Sunday, November 27, 2016

DIY: dyeing an old dress to make it new---BRICOLAGE: teindre une vieille robe pour la rendre neuve

This outfit has me feeling all sorts of holiday vibes...but it wouldn't have used to the way that I originally bought this dress.

I was making a random stop at a neighborhood Goodwill (can't remember the initial purpose of the visit). Then I spotted this very homely looking fabric poking out of the dresses "clearance" rack (the ones that have the colored tag for that day's promotion). I pulled on the potato colored material and out came this cutely shaped handmade vintage dress (I am guessing it is early to mid 1950s). The dress had clearly seen better days, there were parts that had a sort of oil based staining on it, and the seam where the zipper was sewn in needed some reinforcing. I took it to the dressing room and tried it on to make sure it would fit it. I basically fell in love (I mean for a few dollars what wasn't there to love) but immediately started brainstorming ways by which I could make it more wearable.

A packet of raspberry red dye, hot water, and a bathtub later I got a lovely new wardrobe staple!

A great way, in my opinion, to "save" or reuse something older that you might be tempted to overlook or toss out is to dye it. I have some tips on how to go about that below...

Here are some things to keep in mind when dyeing fabrics:

AGE: The age of any fabric will affect how well it takes to dye and how much it is at risk for deterioration. This dress is about 60 years old and the fabric is still in good shape, so I wasn't too concerned about its fragility. I have another dress from the 1920s which I have thought about dying but am still hesitating to do so because I worry about the age of the fabric. If you are looking into dyeing a garment any older than 50-60 years I would take some serious precautions and look into cold water dyes or non-acidic dyes which react a little differently and tend to be gentler on older fabrics. Tulip and RIT which are the two main brands found in the U.S are acidic dyes which should be used with caution on garments which are 70+ years old. You will probably have to go search online or to a specialty fabrics/dyeing store in order to get the appropriate dyes.

MATERIAL: Natural fabrics tend to take to dyes very well, so cottons, linens, hemp, bamboo and silks will usually turn out evenly dyed. Wool and cashmere are tricky because most dyes are heat activated and you will end up shrinking your fabric if you expose it to the temperatures required for most generic dyes. Synthetics are VERY unpredictable. While most synthetics CAN be dyed, you must do your research and make sure you don't set your expectations too high. Now the other thing is you need to be familiar with the look and feel of different materials because chances are, vintage and second-hand items will not have care and composition tags. This dress, as far as I can tell, is a cotton-linen blend. I knew it would be a fairly safe bet in terms of dyeing it to give it new life but I think a lot of it was luck and the fact that I was willing to take a risk because it was so inexpensive to begin with. 

EXISTING COLOR: Naturally, you can't buy a black dress, get a box of light blue RIT and dye it expecting a lovely sky blue result. If you have a dark item you want to take to a lighter shade, you will have to run an additional risk of bleaching the garment first, and then re-dyeing it. Additionally, unless your item is PURE white, do not expect the dye job to come out looking like the box or packet's description.  The theory of color and mixing does apply to dyeing clothing; a light green dress being dyed blue will yield a turquoise shade of sorts. Just be realistic in what your expectations are. The longer you dye the item, and the more dye you use, the higher concentration of pigment in your end result. 

EXISTING PATTERNS: Something a lot of people overlook is whether or not there are designs, pattern, or even stitching in a different color or material. I dyed another dress once and the stitching was a synthetic in pure white, and while it didn't end up being a big deal, the dress ended up being navy and the stitching stayed white. You need to take into account what features your item already has and decide what you are willing to live with in terms of changes to those details. 

EXISTING ISSUES: My dress had oily looking stains on it, this was something that I was hoping would be masked by a darker dye job and it was a risk I took, knowing full well the dye might cling to it and make it look even worse than before. Make sure you launder whatever item it is you plan to dye ahead of time to try and address any existing issues. If there are worn, frayed, areas or missing buttons decide whether or not you want to make the repairs with the existing colors or the ones of the new dye job. While dyeing can salvage a myriad of issues, sun fading and bleached spots are ones that can be unpredictable and difficult to fix. Make sure you understand the provenance of the damage and how they will react to dye. 
EXPERIENCE AND WILLINGNESS TO TAKE A RISK: No matter what, dyeing is a risky business. Keeping in mind I had already dyed quite a few things before attempting to dye this dress, I have repeatedly seen success using dyes in different projects and felt fairly confident I could get a favorable result. I was also very willing to take a risk what with the dress being so inexpensive. I figured if I did end up ruining it during the dyeing process that it would be sad but I could reuse the fabric as rags or something. You should probably pick a low-risk project as your first one to ensure you feel successful. 

Dyeing old clothes to give them new life can be rewarding and so fun! It can even give YOU life ;)

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