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A beginner's guide to dyeing fabric

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

Years ago I attempted dying a garment using my washing machine and it turned out awful.

The color was all wrong and nothing like I had intended it to be. I was determined that this time I was going to slow down, do my research, and get it right!

One of my favorite hobbies is op-shopping. I love the thrill of the hunt and all the possibilities of finding little gems hidden amongst the piles of clothing. On this fateful day I went to my favorite American Red Cross op-shop and found this amazing linen jumpsuit. For those in Australia the brand was JAG and it was brand-new with tags.

Funny side story... I was so excited when I went into this shop and had so many clothes over my arms the manager thought I was stealing and had someone follow me around while I was in the store. They then took all the clothes to the back room and only allowed me to try on three at a time. Apparently, my enthusiasm for buying second hand didn't translate very well.

Once I got home and tried on my amazing jumpsuit in natural light, I was a bit Meh about the beige. I thought it would be a great basic in my wardrobe, but I realised that it's just not something I would wear. Then the idea struck me that it would be the PERFECT piece to practice dyeing. It is 100% linen and should soak up the color nicely.

STEP 1: Finding a Color

I started by finding my color. I knew I wanted a dark purple or plum color so I ended up purchasing RIT dye in the color Eggplant and used the entire bottle. I later found RIT's color formula so that I could mix colors to create the perfect color I was after. I may try this next time.

When researching, I read that white or off white fabrics as the base are going to get you as close to your desired color as possible. You can also always go darker than the base fabric, but never lighter. Just a few things to keep in mind when you are selecting colors and thinking about what you want to achieve.

I would highly recommend testing a swatch of your fabric if you are dying fabric to make something. Cut multiple pieces and leave them in for varying times and check to see how the color reacts.

STEP 2: Washing your fabric/garment

Before you start the process of dying you want to make sure that your fabric or garment is washed with mild detergent and no fabric softener. This will remove any finishes that were previously on the fabric.

STEP 3: Gather Supplies

You will need:

  • Bucket or sink. I used a plastic tote that fit into my sink.

  • Gloves. I didn't have gloves so I used plastic baggies.

  • Kettle

  • Dye

  • Salt (if working with Cotton, Rayon, or Linen)

  • Metal Spoon

  • Paper towels or plastic to protect surrounding areas

  • Measuring cup

  • They also recommend their Dye-fixative, but I couldn't find that anywhere. Would probably be good to have to seal the color in so it doesn't fade in washes later.

STEP 4: Prepare the WATER

I filled up the bucket with hot tap water first and filled the rest of the way with boiling kettle water.

This is what the RIT website recommends for amount of water and temp: "Fill a plastic container or stainless steel sink with enough water for the fabric to move freely. We recommend using three gallons of water for every pound of fabric. The water should ideally be 140ºF. If tap water is not hot enough, heat water on the stove and add to the dyebath."

I probably could have made the water a tad hotter, but I felt confident that it was hot enough.

I then added a cup of salt. Apparently this helps enrich the color of the dye. You can also add 1 teaspoon of laundry detergent to help with even dying. I didn't do this, but if it could help it may be worth trying.

Lastly, I added the entire bottle of dye. Based on the weight of my fabric and the amount of water I had, I really only needed half the bottle, but decided to go all the way. I wanted the richest, deepest color possible and wasn't planning on skimping with the dye.

Stir all of this together with a metal spoon until it is well mixed.

STEP 5: Add your Garment

Fully submerge your damp fabric/garment into the dye bath. Continue pushing down and agitating it so that every piece is completely covered. I did this for about 10 mins straight because I wanted an even color and didn't want any spots to get more dye than the others.

I then set myself a timer and came back every 5 min to agitate, stir and flip over the garment. I left the jumpsuit in the dyebath for a little over 30min.

Make sure you are wearing gloves! I didn't have any on hand so I used plastic baggies and they didn't hold up too well to the heat and the agitating. My hands were somewhat protected, but gloves are definitely the way to go next time.

STEP 6: Rinse and Dry

Once you have soaked your fabric for the allotted time, it is time to rinse. If you were planning to add the color fixative, you would do that at the end, before you rinse.

Rinse your fabric until the water runs clear. This part takes FOREVER!!! I got over it, so I threw it in the washing machine on a 15min rinse cycle and that was perfect.

After the rinse cycle, I ran the garment under cold water one more time to double check that all the dye was really out. I then popped it into the dryer.

Once I pulled it out of the dryer, I put it on immediately. I was so pleased with how it turned out and love it so much more now that it is a vibrant fun color. I was wanting a slightly more muted purple, like the picture above when it was wet, so I will have to keep that in mind next time I decide to dye something.

I am already out on the hunt for more garments to dye. I can finally look in the white and beige section at the op-shops in hopes of finding something fun to dye. I really want to try dip dying next to see if I can create an ombre effect.

What has been your experience with dying? Have you tried natural dyes before? I am keen to try, but wanted to start with something easy first.

Send me your questions about dying, and I will try my best to answer them. Hope this little tutorial has helped and inspired you to give this technique a try.


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