I recently washed a bright red, non-color fast garment with a regular load of laundry. Luckily, most of my clothing was not affected. There are even a few light pieces that now have a pleasant rosy tinge. But one light blue cropped sweater didn't survive. I pulled it out to find smudgy pinkish blotches all over it! I rewashed it, but they remained.
For a moment, I was utterly dismayed. This little sweater was one of my proudest thrift store finds! But then it occurred to me I might be able to save it... by dying it a darker color to hide the stain.
Now, I know this isn't an solution for all stained clothing, especially when bleach is involved. But hey, black is always a classic! I was lucky that this sweater is made from cotton and rayon fibers. If your victim is not made from a natural or dyeable fabric, sadly, your item might be a goner. But don't give up just because a blueberry tumbled down your lovely linen lilac blouse! Dyeing clothing is easier than you might think.
(For stains on darker clothing, I would recommending using RIT's Color Remover to lighten the whole garment, then dyeing it the shade of your choice.)
Dyeing is also a great way to simply update some items in your closet. The evil, color-bleeding garment that caused this issue was actually once a rather dull, off-white and perpetually dirty-looking shawl cardigan. And okay, maybe it had a few teas stains too. Before and after pictures from that dye adventure below (taken on an old phone, so a bit pixelated, sorry!).
The same day I mutilated my precious sweater, I picked up some navy blue RIT powder dye as well as some disposable rubber gloves from the grocery store. Oh! And some red lavender tea made by Zhena's Gypsy Tea.
I figured it would be fitting to be sipping a red tea, since the horrible little stains I had created were the same shade. Red tea actually isn't true tea at all. It is technically a tisane made from the rooibos plant that grows in southern Africa. I don't usually make the distinction between teas and tisanes, though. They're all yummy and warm!
Rooibos red teas are one of my favorite non-caffeinated tea options because they are so flavorful. And how good does sipping lavender sound? Yum! Zhena's Gypsy Tea has become a new favorite brand of mine. They have wonderfully creative flavor options and some great seasonal blends. At my local grocery store, it is actually found in the natural foods section, rather than with the other boxed teas. If you see gluten free food, kombucha and Dr. Bronner's Soap, you're in the right aisle. You can also order teas directly from their website.
Ok, back to the project.
Here's what you will need:
a poor, stained piece of clothing (or something intact that you want to update)
RIT dye in the color of your choice (I have used both liquid and powder successfully)
latex or vinyl disposable gloves
a washing machine
a grubby towel
a 2 cup liquid measuring cup
a 1 cup dry measuring cup
optional: buttons and thread
optional: buttons and thread
The first thing you should do to prepare your item of clothing is to remove buttons. Buttons react differently to dye, so if you want to preserve their color, take them off and reattach them later. The buttons on this particular sweater kept popping off anyway, and I wasn't particularly fond of them, so snap go the scissors!
Next, you will want put on your gloves and open your RIT box and read the instructions printed inside (or on the side of the bottle for liquid dyes). I used the washing machine method, because I find it easiest but have had success with the more tedious stove-top method too. Be sure to read the fabric and dye preparation instructions as well as those for your selected dyeing method. I reread the instructions several times and also kept them around throughout the whole process for reference.
The first thing you will need to do is prepare your dye. This means mixing the powder with very hot water. I used an old plastic liquid measure for both measuring the water and mixing the dye. If you want to re-use your liquid measuring cup for cooking later on, I suggest you find another container for mixing the dye. To stir the dye mixture, I used an old teaspoon I found in my kitchen belonging to previous tenants. (Why is it that whenever you move into a new place there is always that one drawer the previous occupants forgot to empty?) I did all of this on a stained and grubby old towel. Dyes like this can stain grout and other surfaces, so beware!
Next, I prepared the sweater and washing machine. I soaked the sweater in hot water in the sink, to open up the fibers and ready them to take dye. The RIT instructions call for using the hottest water setting your machine has. For me, that meant pushing the "hot-cold" button. RIT also recommends using an extended wash cycle. My rusty old machine conveniently has an "automatic presoak" setting. You can also keep an eye on the washer and manually reset the wash cycle before rinse, as suggested by the package instructions.
Once your machine has filled with water, slowly and carefully pour the dye mixture into the wash basin. (I believe there are other instructions for front-loading machines.) At some point in the instructions there is a suggestion for adding salt to the dye bath. It called for one cup, but I didn't have that much so I added a half cup of salt to the washer. Next, gently plop your soaked garment into the machine and start the cycle.
Now is the time to peel off those gloves and start enjoying that red lavender tea! I added a little bit of honey to mine. Keep an eye on your machine in case you need to reset the wash cycle.
Once the wash cycle was complete, and my mug empty, I reset the rinse cycle a few times. You can test if all the dye is out of your item by starting the rinse cycle, re-soaking it in the running water, then squeezing it. You might want to wear another pair of gloves to avoid dyeing your hands. Once the water runs clear, then your garment is ready to be dried. Note that the color will be darker at this point than when it's dry.
My dryer had trouble drying such a small item by itself, so I eventually threw in my grubby towel too. Throwing a dry towel into a wet load is a great trick for quicker drying, as long as the load isn't too big.
Finally, I pulled my new navy blue crop sweater out of the dryer. It was definitely a bit lighter than the color on the RIT box, but I just wanted the stain covered up, and that part worked like a charm. The only drawback is that the thread around the button holes was not a dyeable fiber and remained light blue. This is fairly common, but if it bothers you and you're an adept sewer, you might want to take that thread out and replace it with a color that matches your new item. It didn't bother me, since I figured that thread would be covered by buttons most of the time anyway.
And that's the next and final step. New buttons!
A couple years ago I bought a small bag of assorted buttons from Michael's craft store. It has been immensely useful for so many projects. Of course, such a random assortment can be hit or miss. Be prepared to find a button style you love, then realize you are just one short of the number needed for your project. I went through several options in the pile below before settling on five buttons I liked. Although they aren't dark blue, I think their color works wonderfully with my new stain-free sweater!