Changing Your Clothes

Shopping, Sewing, Upcycling, Repairing: Make the most of your clothes!


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If At First You Don’t Succeed… Dye, Dye Again

I’ve written several posts already about dyeing clothes, and more recently, about dyeing yarn. Now I want to focus on a process that has become increasingly intriguing to me: overdyeing!

What, you ask, is this overdyeing of which I speak? It’s simply dyeing something that has already been dyed. Yep, that’s it. So if you’ve dyed your blue jeans (or not so much blue as dirty-wash ones like mine, below), you’ve done an overdye job! Today’s post will focus mainly on overdyeing yarn, but all the basic concepts apply equally to garments.*

he Really Big Dramatic Reveal

Remember this?

Here’s a rundown of my process:

1. Ask yourself: Do I love the color it already is? If no, and if it’s not a dark color already, it’s an overdye candidate. (If yes, put that garment on right now and enjoy it!)

Tip: It may sound incredibly obvious, but the lighter your garment’s original color is, the more options you have, color-wise, for overdyeing. If it’s a dark color, any overdyeing you do will have a more subtle result; this can be really amazing, e.g. overdyeing navy blue with black, but still subtle.

2. Ask yourself: What color do I want it to be?

Tip: So far, in my dyeing experience, I’d say you’ll get the most predictable results by dyeing your garment in a darker shade of its original color. Example: The pale pink jacket I’m getting ready to overdye* is going to become (I hope) an ombré of deep red to medium-deep pink—staying in the same color family as the original hue.

3. Make an educated guess about the dye color you’ll need in order to achieve this new color.

Tip: You’ll have to take the original color into account, because it will blend with your dye color to create a unique new hue (unless your garment starts out white, in which case, technically, you’re dyeing, not overdyeing). For example, if you start with a pale blue shirt, and you want it to be a deep plum color, adding dark red dye to the blue shirt may get better results than purple dye. (For some color theory basics, see this post.)

4. Gather your materials: garment, test garment or fabric swatches, dye.

Tip: Other items needed for dyeing will be listed on your dye package, and will vary according to the fiber content of the fabric you’re dyeing; vinegar, for example, is generally needed when dyeing wool.

Another tip: There are a lot of factors to take into account, such as the fiber content, that can (and most likely will) affect your results. Ideally, you’d experiment with fabric swatches, but this is not always possible; an alternative would be to pick up a thrift-shop garment in the same fiber and color as your overdye-candidate garment, and use the inexpensive version to test your color theory. This part of the process has the added advantage of familiarizing yourself with the dye process itself, which gives you confidence to move on to dyeing your original garment.

5. Dye!

Tip: Again, très obvious: you really do need to follow the dye instructions very carefully, especially regarding safety. The Rit dye company has some useful tutorials here, and they also have a PDF with over 500 color recipes here!

How about some examples of overdyeing yarn? Yes, let’s do that. In my short but colorful history with dyeing yarn, I’ve had some amazing successes, but also some experiences ranging from “meh, I’m just not crazy about the color” to epic failures (one of these is coming soon to a blog post near you). Thankfully, unless you’ve dyed your yarn black, it’s almost always possible to give your ugly yarn a new life! To wit:

My very first overdye experience was with this merino/cashmere blend. The minty-green is not bad, it just looked a bit… flat.

Mint yarn before overdyeing

Mint yarn before overdyeing. On the right is the yarn after it was completely dry, showing how much lighter results can be than when the yarn is in the dye bath. (I had used the yogurt container to rinse measuring spoons, my gloves, etc., so the color of this water was constantly changing. For some reason, I thought I’d see what would happen if I dunked some yarn in it. Et voilà.)

Here, I dipped the mint yarn into a fairly diluted deep purple, hoping for something close to lavender.

After the lavender dip.

After the lavender dip. At left, I’m dipping most of the mint skein in the purple dye, using a clear paintbrush to hold the top of the skein; I deliberately kept this little part of the skein out of the dye, which resulted in the brighter minty spots in the finished skein (right).

Tip: This project gave me my first inkling of the transparent nature of dyes; if you look really closely at the finished overdyed skein (above, at right), you can see a little of the original mint green peeking through the lavender, giving the skein an overall watercolor-y character that I love. P.S. If you want all the sexy details about this particular skein (and my other yarns), they’re here in my Etsy shop.

Finally, a very recent example: the Emerald skeins I was dyeing for this month’s Birthstone Collection yarns. This was interesting. I dyed a skein of mohair/wool/nylon at the same time as a skein of 100% nylon ribbon (nylon and animal fibers both use the same kind of dye), and got quite different results, as shown in these swatches:

Emerald swatches.

Emerald swatches. The nylon ribbon (left) took the dye as I had hoped, but the mohair blend (right) looks like solid green, with a few turquoise-y spots. What’s a dyer to do?

Fortunately, the mohair skein was large enough to divide into 3 good-sized skeins. So I took 2 of these incredibly green skeins and overdyed each in a separate bath, hoping to achieve an ombré color sequence between the 3 skeins (I decided to leave 1 skein as it was after the first go-round). Here’s the result:

Ombré Emerald mohair set

Ombré Emerald mohair set of skeins. Skein 1 is the color from the original dye process; Skein 2 was overdyed with turquoise and sapphire blues, and Skein 3 resulted from the addition of a deeper blue and a little black. Success! (You can find this yarn in my Etsy shop here, and the ribbon yarn is here.)

Again, most garments that you dye will actually be overdyed (unless they start out white), so even though my examples focus mainly on overdyeing yarn, the same general process still applies to dyeing clothes. Once you get over your normal, basic fear of permanently ruining whatever you’re dyeing, I think you’ll really enjoy the process of changing your clothes with overdyeing— and the one-of-a-kind results!

* I have a pale pink cotton eyelet trench coat that I’ve had for years, but which needs a facelift (is that face lift?), so that’s next on my overdyeing project/post list. Okay, that might be after I dye some more yarn. Stay tuned!

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Resolution 2014: My New Dye-It Regime

After my unplanned and extended blogging sabbatical, I’m back (!), with a fabulous new project: Dyeing! Yes, you’re right, I’ve written about dyeing my jeans, among other things, but at the risk of using Famous Last Words… this time it’s different.

Aside: Ironically, following my last post (In Re-Covery: The Great Pillow Makeover!), I spent the next several weeks slowly recovering from a serious illness. For a while, I couldn’t even read, let alone write, but when I could, I started studying about the dyeing process, which progressed rapidly into actual experiments, to the extent that I now resemble not so much a color enthusiast as a mad scientist. Think Pantone inadvertently wanders into Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory. End of aside.

Hand-painted skeins

Two of my recently-produced skeins, hand-painted at the same time, with exactly the same colors and heat-processing. The one in front is 100% nylon, and the larger one in back is a mohair/wool/nylon blend*. You can immediately see how differently the fibers absorb the dye; the shininess of the smaller skein also affects the way the colors are perceived, versus the softer, slightly matte effect of the mohair blend. Is it any wonder that I’m so fascinated? (Click on the photo to see these skeins, and lots more, in my Etsy shop.)

How, you ask, is it different? Primarily because now, instead of simply dumping a box of dye into the sink and throwing my hapless jeans into it along with a cavalier, come-what-may attitude, I’ve actually taken some time to learn about the dyeing process. (Great concept, right?) And I think it’s about time I pass what I’m learning on to you, particularly because, as long as I’ve worked with fibers, fabrics, yarns, and colors, most of what I will be sharing with you here is, quite surprisingly, new information to me.

Going back to the beginning of my learning process (less than 4 weeks ago!), the first revelation was about the different types of dyes, and what each type is used for, thus:

  1. Acid dyes
  2. Fiber-reactive dyes
  3. Natural dyes
  4. Union dyes

Note: There are other dye types out there, such as a specialized formula that’s used for leather and other skins, but for now, I’m just going to focus on these 4, since they’re the most widely available for the casual user, and also the most commonly used for fibers, fabrics, clothing, and accessories.

Here are brief summaries what I’ve learned about these four dye types:

  1. Acid dyes. Contrary to what this term conjures up (nightmare visions of caustic chemicals burning skin off my hands, but maybe that’s just me), these dyes do not actually contain acid; acid, usually in the form of either vinegar or citric acid, is added during the dyeing process, which causes the pigment (color) to bond with the fiber. (Also contrary to the implied harshness: when I’ve tested my dye mixtures with pH test strips, I’ve found that they are not any more acidic than your average vinaigrette. Which we eat.) Acid dyes are used to dye protein fibers (animal fibers: wool, alpaca, silk, mohair, angora, camel hair, etc.) and somewhat surprisingly, nylon.
  2. Fiber-reactive dyes. Unlike acid dyes, these dyes require alkalinity to bond pigment to fiber; soda ash is commonly added to the dye bath to accomplish this part of the process. Fiber-reactive dyes are used for plant-based fibers (cotton, linen, rayon, bamboo, etc.).
  3. Natural dyes. Despite the rather benign association we have with the word “natural”, what I’ve read about using natural dyes is that, while the material used for the color (flowers, roots, etc.) may not be harmful in itself, the dyeing process requires use of mordants, which are the fixatives that bond the color to the fiber— and many commonly-used mordants have been taken off the market because of unacceptable toxicity levels. Natural dyes can be used with a wide variety of animal-based and plant-based fibers; the mordants required will vary depending on the fiber.
  4. Union dyes. Rit dyes, along with others commonly found in craft stores these days, are usually union dyes; the term refers to the dye formula containing both acid and fiber-reactive pigments, so you can successfully dye either animal-based or plant-based fibers (or both at the same time); however, if you’re dyeing, say, cotton jeans, the fiber-reactive part of a union dye is the only part that will bond with the cotton fiber, leaving a lot of leftover dye.

Please understand that I’m not trying to encourage or discourage using any of the above types of dyes; I’m simply pointing out that, in order to make an informed decision about what type is appropriate, it’s good to know not only the uses for each, but also the advantages and disadvantages of each. I could probably fill a year’s worth of blog posts just exploring these areas in more depth, relative to all of these four dye types, but for now, I’m going to concentrate on acid dyes***, since that’s what I’ve been using up to this point.

Next time, I’ll plunge into the exciting world o’ color, with maybe a little basic color theory, more about the acid-dye process, and a lot of pretty pictures. Oh, speaking of which, here’s a look at the results of my very first day of dyeing, including lots of mini-skeins, and a few full-size ones:

My first color tests!

My first color tests! I’m so glad I decided to start with Superwash wool** mini-skeins (10 yards each) to test the dye colors, including with various levels of dilution. And yes, that is my bathtub. (The full-size skeins, all 100% wool, are now available in my Etsy shop. The red color is called Cardinal; the blue-green ones are Pacific. Click on the photo to see them, along with lots more!)

Coming up on CYC: Because this has become an ongoing research project, you can expect many more posts on the general topic of dyeing here at Changing Your Clothes (and you can also find these posts and much more on my color-centric blog, a Musing). I do think this subject is relevant to CYC, since dyeing is one of the simplest ways to change your clothes. And it certainly can’t hurt to learn more about how your clothes (and the yarns, fabrics, etc., thereof) are produced.

Also, I think I should tell you that the aforementioned future CYC dyeing-related posts will most likely be heavy on the puns. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

*This lovely mohair/wool/nylon yarn is available (undyed) at Dharma Trading Company. (The link will take you to the listings of all their undyed yarns; this mohair is Yarn #6 Toaga. As of 2/13/14, it says it is temporarily sold out.)

**The Superwash wool yarn I’m using for my mini-skeins is also available (undyed) at Dharma Trading Company. (The link will take you to the listings of all their undyed yarns; this wool is Yarn #39 Kona Worsted.)

***The acid dyes I’m using are also from Dharma Trading Company, their own brand of dyes; their extensive selection also includes other brands. (The link will take you to the page for Dharma’s acid dyes.)


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Thrift-Shop Thursday: The Online Experience

I was thinking this week about how lucky I am to live near so many fantastic thrift shops, when it suddenly occurred to me to wonder about those of you who don’t. Maybe you live in a rural area, or a residential-only suburb, or perhaps it’s physically difficult to get around. Whatever the issue is, what can you do to feel the thrift-shopping thrill?

What about bargain-hunting online? Okay, maybe clicking and typing is not as visceral an experience as riffling through rack after rack in a thrift or consignment shop, but it’s always exciting to find something beautiful/unique/inspiring— especially when it’s discounted!

So where do you start? There are the usual big-name thrifty suspects, like eBay and Amazon, each with their bargain specialties. On eBay, check out their Daily Deals page; today they’re featuring electronic-related items (including 20% off an iTunes gift card). eBay is also a wonderful source for vintage clothing and collectibles, among many other categories. Personally, I’ve used eBay mostly for buying and selling yarn, fabric, and patterns; there are amazing bargains to be found in these categories.

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Mix It Up 3: Using Yarn Grab Bags

A couple of days ago, in an effort to be creative with “orphan” balls of yarn, I started putting them together into grab bags I call “Fab Five Plus“: 5 different balls of yarn, all in the same color family, along with a coordinating hand-painted silk ribbon (that’s the “Plus”). Here’s one example:

Fab Five Plus in Citrus

Fab Five Plus in Citrus: 5 different yarns, plus coordinating silk ribbon!

Note: This Fab Five Plus collection is currently up for grabs (pardon the expression) in an eBay auction, ending 1/17/13; click here to go directly to that page. This link will most likely not work after the auction ends.)

This morning, I got this question from a lady who has placed bids on some of my Fab Fives: “Do you have a recommendation for a pattern for this combo?”

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Special Favors

2012. What a year! Looking back now, I think primarily about 2 events in my life: The first was when my daughter very nearly died of a sudden, total liver failure (still inexplicable), and what has happened since that terrible time in early March. The second was the official start of my blogging life, at the very end of July.

These seem totally unrelated, don’t they? I suppose they are, in most ways, but here’s where they come together for me: I am most profoundly grateful for both experiences. Continue reading


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Changing Prices: Bargains on unique Knittique samples !

Here’s a last-minute gift idea, especially for that impossible-to-buy-for woman: a one-of-a-kind Knittique sample! These are the pieces I design and make in the process of creating my original knitwear patterns for Knittique; each is made with 1 or more of my own Scraplet Skeins, which are one-of-a-kind skeins I create by hand-tying multiple strands of yarn together to form a color sequence within each skein. (The skeins and patterns are also available in Knittique’s Etsy shop.)

Included in my sample sale collection are capelets, wraps, and pillow covers, and right now, I’m adding more at least once per day! And because they’ve all been very gently used— meaning tried on occasionally in yarn store trunk shows, and modeled for photography, including on Lola the Mannequin— I’m offering each of these truly unique samples at ridiculously great prices!

Here are just two of these extraordinary samples:

Aquamarine Capelet

Aquamarine Capelet, made with the Aquamarine Scraplet Skein from Knittique’s Birthstone Collection. (Click on the picture to go directly to this capelet in my Etsy shop.)

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It’s I Love Yarn Day! Celebrate with FREE shipping at Knittique!

Yes, folks, it’s true, today is indeed I Love Yarn Day. To celebrate this auspicious occasion, I’m having a today-only free shipping flash sale at my Etsy shop! Just go to the Knittique shop to get the discount code that’s in the shop announcement (under the Knittique banner). Then go find yourself all kinds of fibery fun (it’s good for you, after all), and when you check out, apply your discount code, which will automatically remove the shipping charges.

The Fade to Black skein The Fade to Black skein; click the picture to go directly to this skein in my Etsy shop.

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