it out. I had a bunch of boring white shirts for a former job and now have some interesting colored shirts.

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8 Allie H April 5, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Hi Dana! Great tutorial. I noticed that you rinse your clothes in and imagine you must of course dump the water down what looks to me to be a stainless steel kitchen sink…what detergent/cleaning products have you used to keep the sink clean after your projects? Thanks in advance! To everyone else asking about the washer method I think RIT does sell some after-dye cleaning powder or liquid that you can add to the cycle you run after you do your clothes in the washer…if not look into Dharma fabrics and dyes company-I’m sure they have something along those lines, otherwise I imagine you could probably run a good old vinegar/bleach or baking soda rinse?

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9 Jessica April 16, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Yes. Just the idea I needed for my skin-colored sweater. It will now be dyed dark brown. Thanks for sharing!

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10 Libbie S June 23, 2012 at 10:45 am

Thanks for the great tutorial! I’ve been wanting to try dyeing some clothes for awhile but hated the idea of using my washing machine. I have one question. Does the finished item have to be machine dried? I don’t have a dryer and was wondering if the heating from a dryer helped in setting the dye or if it’s just a matter of convenience. Cheers! :-)

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11 Jude November 23, 2013 at 5:24 pm

The dryer is simply more convenient. I first dyed clothes years ago and have done so off and on when I bought a nice item second hand that I love except for the colour so have lots of experience. Recently, I bought an ugly white cord macrame belt that I took apart, washed and dyed to make a Celtic knot bracelet. Just hung the cord over a warm spot to air dry and it’s fine.

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12 Eugenia Brady July 10, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Thanks much! I like tutorials. It’s a great help to me.

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13 J July 16, 2012 at 5:28 pm

How do you get rid of the dye? Will it hurt grass or soil?

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14 Kathleen August 2, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Great tutorial. I have been wanting to dye some pants more or less back to their original color. I have been afraid that the dye would bleed on me. Is it actually set after washing. I suppose you wouldn’t put it on your baby if it did. But I am still wondering.

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15 Jovonna September 19, 2012 at 12:08 am

I just bought some liquid dye by RIT from AC Moore and the woman who worked there said she did exactly what you did, but she said the best way to keep the color is to add heat to it before putting it thru the washing machine. She suggested let it dry and then iron it, then wash it and it will probably still bleed a little, but it will help with the color. I will try it and see! Thanks for the tutorial.

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16 Amanda Havens September 21, 2012 at 2:55 am

I dyed a bunch of stuff-cloth diapers, a Moby wrap, ect.-a while back. I loved how they turned out but they continue to bleed after tons of rinsing (half an hour rinsing?) and several wash cycles in my machine. It’s really frustrating.

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17 Steffie September 24, 2012 at 2:58 pm

To permanently set color after dyeing, use a vinegar soak. Wash and dry after the dye job is done. Then soak the item in a 50/50 mix of water and white vinegar overnight. I just use a small trashcan, and leave it in the tub. Rinse clear (see why the tub?), wash and dry as normal, and add into the normal laundry cycles like store bought. It’ll never bleed. Or fade. My school and sports uniforms always looked like new at the end of the year. I use this on stuff from the store, too.

I know this is kinda late to the game, but helpful enough to add anyway.

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18 jennifer July 28, 2013 at 9:04 pm

thanks for the tip! I’ll have to try this.

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19 Sarah September 25, 2012 at 12:38 am

I love your blog! Thanks for this! I just used red RIT powder to dye a onesie for my soon-to-be newborn’s Robin Halloween costume (big brother will be Batman). I have a white sink in a rental, so I lined it with tin foil before I started, then cleaned stray splashes with a Method brand counter top cleaner when I was finished (I didn’t want to use bleach as recommended on the package, being pregnant), and I have no red stains.

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20 Jude November 23, 2013 at 5:27 pm

You could also put the dye and water in one of the biggest sized heavy duty zip lock bags (make sure there’s no leaks first) and put the bag in a plastic basin or bowl. It’s easy to agitate by just moving the bag around.

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21 Beth Moser-Chang October 16, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Thank you so much for this!! I am 33 weeks pregnant and washed all of my baby boys clothes together and turned all the white ones pink! I mean really, what was I thinking?? Now he will have brown, green and blue clothes. I actually like them better. So maybe I can call it a happy accident!

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22 Abby Smith October 25, 2012 at 11:40 am

Were you worried your onesie was going to be too brown? Mine is sitting in the water right now and it looks black. It’s only been in about ten minutes… just worried if I leave it in too long it’ll be black!!

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23 Amanda Joy December 12, 2012 at 10:12 am

Hey can you dye a sweater? in the washing machine??

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24 artsy December 26, 2012 at 1:06 pm

as much as this helped im still stuck im doing a science fair project on which fabrics absorb and retain dye best?

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25 frodo December 28, 2012 at 11:44 am

The more porous the fabric, the easier it will take to the dye – cotton soaks up dye much better than most synthetic fabrics. Just make sure to wash whatever it is you are dying first, so that way you can avoid any problems with fabric shrink afterward

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26 artsy December 26, 2012 at 7:14 pm

how well do synthetic fabrics accept dye?andhow well do natural fabrics accept dye?

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27 Jude November 23, 2013 at 5:28 pm

It’s a science project so experiment and keep track of the results. That’s what science projects are all about!

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28 artsy December 27, 2012 at 1:32 pm

help

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29 artsy December 28, 2012 at 11:41 am

anyone

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30 heather December 28, 2012 at 11:22 pm

I was thinking about doing this to revamp my fadded black t-shirts and clothes. i hope it works!

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31 frodo December 30, 2012 at 12:18 pm

-_-

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32 A'lies January 16, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Hi Dana

Just *LOVE* your blog… I come here almost every day… Unfortunatly I have 2 left hands … but I’m willing to give it a go…

Here in Belgium I only find the procion and dylon dye…
the instruction sais that I should dry it in the oven…
or is a dryer enough …

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33 shane darby February 3, 2013 at 7:21 am

hey here peoe How easy is it to dye green in to a nice red is it possible?

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34 Jude November 23, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Depending on what the fabric is so check first but Rit and Tintex both make a powder that’s dissolved like dye and used to remove the colour first before dyeing. It’s particularly meant for dyeing something green to red (red and green make brown) or if there’s a pattern to the fabric and a solid colour is what the person wants – not a different coloured pattern instead.

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35 Carla February 3, 2013 at 2:56 pm

You made dying something I would try! After reading the directions on the Rit bottle I felt overwhelmed and thought it would be a mess. You step by step easy directions allowed me to dye items have wanted to dye for months. Thank you so much!

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36 marla February 4, 2013 at 6:33 pm

I’ve been looking/hoping for instructions like this! Thanks so much! I get it now. :o)

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37 D2G February 8, 2013 at 8:38 pm

This was AWESOME!! I combined instructions for setting the dye by using the vinegar soak after washing/drying the dyed garment and then washing/drying again and then ironing. The garment looks great and does not bleed at all! Thanks for the tips to actually dyeing, it was easy using your step by step instructions.

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38 Tammy March 15, 2013 at 11:24 am

Hi Dana I want to dye my old curtains & they are 100% polyester, they are a light gold & want to dye them grey. I was going to use the color remover first then the dye color but i noticed on the package not recommended for polyester do u think it will work. Any suggestions would be appreciated
Thank you,
Tammy

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39 SHondra April 22, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Weird question perhaps but I am interested in dyeing a beco infant carrier. It has a flower print on it and the rest of the fabric is purple. I want to dye it more of a neutral color (black or brown) since a baby boy will be in it:) is that possible to do without destroying the print totally or will it simply turn the entire piece the dyed color? If u google beco carrier Nathalie print u can see what I mean.
Thanks :)

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40 Krissy June 8, 2013 at 11:22 pm

I have the exact same carrier and the same question! I was thinking of trying blue dye first to see if it would work. Leg me know if it works for you!

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41 Krissy June 8, 2013 at 11:22 pm

I have the exact same carrier and the same question! I was thinking of trying blue dye first to see if it would work. Let me know if it works for you!

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42 Anamika May 23, 2013 at 6:41 am

Hi,
This is simple and easy to understand.

Am from India. Wanted to learn so many things but classes are expensive. Having a great time getting my feet wet, now with free tutes from all over the world. Saving everything i like… don’t know if I’d be able to finish them all in this lifetime though !

Thanks again dear… you made my day… my 7 year old son has quite a few tees that he’s bored of… will dye one to begin with.. am sure he’s going to love it!

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43 tasneem June 16, 2013 at 4:03 am

thanks a lot i was so nervous before .but now i am clear minded

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44 candy June 17, 2013 at 9:30 pm

I have a funny story. I have been looking for a pale pink sweater to wear to a wedding in a few weeks, but couldn’t find one the right shade. So I bought an inexpensive white one and decided to dye it. I finally got up my courage after reading this blog/tutorial. I wanted it to be very pale so I only added 1/4 cup of dye to the hot water. I put the sweater in the dye and it immediately turned the color I wanted. I left it in the water to soak for a little while longer–got distracted watching TV and when I looked down there is a dark pink edge all around the bottom of the sweater. It is as even as if it was meant to be that way. It is going to be so cute! Thanks for the inspiration!

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45 Jude November 23, 2013 at 5:34 pm

I had something similar happen. Had an off gold colour cotton blouse (really yucky colour) that I wanted to make a darker forest green. So I was going to use a emerald green to get the colour I wanted. The colour turned out great but the thread didn’t take (probably polyester thread) and the unusual top stitching stayed that gold colour. It really made the blouse special and people commented on the unusual stitching!

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46 Charlotte June 23, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Hi I have an old bridesmaid dress that is an olive green colour and wanted to dye it a deep Cadbury purple colour to wear for a party. Can anyone tell me if this will work or will the colours clash and make something horrid? I’ve never dyed anything before. Thanks x

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47 Karen July 15, 2013 at 6:52 pm

So excited to try this project. Question.. how do you keep the white tag of the onsie on the outside near the snaps on the bottom to stay a nice white color?

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48 Sarah September 8, 2013 at 4:54 am

Hello
I want to dye a sofa. Has anyone tried to sponge/brush/spray dye on upholstery with any success? It is big and difficult to cover and very very useful but gets lots of use and has faded with the sun. Could I use cold water dye and a soda ash fixer? Please help!

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49 Sheryll & Critters. September 24, 2013 at 10:31 am

I too am wondering about dying a sofa by brushing it on?

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50 Wendy October 21, 2013 at 12:55 pm

I dye fabric in my stainless steel stock pot and as i like strong colours, i leave the fabric in the dye bath overnight to ensure a good strong colour. The next day i rinse the fabric in cold water to which i have added vinegar to set the dye. From there i wash in the washer and carry on with the project.

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51 Liz November 6, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Just curious, have you ever dyed any clothes that have a faded color bleach mark on them. I have a light green shirt with a spot that faded probably from contact with bleach, and I was wondering if I could dye it black and get a consistent color in that spot. What do you think?

Thanks for you tutorial. I was really glad to know I didn’t have to use my washing machine or boiling water.

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52 Jude November 23, 2013 at 5:39 pm

The bleach spot will still show but won’t be as noticeable. Black is actually one of the hardest colours for home dyers to achieve as almost all black fabrics are a dark DARK colour like blue or green. Seems only commercial businesses get the black that’s wanted. You could try using a dye bath made twice as strong and leave it simmer on a big pot on the stove. The hotter the water, the better the dye takes. Might be a good idea to add pickling salt (non-iodized) to help set the colour better too.

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53 Bonnie November 11, 2013 at 10:41 pm

Hello, I have a twin size blanket/quilt type that is Olive
Green on one side white on the other. Can I dye it in a bathtub? Would the bath clean up? I would like to dye it a dark Grey or dark pink.
Thanks

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54 Jude November 23, 2013 at 5:47 pm

I made the mistake when I first started to dye clothes (decades back) of not putting the clothing in a container that was big enough to easily agitate it in the dye. Some parts of the jacket was in better contact with the dye and in other places, the fabric was a bit too bunched up although it didn’t seem like it at the time. The results were streaky and blotchy.

If I were you, I’d either take the quilt to a dry cleaner that also dyes fabrics (or can send it off to get dyed) or use your washing machine for something that big. I’ve used my washer often for dyeing for big jobs or lots of clothes dyed to match. It’s not hard to run hot water, detergent and some bleach through the washer after to clean it up. The advantage of using a washer is it agitates the fabric for you. I just make sure to be home and run the same dye batch through the wash (agitating) cycle over and over.

I used the hottest water possible and even boiled up a couple of big pots of water to add making it super-hot.

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55 sonshine November 28, 2013 at 7:58 am

I have a huge tablecloth made of a heavy cotton weave that is too royal blue to
be comfortable with, and is ‘dying’ to turn a deep navy color, almost black. I’ll
try 2 pkgs of navy and a pkg of black, mixed together, and agitate it in an old
bathtub. It was somewhat costly but the bright blue doesn’t look right with my
‘flow’ blue and white dinnerware — so ….. i’ll be brave and go for the challenge, thanks to the tutorial, and prayer.

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56 Chris December 9, 2013 at 11:37 pm

I’m going to be dyeing a stuffed animal for my daughter but I think I only want to dye part of it. Any suggestions as to how I might cover the portion I don’t want to dye?

Thanks

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57 yvonne January 2, 2014 at 9:35 pm

I have a white western shirt that has silver sticking designs on it. Made by roar. It also has rhinestone on it. It’s 65% Cotton and 32% Nylon and 3% spandex. I need it to be black for family pictures. It’s the only shirt I have found that I want to wear. Please any advice if I shud dye it or not??? Will these fabrics dye ?

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58 Ben February 24, 2014 at 2:03 pm

I have several pairs of black work pants which have brown spots from bleach on them. Can I die the pants or do something just to those spots to make them not noticeable?

Thanks,
Ben

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