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Dyeing fabric

by Sarah Horrocks Published on 8 April 2008

If your clothes are looking faded, outdated or washed out, or you just fancy a change of colour, dyeing can give them a new lease of life (and can also kill them off if you get it wrong!). Here's how to get it right.

If your clothes are looking faded, outdated or washed out, or you just fancy a change of colour, dyeing can give them a new lease of life (and can also kill them off if you get it wrong!). Here's how to get it right.

Recommended products

1 or 2 1kg packs of coarse salt

Colour fixer

Dye in individual sachets. Always choose a product that's suitable for the type of fabric you want to dye. Brands such as Dylon are ideal, as there is a wide range of colours.

What fabric can you dye?

All natural fabric can be dyed. For wool, silk and polyamide, use solid dye. For cotton, linen and viscose, use liquid dye. Be careful: these types of fabrics can shrink, so follow the instructions carefully. It's best to dye delicates such as muslin cold. Polyester and acrylic cannot be dyed.

Our tips

By hand or by machine?
All fabrics can be dyed in a machine except wool.

Hot dying by hand
Use a colour fixer to prevent your clothes from fading, except if you're using a washing machine of course. Should the colours run, there are emergency products you can get hold of.

Cold dying
After soaking your clothes in the dye, salt and fixer for 50 minutes, rinse them in cold water until the water runs clear, then wash separately with hot water and washing powder to get rid of the excess dye.

Dying coloured fabric
When you dye fabric, the dye does not cover the original colour: it mixes with it! So you need to remove the original colour first. Use a pre-dye decolourant to make your fabric neutral and ready to dye.

Fixing dye
After dying, the fabric may lose some of its colour when you first wash it. In order to fix the colour, soak the fabric in cold water with white vinegar.

User’s guide

In the washing machine:

- pour the dye directly into the bottom of the drum of your washing machine.

- add the necessary amount of salt (1kg for one full pack of dye).

- place the item into the drum.

- set your machine to 60°C (no pre-wash).

- once the programme has finished, wash the item again with your usual washing powder.

- wash silk at 60°C and delicates and cotton at 90°C.

- when drying recently dyed clothes, make sure you don’t leave them in the sun or fold them.

- use steam to iron dyed fabric.

Tye and dye

This technique is a Chinese craft that has crossed centuries and oceans. It’s done on fabric with an original neutral colour and produces instantly-recognisable tye and dye print. Dying with knots will give you an original print in several colours. On white fabric such as a tee (clean and ironed!), make knots with gaps of at least 2cm in between, then soak. You can also use elastic or string to make your knots. Wet your clothes before soaking them in the dye in the bath for the time indicated on the instructions. Rinse without untying the knots. If you’re using hot dye, wash to get rid of excess dye. Let it dry and then untie the knots to reveal your pattern!

After dyeing

You'll need to clean your machine by doing an empty wash with washing powder to stop your next loads picking up traces of dye. Dyed fabric should be washed separately the fist few times to get rid of any remaining excess colour and prevent fading.

by Sarah Horrocks

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