Fabric Dyeing Basics: Make It Exactly How You Want It - Sew My Place
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Fabric Dyeing Basics: Make It Exactly How You Want It

You know the exact color you want your next sewing project to be. You’ve searched and searched but, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t find the right fabric in the right color. So you have two options. You can buy a fabric in another color you like (although not half as much as the color you’re imagining). Or you can buy some plain, white fabric and dye it.

The thought of dyeing fabric fills many of us with dread. If you’ve never tried it before, fabric dyeing might seem like a complex and messy process.  But, once you give it a try, you’ll realize fabric dyeing is easier, and a lot more fun, than you thought it would be.


Basic Dyeing Supplies

As pastimes go, fabric dyeing is relatively inexpensive. In fact, except for the dye itself, you might already have everything you need to start dyeing fabrics. And anything you don’t already have can be bought for cheap at your local department or dollar store.

Typical dyeing supplies consist of things like large mixing bowls, buckets, pots, spoons and sticks. If you have any of these things lying around and don’t use them anymore, they would be perfect for fabric dyeing.

The one thing you might not have is latex gloves. Latex gloves are required unless you like the idea of having blue or purple hands. Fortunately you can buy a box of 100 gloves for less than $10.

Another must-have is a washing machine. And most of us already have one of those.

Finally, you’ll need stuff to dye. And finding affordable, plain white garments and fabrics is a breeze.


Make Cleanup Easy

Do you imagine fabric dyeing to be an extremely messy process that’s more trouble than it’s worth? If so, there are things you can do to minimize any potential mess and make cleanup easier.

The first is to do your fabric dyeing outside. Spilling dye on concrete or grass is much better than spilling it on a wood floor or wall-to-wall carpeting.

Whether you dye fabric inside or outside, use drop cloths and old newspapers to catch as many spills as possible. When you’re finished with your dyeing project, just balling up and throwing away the drop cloths or newspapers can take care of a majority of the mess.

You also want to have plenty of sponges, old rags, or paper towels on hand. Sometimes, no matter how careful you’re trying to be, you’ll end up spilling dye on something you don’t want it spilt on. And the quicker you can wipe up such a spill, the better.


Choosing Fabrics to Dye

The success of a fabric dyeing project will often depend on the type of fabric you are trying to dye. Some fabrics accept color better than others do. And you can’t always count on getting the same results from one commercially available brand of dye that you got from another.

When buying a fabric dye, read the instructions carefully. These will tell you which fabrics these dyes work on best. Using a certain dye on cotton might give you beautiful results, while trying to use the same dye on polyester could be a complete disaster.

If you already have a garment you want to dye, write down its fabric content (for example, 60% cotton, 40% Lycra) and take those specs with you when you go shopping for fabric dye.

If you have a garment that doesn’t have a tag, and you aren’t sure what its fabric content is, you have a choice to make. If you wouldn’t mind “losing” that garment, you can try dyeing it anyway and see what happens. Otherwise, save the dye for something else.


Avoiding “Oops Moments”

Most people who’ve tried fabric dyeing have had an “oops” moment or two. For example, they throw a newly dyed, hot pink onesie in with the rest of their baby’s clothes, and end up with a load of laundry that’s tinted pink.

The last step in the dyeing process is to rinse the garment until all of the dye seems to have been removed. But these items might still bleed when washed in detergent the first (or even the first few) times. And that dye could end up affecting the other clothes in the washing machine with it.

The easiest way to avoid this “bleeding” is to wash the newly dyed garment by itself once or twice. If you don’t want to send it through an entire wash cycle on its own, you can do the washing by hand.

If you dye fabrics in a sink, thoroughly clean out the sink afterwards, preferably with a cleaner that contains bleach. If you dye fabrics in a washing machine, you need to rinse out the machine. Fill it with hot water up to its fullest capacity. Add a cup of bleach, and the amount of detergent recommended for that capacity. Finally, let the washing machine go through a full wash cycle on its highest setting.

Fabric dyeing can be easy and fun. Just keep these fabric dyeing basics in mind, and you’ll be wondering why you didn’t try it ages ago.

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