A shirt you adore is getting old and faded. That designer skirt you bought on clearance is great -- too bad the color doesn't look good on you. Whatever your situation, consider using fiber-reactive fabric dye to change it. With a little know-how about fibers and techniques, you can transform the shade of a garment at minimal cost. Although you can also dye fabric using natural substances like cherries or coffee, fiber-reactive dyes develop into long-lasting vibrant shades that won't bleed out when washed. The market for fiber-reactive dyes is growing, providing more color choices than ever before -- shades that are practically impossible to attain with natural materials. It's easy to help your clothes take a dive and revitalize your wardrobe.
Successful dyeing begins with the garments and fabrics you select. Think carefully about how dye will change the color not only of the fabric, but of any buttons, top stitching, zippers, ribbons or other embellishments. The kind of dye you buy will be determined by whether the fabric is natural or synthetic. Cotton, silk, linen, hemp and wool are common natural fibers, while common synthetics include rayon, polyester, viscose and acrylic. The thread that was used to stitch your piece might have a different composition than that of the fabric -- for example, a cotton top might be held together with nylon thread. In this case, the dye will produce a different shade on the thread than on the fabric.
If your fabric is a blend of natural and synthetic materials, you can combine in the same dyebath fiber-reactive dye for natural fibers and dye for synthetics. Some manufacturers use identical color palettes for each, so you can choose the same shade of each type. When selecting your colors at the craft store, keep in mind that the original colors and undertones of your fabrics will determine the outcome. If you have a pink shirt and you use light blue dye, you will probably wind up with a shade of lavender. A black shirt can only be dyed black, but it might be a deeper and richer black. Be open to surprises that are likely to happen.
Prepare the Dyebath
Before you dye your garment, read the dye manufacturer's instructions and prepare the dyebath accordingly. In most cases you'll need to decide between using a stovetop method or a washing-machine method to dye your clothes. Although it may seem that the washing-machine method is easier, be aware that you could permanently stain the inner tub and the area around it. Using the stovetop requires a large pot and a plastic spoon -- two basic items you can use for future dye projects. Never use your dye equipment for food preparation. In addition to the pot, the dye and the water, you will need the neutralizing agent specified on the dye label. A common neutralizer is ordinary table salt.
Dye, Neutralize and Rinse
Completely immerse your clothes in the hot dyebath, following the manufacturer's instructions for timing and neutralizing. Stir the fabric occasionally with a plastic spoon to minimize blotching or shade inconsistencies. Note that the fabrics will look darker when wet, so don't panic if that light pink you seek is too rosy -- it will look different when dry. In most cases your dye will be complete within an hour. Be certain to completely neutralize the dye as described in the instructions or your dye may not fully set. After the bath is complete and neutralized, rinse the clothes well. The first few times you launder your clothes, wash them alone in the washing machine in case any dye has been retained in the fabric.