Do you dye fabrics and clothes? And if so, what’s your success rate?
I’m a DIY dyer from way back. I have a terrible habit of buying clothes on sale that are either the wrong size (I’ll adjust it!) or the wrong colour (I’ll dye it!), so I have a few war stories involving bubbling brews of all colours, and the varied results that emerge from the pot. In short – I’ve found my home dyeing to be hit and miss. Okay – more miss than hit.
Among the scattering of successes I’ve had over the years, the following failures have left me a little scarred:
- I re-dyed a pair of dark denim jeans to bring them back to life (as they say in the mags). I then sat on my mum’s French Provincial-inspired buttercup yellow sofa and ‘bled’ indigo dye onto it. The horror.
- I took a beloved and precious cream silk blouse and dyed it eggshell blue. Little did I know the blouse had deodorant stains under the arms, which turned an entirely different, lighter shade of blue.
- I naturally dyed a white sundress using raspberries, following a recipe I found online. I spent dozens of dollars on punnets of berries, only to end up with a pale, murky pink dress that looked like it had accidentally gone through a coloured wash.
- I’ve attempted to dye and re-dye fabrics black many times, but I suspect it may be almost impossible to achieve a true, deep, glossy black with home dye. Prove me wrong. Please. Mine invariably end up flat and dull, with donkey grey undertones.
Based on these experiences, my advice when approaching a dyeing project is to hope for the best – and expect the worst. And be prepared to walk away from the garment or fabric if it all goes to hell on your stovetop.
With this mantra in my mind, I took on this patterned white Revelry by Lisa Congdon cotton cloth with one of the new generation of machine wash dyes, which I’d heard were stronger and more reliable than the old powders. I love the delicate print and the quality of the fabric, but wasn’t sure I’d get much wear out of anything so white, so I doused it in iDye’s gunmetal.
The process was super easy – just dissolve the dye pellet in a jug of hot water and then tip into the washing machine with the fabric. And in a rare happy ending, I’m delighted with the result – an even colour with good saturation that’s held fast after many washes.
The only surprise in the whole process (apart from the utter shock that it actually worked) was the colour, which is more a deep navy than a gunmetal. Luckily I like it more – turns out serendipity is a better colourist than me! An added bonus was discovering little twin metallic bronze lines on the fabric pattern that were lost on the white, but popped to the front once it was dyed.
Once the fabric was darkened, it screamed ‘work shirt’. I chose Grainline’s iconic Archer, my first ever shirt project. Shirts seem to be a bit of a confidence hurdle in the history of many a home sewer, but I’m happy to say I found it easier than expected – it just has way more pattern steps than your average top. However, the Grainline instructions are broken down into clear and achievable steps, and the diagrams are logical and very easy to follow. The collar insertions was probably the step I had to stare at the longest – but it all makes sense eventually. There’s a sewalong on the Grainline site if you get really stuck.
The only adjustment I made to the pattern was to leave off the front pockets. And in terms of sizing – it’s fairly generous so if you’re in between sizes I’d choose the size down. The vintage buttons were another lucky accident – I’d bought a box of them from a Phillips Shirt Factory sale, and they turned up as a good match for the dyed fabric.
My final advice from my first visit to the world of shirts is to keep the top stitching neater than normal – as you can see from these photos, it’s definitely on show on a shirt. I was lucky to have my one ‘qualified’ sewing friend beside me when I made it, and she kept me on the straight and narrow (pardon the pun) by urging me to ‘keep it closer to the edge’. I give her full credit for the neat, close stitch!
And my parting piece of advice for the home dyer? Wear gloves. And celebrate the wins!