Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Over-Dyeing Denim

Dark denim is trendy and slimming. However, if your denim wardrobe consists of entirely faded or stonewashed denim, you don’t need to buy new jeans. For about $5 a pair, you can overdye them at home.

Based on the recommendation of a Dylon promotional pamphlet, I use one package each of black and indigo Dylon Permanent Fabric Dye to darken my denim. Each packet dyes 1/2 lb (8 oz) dry fabric, so the two packets will usually only dye one pair of adult jeans. This dye can be used on cotton, linen, ramie and rayon.

Materials required:
1 package black Dylon Permanent Fabric Dye
1 package indigo Dylon Permanent Fabric Dye
Warm water
1/2 C salt
Bucket large enough for the fabric to move in freely when filled with water
Empty, clean soda bottle (2 Liter) or milk jug (1/2 gallon or larger)
Rubber gloves
Stirring implement

Below you’ll find the instructions from the dye packet (italicized), along with photos and my notes.

INSTRUCTIONS. Wear rubber gloves.
Really – wear rubber gloves. Otherwise, you’ll dye your skin and it is difficult to remove.

1. Weigh dry fabric. Wash thoroughly, even if new, to remove stains or sizing which may not be visible to the naked eye. Leave damp.
I don’t have a kitchen scale, but using the crude method of weighing myself with and without the skirt on a bathroom scale, I figured that the skirt weighed approximately 12 ounces, dry.

2. Dissolve contents of this pack in 4 cups of warm water, stirring thoroughly.
I empty the 2 packets into the soda bottle or milk jug and add the 8 cups of warm water. Then, I cap the container and shake to thoroughly mix the dye.

3. Fill a flat-bottomed bowl or stainless steel sink with enough warm water for fabric to move freely.
As you’ll be able to tell from the photos, I use an empty, clean kitty litter bucket for dyeing. We have plenty of these stored in the basement and I’ve found that the dye doesn’t stain or even stick to the plastic, so I can use the bucket for other (non-food) purposes later.

4. Add 4 Tbsp salt to bowl. Stir to dissolve.
As I’ve doubled the “recipe,” I added 8 Tbsp (1/2 C) salt to the bucket of warm water. I use a paint stick to stir.

5. Add the dissolved dye, stirring well.
Not only is it easy to dissolve the dye in a capped container, but it is easy to pour too! I use my handy-dandy paint stick, again, to stir.

6. Place damp, unfolded fabric into bowl.
The fabric looks dark here because it is wet. I promise that I didn’t pull a switcheroo on you.

7. Dye for one hour. Agitate constantly for first 15 minutes. Stir regularly for another 45 minutes, keeping the fabric submerged.
I like to use gloved hands to agitate the garment. Using a kneading motion, I ensure that the dye is thoroughly worked into the fabric. After the first 15 minute period (constant agitation), I set the timer again (for 15 minutes) and poke at/stir the fabric with the paint stick when the timer goes off. I then repeat twice more. I wouldn’t call this “regular” stirring, but it seems to work well enough.

8. Rinse fabric in cold water until water runs clear. Wash separately in hot water with usual washing detergent. For wool and silk, rinse and wash in lukewarm water.
The rinsing step is a real bitch. I’ve haven’t kept track of the number of rinsing required, but I’d guess that it is somewhere around thirty.

9. Dry away from direct heat and sunlight.
We have a clothesline in our basement, so I have an ideal place to dry the finished product.

10. Wash garment separately for first few washes to remove any excess dye.
I add the dyed jeans to my black wash loads. I figure that any excess dye won't negatively affect black clothing. To maintain the dark color for as long as possible, I wash the denim inside out and hang to dry.

As you can see, the result is a dark, inky blue. Admittedly, it is a bit of a flatter finish than you’d find on purchased dark jeans. In my experience (with dyeing four different denim items), the stitching does not absorb the dye. I believe that is because the thread is usually a polyester blend. The labels sometimes absorb the dye and sometimes do not. Again, it depends on the fiber content.

I’ll be wearing my “new” skirt on Friday!


seberu said...

This is great, thanks! I really like your comments on the steps...they clarify a little bit more for those of us who don't know what we are doing. :)

Anonymous said...

thanks! if I wanted to just get the jeans a dark indigo, and not as dark as you did, would 2 packets of the indigo dye be enough?

Anonymous said...

Would you consider doing the rinsing in a washing machine? Just on the rinse cycle several times? And where did you get the fabric dye? So many questions! I can't wait to try this.

Kasmira said...

lisalisa - 2 packets of indigo dye should be enough for one pair of jeans. I would try it on some denim you didn't like too much the first time to be sure you like the color.

dee - I didn't rinse in the washing machine because I didn't want to take a chance that the dye might stick to the insides and then color the next thing I washed in there. I could just be paranoid!
The dye is produced by Prym-Dritz and you can find a list of locations to buy the Dylon Dye on their website:
I bought mine at Hancock Fabricks.

Miss Janey said...

Thansk much for sharing! What a great way to update old jeans.

fashion evolution said...

I love the step by step with photos guide. Thanks for sharing your experience!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the steps !


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this tutorial! Being able to over-dye clothing really expands those thrift-store options!

WendyB said...

Looks good!

Kelly said...

Have you ever attempted redying black clothing? I love black sweaters, but my faves are looking kinda sad lately.

Kasmira said...

I haven't tried dyeing anything other than denim, but if the fiber content matches the reco on the back of the dye packet, it should work.

I'm considering over-dyeing a pair of my jeans with gray. I'll post the results if I do so.

melissapedsrn said...

Thank you, thank you! I can't wait to try it!

Melody said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing your secret with us.

Anonymous said...

I've dyed quite a few pieces of clothing. I use Rit fabric dye, it's $1.77 at Walmart (I live in Canada). I always dye my clothes in the washing machine. I just run a cup of bleach and fabric detergent alone after I'm done and have never had a problem. My next plan is to dye some sheets grey because I couldn't find any I liked in that colour.


coco said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bombchell said...

wow never thought of this!! I'm saving this on delicious

Lori said...

great Idea!!! i just did mine today after reading this and they look great :-)

DictioCarrie said...

I just checked the Dylon site to look at the colors and it appears that Indigo is no longer made. The darker blue dye choices are Navy Blue and Jeans Blue. Which would you recommend, mixed with the black dye?

Kasmira said...

I'd go with Jeans Blue. I suspect it's just a name change for the Indigo dye. Of course, Dylon could tell you for sure!

Unknown said...

Hi! I have done some dying and over-dying including items such as jeans, slacks, tee shirts and textiles. I have used commercially packaged dyes as well as natural dyes. The items should be made of a high amount of cotton or natural fiber content. Synthetics do not readily accept most dyes and the results are usually disappointing.
I have found that over-dying cloth items, such as jeans look best when they are prewashed, well rinsed and dried in the dryer without dryer sheets. For best results items should dyed a couple to several times. This sounds difficult, but the results are worth the effort.
Also, I hang the item up, un-rinsed, and I leave it hanging undisturbed for one or two weeks. This allows the dye to permeate the cloth fibers completely and permits the dye to cure. Immediate rinsing does not allow this.
I use the dye solution my dye pots for a week or two before discarding. For best ecological disposal of spent dye, add one or two cups of chlorine bleach for every gallon of dye solution. Let stand 24 hours and then pour it down a drain or the toilet. Do not pour into the storm sewer!
Feel free to experiment and by all means, have fun! ~ Parker parkerartstudios@yahoo.com

tigerteacher said...

Hi! I'm a new reader and love your blog! This is a wonderful idea - I read it and did it over this weekend. I had bought two pairs of jeans, very cute sailor cut and nicely fit, for $6.99 each. Unfortunately, they had a very light wash and I found that they never looked quite right. I dyed one pair with dark green Rit dye (they came out great - like a deep, deep teal almost a navy but not quite) and a second pair with two packets of Rit fuscia (also great - they came out a very neat purple with dark pink at the seams.) I have a denim jacket with a similar light rinse problem...I wonder if Rit red would come out wine colored? Thanks so much for the suggestion - I'm having a great time with it! :-) Looking forward to continued reading! :-)

Kasmira said...

tigerteacher - you might want to check out the Rit website for dye combinations that will give you a wine color for sure.

Kathryn from Schoolmarm Style said...


I've used this tutorial a few times. Once on a denim jacket that way looking a little bit too Bon Jovi concert for me, and later on a slipcover for my couch. I'm about to do a before and after of a denim vest on my brand new style blog. Would you mind if I linked your tutorial with tons of props to you of course?


Anonymous said...

Do you think it's possible to dye more than one pair of jeans by re-using the dye in the bucket?

Kasmira said...

Anon - probably not. The dye particles are absorbed by the fabric and you likely won't have enough left for a second pair without adding more dye.

Motorradfahrer said...

Thank you for the great "How-To"! I've been meaning to dye a few denim items for a while now.
For anyone who is having a hard time finding the Dylon dyes, I saw that they're available on Amazon.
Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

hi i have a blue levi jacket i want to re dye it can i use the same method you used or do i add more dye

Kasmira said...

Sergio - I recommend weighing the jacket and then following the dye-per-pound directions on your chosen dye.

Anonymous said...

its an xl jacket

Kasmira said...

Sergio - just guessing, you'll probably want to double the amount of dye. It's better to have too much than not enough!

Anonymous said...

so you think 2 packets would be enough rit or dylon

Kasmira said...

Sergio - if you are using the Dylon mix I recommend here, you'll need 4 packets: two black and two indigo. If you are using a single shade of Rit dye, two boxes or one bottle should suffice.

Anonymous said...

should i use the same method

Kasmira said...

With Dylon dye, I recommend the bucket method described here. If you use Rit dye, I recommend the washing machine method (directions on the package).

Anonymous said...

so use salt and vinegar
will it bleed even if i dont wash it
because i dont want to leave blue dye all over the place

Kasmira said...

I use salt when dying with both Dylon and Rit. I haven't used vinegar, so I can't attest to its effectiveness.

I would assume the jacket is going to bleed a little. You should wash it alone or with like colors. It might even bleed if you wear it over a light colored shirt and then get damp.

Anonymous said...

so is their anyway to stop it from bleeding

Kasmira said...

Not that I know of! I believe all natural fabrics bleed dye a little and fade over time.

Anonymous said...

so if i never wash it will it bleed and leave dye in places like car seats,chairs stuff like that

Anonymous said...

Totally worked on my denim jacket. Thanks!
Too bad I can't post a picture of it.

It's now my fave casual jacket to wear everywhere.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and you saved me a few hundred bucks... as the denim jacket dyed is D&G and it was hanging in my closet unworn and was about to be given away.

MarlseyMarls said...

My denim jacket hasn't bled, and I've worn it out and about when it unexpectedly started raining (Anonymous poster down below). I just did the same thing to two pairs of jeans but they turned out less "flat" as the picture above (I actually like it dark and flat). One pair turned out dark indigo, the other was two shades lighter. Could have been the stock, Jo-ann Fabric had it on sale for 50% off.