Wednesday, July 13, 2011

In Which Gail Carriger Gets Crafty: Rit Dyeing, Black and Brown

 I had a recent blog on tea dyeing, a middling success as you may recall Fashionable Reader. One of the things I do a good deal more, is chemical dyeing. I find it's an excellent way to get a second use out of my clothes. If the fit is good, but I'm bored by the color, a dye bath livens things up. Also, for making steampunk outfits I'll dye the trim so that everything is in the same tone, if not exactly the same color.

Some things to be aware of when dyeing . . .

  1. You still need salt as a binder even with a Rit (a professional grade dye often uses soda ash fixer)
  2. Different fabrics will take the dye differently, sometimes the thread used to sew a fabric won't take when the fabric will
  3. Some fabrics just won't dye
  4. Wash according to instructions
  5. I only needed the gloves for the rinse
  6. Wear black
  7. Run your washing machine on rinse cycle empty after washing the dyed fabric

Of course dyeing requires a very large stainless steel pot, and a take-over of the kitchen for several hours. I have an old wooden spoon re-purposed and a set of rubber gloves and I have a back patio with a drain (right now) which is excellent for rinsing. With the weather improved I decided to finally get rid of the stacks waiting to be dyed and did one brown and one black.

Items waiting for the brown bath. Mostly steampunk trim, a shirt, some long socks.

Back when I was a far more dedicated costumer I used to hit up Dharma for powder dyes and soda ash fixer spend a half a day dyeing large amounts of fabric to the exact shade I desired.

Dye and salted water heating, the items rinsing before the bath.

These days I use Rit with salt instead. I know, terribly lazy. I've had good results with their Dark Brown before, and I love the chocolaty warmth of the color.

Dyeing in progress.

 As ever, part of the fun with dyeing is seeing how the different fabrics react. I was pretty pleased with the results.

Got a little excited photographing the dangling trims.

So, there we have it. Quite a range. I'm not certain what outfit they will decorate but they'll certainly show up on something. As ever, I'm pleased with the brown, black on the other hand . . .

Black is the hardest color to dye, Fashionable Reader. Yes I'm certain there is some scientific explanation for this, but that is irrelevant because I'm winching here. Black is also the most useful color. I've never been as huge a devotee of black as many of my Goth friends, but I do find it makes for an excellent accessory and tends to be something I reach for more than should.

 The big bow in the middle got discarded when it became evident there was no way the dye would take.

I had a collection of items I really wanted to be black with very specific intentions: some socks and tight which were the victims of laundry bleeding and so needed to be less dingy, trim for a dress, a hat that was the Wrong Pink, and a navy jack that I loved the fit but never wear.

The black dye bath.

The final results.

Not a success on the black. The socks are OK, gray + black + cream is a nice combination. And the tights, possibly the thing I will wear the most as I live in tights in the winter, came out fine. But the trim was more mauve, and I've no use for that. The hat is a pretty color, but not the color I want. However, as it is a hat, I'm thinking I can hand stain it, so that's the next challenge. And the jacket. Woe to the jacket. It's cotton so I thought it would take the dye (even black dye) well, but all that happened was it became a darker navy. I'm not certain what to do about it. I love the cut and the retro blazer style, it fills a gap in my wardrobe, but only if it is black. I'm considering doing another dye professional grade, but that is a lot of work for one jacket. Sigh. Rest assured, I shall keep you abreast of the situation. (See what I did there? Abreast? Retro rack? Oh, I'm soooo amusing.)


  1. We once tried to dye a whole lot of stuff black because some of my older shirts had gotten out of colour, and some new (white) stuff could use a more useful shade. Some things turned out alright, others would lose the colour later. However, one particular pair of hot pants (H&M), white, came out in army shades of navy, tending towards a greenish side, with the thread having absorbed no colour at all. And so, until today, I use a pair of very short, greenish-blue shorts with white seams for workouts and house cleaning. Oh the way a gothic girl goes...

    Wow, that housewife ritual looks positively scary! Any pet parts in there??

  2. You'll probably do better with the jacket if you strip the dye first, and then dye it black. You might have to dye it twice to get a nice deep shade, but it's better than trying to work over the navy.

    Alternatively, if you're feeling especially crafty, you could always draft a pattern from the jacket and make a black one. :D

  3. You do it in the kitchen? I usually just clean out a bucket, fill it with hot water and dye, then leave the material in it - outside and covered up so no bugs fall in - for a day or two. When I do dye at least. Which is rare for me. (However, I am trying to find a pair of cheap, dyable tennies for my Halloween costume. I'm a 6 1/2 double wide if anyone has any leads. So far I can only find dyable dress shoes.)

    Granted, most of my dying has been tie dying. So maybe that makes the difference.

    You might have to just find a seamstress who'll make you a copy of the blazer in the color you want. I've found that most materials that are already dyed don't take black well. I've tried.

  4. Great job on the dyeing! It's so exciting to see someone who knows what they're talking about. I just graduated college and studied costume design. We took dye class and dyed a lot thing for shows. I have to say from personal experience with many different kinds of professional dyes, black is quite the saucy minx, always hard to get. This is true particularly for already dyed fabric. Even if you strip it, it won't help because essentially bleach hides color, but doesn't exactly lift it.

    The suggestion to lift the pattern and remake it is probably the best option to get the jacket in black. I totally understand the need for a black jacket, being as my wardrobe is about three quarters black (the remaining quarter consisting of grey, dark grey, white and various other shades of death. Haha.)

    Also, I would like to take this most opportune moment to say that about 2 weeks ago, I picked up Soulless. I am now almost through Heartless. I have never devoured a series of books like I did yours. To say they are sinfully delicious would be an understatement. I'm pretty sure I worship at the altar of Lord Akeldama, for I want to burst with elation every time he sashays into the scene.

    Good luck with the jacket excursion! And I do hope you can make it to Boston one day for a book signing. I'd love to meet you!

  5. I think dying the jacket might work best if you do it in washing machine. Atleast if there are washing machine dyes available there (Dylon for example). And don't put anything else in the machine than just the jacket. The more you add stuff, the lighter the colour stays. I know you have more experience on dying but I've had good results with black machine dye before. It only requires that you use large enough amount of dye for one garment. It's based on the weight of the material and how much it absorbes or something like that.


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