Dyeing to love my clothes again

Today’s guest post is from my hometown friend Rebecca Bealmear. Lawyer by day and aspiring minimalist by night, she writes about her adventures in simple living, bicycling, and whatever captivates her attention on her personal blog Seven2seven8.com. She currently lives in St. Louis, Missouri. A big welcome to the lovely Rebecca. — Erin

For the past three years, I’ve joined up with the women on my husband’s side of the family for a once-a-year shopping trip. We often time it in the fall, to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday, and to get a head start on holiday shopping. And so, I found myself with my in-laws, at the Osage Beach outlets in Missouri this past October 26. This time, however, I didn’t feel like buying anything.

The funny thing about our tradition (and the point at which I became part of it), is that it coincides with the time I started to question all of the belongings I was holding onto in my home “just in case” they became useful or somehow morphed into what I really wanted or needed. This was especially true in my clothing closet — my tiny, circa-1939, approximately 10 square foot closet.

It was then my clothing projects began. I donated, but then I replaced more than I donated. I tried storing just a quarter of my huge wardrobe (full of inexpensive and trendy items) in my closet, with the remainder hanging on racks in my basement. And this worked, well, not at all. Then, it took a turn for the worse when I was bitten on the hip in February 2012 by a brown recluse spider that moved into a pair of pants I had been storing downstairs.

Suddenly, donating clothing I was not consistently wearing became so much easier.

Fast forward to today, and my wardrobe is easily a quarter (a sixth? an eighth?) the size it was a couple of years ago, and I have found a wardrobe system that really helps me evaluate the remaining items.

In February of 2013, I decided to try Courtney Carver’s Project 333. I tailored the challenge to the size of my current wardrobe, so I could reasonably cycle through almost all of my clothing in a year’s time (by dividing six rounds of 33 items across two months each). I have now completed four of my six rounds, and I am hooked, and I am changed.

I can no longer tolerate excess in my wardrobe or home, though I am still negotiating for myself what is “enough” and what is “excess.” I am simultaneously surprised, relieved, and horrified by the volume of items I have donated to charity organizations, and by the lack of sustainability I have learned is inherent in our fast-fashion culture. I struggle with ethical concerns raised by the toll rampant consumerism has taken on the lives of garment manufacturing factory employees in places like Rana Plaza, in Bangladesh, where the April collapse of a building (costing the lives of thousands of workers) has resulted in almost no improvement in conditions for workers — those who make the clothing we often wear just once or twice before discarding it for the next great deal.

This is how I found myself uninterested in purchasing clothing on my recent shopping trip with my in-laws, and strangely attached to some clothing in my own closet — specifically, four items that had disappointed me over various rounds of Project 333: (1) a white t-shirt, too sheer and becoming discolored; (2) a white button-up tunic, stained with bicycle-basket oil; (3) a white blouse with a lace panel, discolored from overuse; and (4) a chevron-striped blue skirt in a color I found difficult to wear and weirdly cheap-looking.

My solution? They had to dye.

Armed with one box of Rit Dye in Denim Blue, a large stockpot, and the four items to dye, I set out to improve the items in my closet. These are the items before:

And these are the items after dyeing, rinsing, washing, and drying:

I am pleased with the results. The practical life of each garment has been extended, and they each have a different personality in the new blue versus the original shade. And, if I ultimately donate a garment, it might actually find its way into another person’s closet now, instead of landing in a rag heap or landfill – a much better fate than the tops would have met, had I donated them in their stained or discolored states.

The box of Rit Dye cost about $3 and since I already owned the clothing, it was free. I’d recommend getting some rubber gloves to protect your hands. I simply followed the provided instructions, which were very well-written. I dyed the skirt first for 20 minutes, then all three shirts together for another 20. Once finished, I rinsed the clothing well, and ran them, alone, through a heavy-duty wash cycle with a generous amount of detergent, then dried them.

No shopping, no landfills, no waste. I’ve deemed it a success!

28 Comments for “Dyeing to love my clothes again”

  1. posted by Pwassonne on

    You were lucky with the shirt that has lace. Cotton lace dyes, polyester lace generally doesn’t. To anyone who would like to follow this example: MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHAT MATERIALS YOUR CLOTHES ARE MADE OF AND THAT THE DYE WILL WORK ON THESE MATERIALS. Otherwise you might end up with a half-dyed item. :/

  2. posted by Sky on

    I love this post! This is something I never considered doing before but will certainly be trying!

  3. posted by Joanne on

    Wonderful results. I often use dye to change cushion covers, renew black pants and have even used it successfully on lampshades. Couldn’t live without my Rit!

  4. posted by Egirl on

    I’ve redyed many black items of clothing with excellent results. Clothing in other colors with oil-based stains didn’t turn out as I’d hoped, even though the stains were Shouted out and washed a few times. The stains still showed enough to make the items unwearable. If I’d chosen a darker dye hue I may have gotten better results.

  5. posted by Davina Sanchez on

    pwassonne…That’s a good point. But the blouse was practically on the scrap heap. Even if it didn’t work, nothing was lost. 🙂 I would definitely risk it!

  6. posted by Lauren H on

    Great timing! I have a few white tanks that I thought I would need to let go of for discoloration. Had considered dyeing but was worried about the color running.
    Thanks for sharing, Rebecca!

  7. posted by Karen on

    I’ve even dyed new clothing. I’m a large person and often the color choices in my size are not the colors I want. I buy the icky beige or white item and dye it. Works great with linen and cotton.

  8. posted by Lisa on

    One note – most dyes will tell you not to use that stockpot anymore for food purposes, so it is now solely for dyeing.

    There are also dyes that you can use in the washing machine (depending on the type of fabric).

  9. posted by Christy King on

    I’m so glad you posted this. It’s been decades since I tried to dye anything and it didn’t turn out nearly so well. I’m inspired to try again.

  10. posted by Sherry on

    Look great! Did you use the liquid or powder? I bet you could put a garbage bag into the pot to protect it…just a thought. Thanks for sharing!

  11. posted by ChrisD on

    Once I dyed a white cotton top accidentally, I don’t know what was in the wash that make that happen. Luckily it was a really nice light blue colour. Yet my polyester fleece in the same wash came out whiter than white. So yes, different materials really to dye differently.

  12. posted by Rebecca | Seven2Seven8 on

    Hi all!
    Pwassonne – very true; same reason my stitching shows up so well on the blue cotton tee — the thread isn’t (all?) cotton. For me, the big caveat is that I was prepared to get rid of each of these items, and in the case of the white tops with armpit discoloration, they wouldn’t have been at all marketable and probably would have been shredded to recycle or bundled to send overseas, so I didn’t really feel I had much of anything to lose. So into the pot they went! (PS, I like your name; phonetic French fish?)

    I scrubbed the heck out of the pot post-use, and will wash it again before I use it. I don’t use it often.

    I used the powder, not the liquid.

    The lacy top is my favorite!

    I think part of the fun is waiting to see how things will turn out. I wasn’t sure if I’d “further ruin” the lacy top or not. I think I would have still liked it if the panel was a slightly different color.

    Interestingly, the darkest item (skirt) is like 70% poly, and I’m shocked it took the color as well as it did. But again, it was leaving me if I didn’t change it, so the risk was worth it.


  13. posted by Anna on

    I have dyed many items and have usually found that Rit doesn’t last. Tintex, though harder to find, does last. Any response from other dyers here?

  14. posted by Julia Bloom on

    Thanks for this. I’ve been thinking more lately about altering my existing clothing to make it “new” and fight boredom, and dyeing had not occurred to me.

    I’m interested to check out Rebecca’s blog but it appears to require a password. Fine if you don’t want to share it publicly, but just wanted to be sure you knew it is not accessible to readers here, at least not to me 🙂

  15. posted by Rebecca | Seven2Seven8 on

    @JuliaBloom – I have two blogs, one private (but not secret) and one public. The public one focuses on bicycling in St. Louis (fietsofstyle(dot)blogspot(dot)com) and the private one can be accessed if you want to email me at seven2seven8(at)gmail(dot)com. I am happy to share it with anyone who is interested, but I blog about things which are more personal on there, too, and given my career, like to have a sense of who is reading. That said, if you ask, you’re welcome. I may go public with it some day…just not there yet!

    @Anna- I’m open to either top lightening up a bit, but that’s interesting. The only other thing I’ve dyed is a bathing suit, dyed black over a decade ago with RIT, and I found the color took and lasted really well. Excellent head’s up, though.

    One thing that is worth noting is that none of these are expensive items or really made to last…the button up is J Jill, the lace-panel blouse H&M, the tee Old Navy, the skirt a Target brand. I’d be surprised if the clothing outlasts the dye…

    Another thing to note, more specific to Project 333, is that it both gives my clothing a rest and allows me to “wear them out” simultaneously. The blue items have been cleaned again (I wore both blouses at the end of a 2-month round ending 10/31 and got so many compliments at work on the color!) and tucked away, and I anticipate using the skirt and tee in the round beginning January 1.

  16. posted by Anna on

    @Rebecca: Thanks for the information about your bathing suit dyed black with Rit so long ago and still holding up. I have a black skirt that needs refreshing, so maybe I’ll give Rit another try, given that it’s easier to find.

  17. posted by Lisa on


    I’ve had really good luck with Dharma dyes – http://www.dharmatrading.com/topnav/dyes/ I’ve even used their leather dyes for thrift store purses

  18. posted by MsKat on

    I’ve dyed stuff for…let’s see…30 years now? And most of it was done with RIT, as that was typically the only dye I could usually get my hands on. A few easy RIT tips, especially if you decide you like dying garments: cotton, rayon, silk, linen, wool, or blends of these take the dye in the most true color. Be careful that you are using a garment that suits the heat of the water you have to use or there will be shrinkage. Nylon also dyes extremely well in most cases; a fun first project for dying is a pair of tights. Synthetics will not dye, and will likely end up looking dingy or stained if dying is attempted. With synthetic blends, the more natural fiber the more vivid the results; if the author’s skirt had been 50% poly or less the stripes would have been even less noticeable. with garments that have trim or thread of a different fiber from the body, sometimes an interesting tonal effect is achieved; sometimes even the buttons will change color. When you dye, also add a cup of plain salt (non iodized) to the water when you add the dye and dissolve both completely; the salt helps the color stick better. I have used sinks, plastic pans (think dishpan), or buckets for dying, I have never dyed directly in a pot. Washing machine too, but it uses an awful lot of water-I reserve that for a big project. When I used to dye in the sink I learned to use a soapy sponge in the sink sprinkled liberally with baking soda to clean up afterward-you will be amazed how much dye you will wash off even though you can’t see any. I dye in a bucket mostly now-I have a square 5 gallon laundry detergent bucket I use, because I can kind of spin it and the corners help agitate the garments; you can use a 5 gallon bucket from home depot and a dollar store wood spoon or paint stirrer to agitate instead. I put the dye and salt in the bucket, add water I boiled on the stove, then add the wet garments, then follow the timing and rinsing directions on the package. I’ve tie-dyed, ombre-dyed, garment dyed, all sorts of techniques, and I love it, especially when it revives a garment! I’ve used cold water dye and also acid reactive dyes, which are way more work but so worth it! Dharma, as mentioned in another comment, has any dye you ever want to try. Hope these tips inspire others to make their wardrobe truly their own-have fun!

  19. posted by Rebecca | Seven2Seven8 on

    Great tips, Ms. Kat! I hadn’t thought to do tights. The skirt has a TON of poly – 70%? It looked solid while wet. I don’t mind the chevron stripes showing, and wouldn’t have been upset with a solid navy skirt. Ironically, this blue dye is called denim blue, but the shirts are more “French blue” to my eye, and the skirt came out such a rich and pure navy (and the dye bath looked ultramarine – nearly purple). The old color of the skirt just was hard. As you can see from my photo, I have it paired with a chambray shirt and I just couldn’t figure out what to do with that shade of blue. It didn’t play nicely. I struggle with some pairs of jeans when they are “tricky” blue, too. MUCH happier with the new shade!

  20. posted by Zahra M on

    Fantastic post!! Quick question for you. After you dye, can you wash the material with other colors? I remember years a go I tried to dye jeans and i had to always hand wash it after that since it would discolor other clothes if I machine washed it.

    Thanks again!!

  21. posted by Rebecca | Seven2Seven8 on

    Hi Zahra!

    I rinsed the living daylights out of each item and then ran a heavy-duty cycle (98 minutes on my washer) with a little extra detergent, then dried everything. I wore the two dressier blue tops (since they were already part of my Project 333 wardrobe for that round) and didn’t have any major problems (our office was like 85 degrees that day, and I did sweat a little during the day, but all parts of my bras are still the same color, which seemed as good a test as any…). I always launder my 33 items at the end of a round since most will be packed away for at least a couple of months, and I did wash both with other garment, but only the darkest ones. I did not notice any color transfer, but ounce of prevention and all…

    Hope that helps!

  22. posted by Rebecca | Seven2Seven8 on

    *the heavy-duty cycle only washed the four newly-dyed items
    *the initial dry cycle was also only the newly-dyed items
    *the wear cycle was with other dark blue and black and charcoal items, so if there was dye-transferage, you can’t tell; I treat bright red clothing, even dyed by manufacturers, with the same expectation of color-transfer.

  23. posted by G. on

    If dye transfer is a concern, try Color-Catcher sheets. They catch dye during laundering. There’s also 2 other products I’m aware of – Retayne and Syntropol. Retayne helps keep the dyes on the fabric, and Synthrapol helps remove unattached dyes. The Color Catcher sheets *may* be easier to find.

  24. posted by JuMaz on

    FYI, many places that accept donated clothing (Goodwill, etc.), will sell unusable donated clothing to recycling companies. They will make them into rags, send them to foreign countries, etc. Great way to keep them from ending up in a landfill.

  25. posted by Rebecca | Seven2Seven8 on

    Hi JuMaz –

    Agree! I learned about this practice from the book “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion” by Elizabeth L. Cline (highly recommend it to anyone). Huge part of the reason I’m trying not to treat my clothing as disposable; we give away more than charity requires in this country, and so clothes are shipped to places like Africa, where they are becoming so plentiful that the residents are becoming picky about the brands and styles they wear. I would rather my old shirts get used anywhere than adding to trash piles, but the vast resources invested in moving piles of unwanted, disposable clothing is no longer something I want to support with my dollars any more than I must. Something I’m extra mindful of today, as NPR reports that garment workers in Dakha (where the factory collapsed) are protesting $66/mo wages and continued unsafe working conditions.

  26. posted by Kristin Turberville Haffey on

    I’ve got to admit…my first thought was, ‘RIT? Oh geez…” But those clothes came out awesome! It really makes me want to take a better look at some of my things.

    And I’m also never going to store anything in the basement!

  27. posted by Closet Organizer Now on

    Love the minimalist perspective! So much easier to keep organized and can be so beneficial for others too! Great job!

  28. posted by Rebecca | Seven2Seven8.com on

    @Kristin – thanks! The basement might be okay for some people, but in St. Louis, MO (especially in the area I’m in) we’re heavy on the brown recluses. If you’re in an area that has BRs, shaking the dickens out of things will go a long way (but not as far as not storing things in places where recluses can recluse). Also, pro-tip: I wasn’t sure if “recluse” could be used as a verb. I tried to Google it. DON’T. I don’t care THAT much about grammar.

    Speaking of dyeing things, this is fascinating. I’d have to really hate the colors in an old quilt to do this, but the result IS stunning.


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