Guide to Overdying Garments To a Fabulous New Colour

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how to overdye and dye garments

This post is written by one of my fabulous 7 Steps to Style members Bernadette Lis who has lots of experience dying her clothes.

change the colour of your jeans

ALL warm ladies should keep a bottle of Rit Golden Yellow liquid dye and all cool ladies should keep a bottle of Rit Pearl Grey liquid dye within the house to help “tweak” some of their colours or prints. Keep it somewhere in the kitchen, master bath, or laundry room near a sink with some q-tips (cotton buds). When you are considering dyeing or overdyeing a print or solid, test the fabric by dabbing a miniscule amount of dye onto a seam allowance inside the garment (a very tiny amount so that it doesn’t seep into the main body of the garment). Then rinse it out after a few minutes. If it “takes” (Rit will dye both natural and some man-made fabrics, but not all polyesters or acetates), you know you can proceed confidently.

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Cotton, rayon, modal, viscose, linen, and bamboo will all dye as natural fibers so you can use Rit or Procion, with my preferring Procion even though it is more complicated. Use Rit if you are uncertain what an item is made from (you did test the seam, right?), so you know it will take dye. Wool usually requires heat, so not for a novice at this! Silk is funny and can “shift” colours, so testing with the individual colour is required (you cannot test silk with any other colour than the one you intend to use, again, not for a novice).

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I use Procion Blue Grey to mute and cool colours and Rit Golden Yellow or Rit Tan to warm colours. If I wanted to tone down and warm a colour, I would use both a blue grey and a golden yellow (in the same brand) but would have to mix them myself to “tweak” it correctly (I test on white fabric scraps until I get what I want).

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The thread colour dyeing properly is not usually an issue with overdyeing since you are just changing the fabric colour slightly to suit you; no one is going to notice that your pink thread is a slightly different pink!

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In solid colours, you’ll find it pretty easy to soften colours with blue grey or warm them up with a yellow or tan dye. I personally use a lot of blue grey since it seems to tip most of my favourite colours to suit me. If a colour is not bright enough or saturated enough for you, it is possible to overdye it with its own colour.

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Prints can be a bit of a potluck, but can also be a lot of fun to overdye. Medium value contrast ladies can change a black and white high value contrast print to medium value contrast by overdyeing the white to a colour. A small black and white print can appear as a muted textural colour. Too bright colours in a print can be cooled, muted, warmed up, or made tone on tone.

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I have used only a few colours for my examples and tried to use each colour on the available samples (I ran short in some prints). In real life, I have many dye colours and would sit down and look at each print and give it a “think” as to which colour would do what to each colour in the print and whether or not I would like it. The samples are just to give you some ideas and a “feel” for what could happen. Start small and have fun!

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Now RIT provides formulas so you can mix your own Pantone colours.

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60 Comments

  • Bernadette and Imogen, what a magical post! I have honey colored skin and I find that even ‘taupe’ in the shops just too cool for me. At one stage I was thinking about tea dying t-shirts (especially marl grey) to get them over the honey line. I wasn’t wanting a strong dye just soft move in the right direction. So I now have inspiration and will give it a go on some old t-shirts. Thank you.

    • I am so glad that you enjoyed the post! I started doing this because of the opposite problem, colours were too warm and bright for me! I am more experienced in cool colours, but loved the results from Rit Golden Yellow and Rit Tan on florals. To achieve “honey”, I think I would try Rit Tan first.

      • Thanks Bernadette for you helpful reply. I have been trying to locate the liquid dye in Melbourne. I have been to my local supermarket and to Spotlight (have powder) but can’t find the liquid dye. I have also sent an email or two to the wholesalers and no concrete information. Unfortunately my enthusiasm is waning a little bit. I don’t normally buy goods off the web. Do you know a retail supplier in Australia (Melbourne) that stocks on their shelves the liquid dyes?

        • I prefer the liquid, but go ahead and use the powder dyes, just be extra cautious about stirring the water and making sure it is all completely dissolved before adding your clothing. I would add dye by dissolving it in a separate cup first and adding gradually to the dyebath.
          I am unfamiliar with using other brands of dye, so if I were in your place, I would pick one which is for tub dyeing and allows you to vary the amount of dye which you use. ( There are a few dye “packs” which are marketed to throw in the wash with a large amount of water and do not allow for any judgment on your part. These are ones you do NOT want). Just read the directions carefully for what needs to be done and which fabrics are compatible.

  • Brilliant!! As I write this I have some fabric boiling in some yellow dye to try & eliminate a lot of the white bits! Hopefully it will make it TOTALLY WARM!

      • It turned out perfectly!!!….. my printed polyester chiffon went from a “wishy, washy” background to a clear yellow!…..Perfect for a “spring ” like me!…… the other colours are also more vibrant, &, overall it is now a great eye enhancer for me…..Thanks so much for the idea!

  • What a great article! I have a pair of jeans that are a bright coral color. I love the color but find it a bit too bright for me. Months ago , I purchased Rits pearl grey dye, thinking it would tone down the jeans a little. I still haven’t had the nerve to do it. Your article has encouraged me to finally give it a try.

    • I think you would be better served toning down the orange with a little Rit Tan so as to keep the warmth of the colour.

  • This is exactly what I plan to do with two lightweight 100% cotton jackets that I was contemplating getting rid of (due to all of your enlightening information about color). I am a light summer coloring with medium blond hair and blue-grey eyes, so olive and black are not great colors for me. I am hoping the RIT color remover and then color dying will work out nicely. Do you have any suggestions for colors? I have a relaxed style and live in blue jeans (think Jennifer Aniston). You have some of the best fashion advice I’ve ever read. I’m amending my wardrobe accordingly. and trying to prevent future mistakes! So glad I stumbled upon your blog – thank you!!

  • Anna, please only remove dye with great ventilation; it’s very harsh! You will probably need a few boxes of dye remover. I would go for lighter as opposed to getting all the dye out. The olive will probably easily be dyed to teal. Different black dyes have different “discharge” colours, so I think a light navy would be good and not a far stretch if your thread doesn’t dye well.

  • The only problem is that I live in California with severe drought. Dying seems to use a lot of water. Is the dye safe for the environment? Do you have any suggestions for getting good results without excessive water use? Thanks.

    • I will not pretend to know what the water situation is like where you live or what you would consider excessive water use. I use mostly Procion dye from the Dharma Trading Company in California and I have always trusted in their environmentally responsible outlook. If you go to their website and type in “environmental safety” they have safety specifications for each item they sell and you can research any item which concerns you. I am a homecrafter, not an expert, sharing what I have found works for me.

  • Being cool and deep, I wouldn’t use gray nor yellow nor tan. I guess I could die stuff to have stronger colours or else black? My mom used to dye stuff when she was young, so I’d be curious to try. I did experiment once maybe 7 years ago and it came out splotchy despite a lot of stirring; maybe just a bad one, will try again.

    • It is hard to say what went wrong for you, but prewashing is a must and sometimes our old clothes have stains that are not apparent until dyed over. I am careful to manipulate folds and creases carefully which is why I do tub dyeing. I am guessing that your biggest reason for dyeing would be to intensify faded colours to the saturation you like, as in blacks and some other jeweltone colours. Just having fun is a good reason! I do have friends that only use black dye to refresh their black clothes when they’ve faded!

  • Well this is great, I have dyed items a few times with varying success, they dont always come out the depth of colour expected. can these dyes be used in a washing machine (front loader) or is the stove top method prefered (stove top is not my preferred). I was unaware about testing on the seams, will remember that for future experiments. I am a warm colouring so if I overdye a garment using golden yellow or tan I willl get a warmer tone to the garment. Is that correct?

    • I dislike using the washer or the stove! My personal preference is for Procion fiber reactive dye.
      I use the tub dyeing method and get my supplies from the Dharma Trading Company. They have instructions on their website and they are washfast. The Rit I used is faster and simpler when you are just getting started and want to experiment and will also dye some synthetics, but there are other types of dye to explore when you feel ready. Golden yellor or tan will warm your colours and the choice is entirely what you think would be better for the individual item.

  • I loved his article! Thank you so much for writing it, Bernadette, and for posting it, Imogen! I have been inspired to try doing more dying, particularly since white is one of my best colors; I figure I can wear a white cotton item one summer and then dye it a different color and keep on wearing it.

    Since finally getting my brain around the color contrast concept, I am looking for some ways to lighten garments as well. I have in past reverse dyed black cotton with bleach. Recently, I tried the color remover on an army green jacket which was too warm for me; it came out a lovely gray, but it was clearly hard on the fabric. Thankfully, I get lots of thrifted things to practice on.

    I am super excited to try some more of these ideas! 🙂

    • I very rarely remove colour because it is smelly and rough on the clothing. I usually just fade with some bleach and overdye from there. When I do remove dye completely, all the windows are open and it is a “last chance” for that item!

      • Hello Bernadette,

        Thank you for this very informative article. It is so useful to have this advice as we often find clothes which are almost fine, but not completely!

        I have a question about the procion blue grey dye which you advise to cole and tone down. I do not find blue grey in the Procion is it the Medium blue 072 which you are refering to?

        With many thanks

        Marguerite

  • I will have to try this some time. I’ve only used tea for dying silk in the past:

    I had two very bright white silk t-shirts that I thought were way to stark and cool on me. I brewed some very strong chamomile tea on the stove and soaked one and then the other to turn them into a nice warm yellow wheat/cream color which is much more flattering on me. I think chamomile tea is acidic, so I guess that’s why it worked so well on silk, and it was so easy to do.

    • I’m glad you are inspired to play! Just remember that silk requires special dye so as not to “shift” to another colour. Do a little reading about it first. I love the idea of tea dyeing and am glad to know it works so well on silk, thanks for the info!

  • Loved this post so much that I am hoping for more! It would be fun to see pix of full garments. Or just more examples. Am also wondering whether the RIT jade is warm or cool in value.

    • Cayman Isle Green is a Procion dye that is an aqua green pastel as opposed to aqua blue. It warmed up many of the colours in the floral print but by itself on a solid is borderline warm/cool.

  • Are the Rit Teal, Procion Baby Periwinkle and Procion Baby Pink warm or cool? Or are they used for a different reason?

    • The Rit Teal is neutral and suitable for all. The Procion Periwinkle is a cool pastel and the Procion Baby Pink is a cool pastel which is not muted. When I use Baby Pink for myself, I add a little Blue Grey to make it suitable for my colouring.

  • I am a pear shape, and flattered by darker bottoms, I have overdyed faded jeans with navy machine dye (Dylon as I am in UK) very successfully. I am also slightly on the warm side so have overdyed things which were too cool a pink with yellow dye, or yellow/tan to coral with bright pin dye – worked quite well.

  • Great post Bernadette ! I really like this post. I prefer liquid dyes because liquid dye is more powerful then others.In this post you offer a great example of dyes so this article is so innovative and helpful for me.

  • HI Bernadette,

    I read your complete post it really great post and your example are really amazing & helpful.

    Regards
    Linda

  • I have a silk dress, ivory/white background with floral print in blues and yellows. I haven’t worn it since last summer. Discovered areas that are yellowed, perhaps from suntan lotion. I soaked in laundress stain solution and it lightened a bit. I’m wondering if I can use a dye for silk to change the ivory background to a light-medium pastel? perhaps pink or lavender. What dye at a water temperature so as not to shrink the silk?

    • So sorry, Jackie, I usually get a notification by email and did not see your question! Before you go further, make a powder and water paste with some Oxyclean and make it “bubble up” over the stains with some steam from your iron (don’t press, just the steam and see if that removes the stains.)
      Procion dye on silk can shift to another colour (buy a small piece of silk to test on first) You can heatset the dye afterwards by ironing, so do check the silk dyeing instructions on Dharma Trading site.

  • How did I miss this post until now?! I’ve been carrying this idea around in my head for ages, I just never saw the ‘blue grey’ option anywhere. Exploring dyes is definitely going to be one of my winter projects!

  • I’m just bought a pale green dress (a dull green, not a pretty green…I’d attach a picture if I knew how) and I want to dye it a bright turquoise-blue, but a little more blue than the RIT teal is. The dress is polyester/spandex with polyester lace so I’m assuming I’d use RIT dyemore…Any suggestions on how to get that blue color??

  • What fantastic possibilities this opens up! I’ve not seen RIT in the Netherlands. Does anyone know what I could use instead of the Rit Pearl Grey liquid dye?

  • Hi! I love this article on overdying! You have sparked my interest in doing some dying. I have a really cute teal green dress, but it is really bright for me and I want to tone it down. I would like to make it a more muted, almost faded shade. It is 94% Rayon & 6% Spandex. What brand and color do you recommend I use to tone the teal down? Thank you so much!

  • Hi there, I just found your article and it’s super-helpful. I have generally warm coloring, can’t wear aqua, true pink, violet, or anything like that. I purchased a lovely cotton top, but it’s a super-intense royal blue. Although the color isn’t bad on me, it’s just too bright, so I’ve never even worn it. Is there a particular over dye color that I could use to tone it down? I would love a navy top, but I’m not sure if I should go with navy or with tan. Thank you so much!

  • Hi, This is all so handy! I’m not sure if you’ve addressed this before but I have a nylon tule skirt…its hot pink..any suggestions for how to dye it? I dont really have a preference of the color.
    Thank you so much.

  • Hello there. I stumbled on your site by searching on overdyeing garments. I am itching to try this method on a dress and I am attaching a picture with the question.

    The fabric is 60% Cotton and 40% Polyester. Thanks in advance.

  • Thank you for your information very helpful , I dyed a peach wrap cotton sweater I bought on sale I used a flamigo pink color dye and got the most gorgeous soft coral pink color . I think the key for me was to keep stirring it and the color was evenly distributed Now I read some people leave the garment in dye bath overnight for deeper color what your thoughts on that?

  • I tried this our on an old bright pink t-shirt, and now I have a very muted pink t-shirt. Thanks so much for this information. This will be especially helpful if I have trouble finding medium-deep muted colors for summer clothes. Stores around here favor brights and pastels.

  • Hello!
    I know this post is for clothes, but I was hoping for some tips in reference to sheets, lol.
    I was given a sheet set 100% polyester, it’s fuzzy!, but the color is tan and I would greatly prefer something on the cool side like gray or teal. But if I would need to go through the process of color removal for that, could I just dye over with black or would that just make it a dark brown?
    I’m a complete newbie if it wasn’t already obvious, lol, so thanks for any advice!
    Will definitely be keeping these tricks in mind for clothing though now too, thanks for posting!

  • Rit Dyemore is the dye you need or another specialty dye made for polyester, but it does require simmering on the stove. You could dye a warm coral or orange most easily but I would be cautious trying a cool colour since the tan would muddy it. I generally avoid large pieces which need to be on the stove since I have never found a pot big enough to be able to take the item!

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