DIY: what is overdying?

I’ve been obsessed with finding a purple cardigan just like this one, every since I first saw it on Jess. So ages ago, when I found this cardigan (on sale!) in Gap, I thought I’d found what I wanted. Until I realised it was just too lavender for my tastes, and I pretty much never wore it.So I did what I always do in such circumstances where stores will not provide what I want – I got all DIY crazy, and overdyed it.

Every time I post about one of my dye projects, someone almost always asks what I mean when I say I “overdyed” it – so I guess it’s time for a dedicated post!

I pretty much group dye projects into two groups:

  1. Dying things that are plain white or cream (this I call dying)
  2. Dying things that are already another colour, or are patterned (I call this overdying)

The reason I call everything in the second group “overdying” is because you are dying over the top of what is already there. It’s something I do a lot, and I highly recommend it as a quick and easy craft project, and a great way to revamp an old piece of clothing.

Ok so you want to overdye something. What now?

  1. Check the fabric content of your garment. Dye works best on natural fibers like cotton, silk, bamboo and wool. If you decide to dye something polyester or a blend, do so at your own risk. I’m not saying it won’t work (I’ve done it a lot!), I’m just saying the results may not be quite what you’d expect.
  2. Next stop and think about the colour your garment currently is, and what colour you want it to end up as. My sweater was lavender and I wanted it to be more plummy. i didn’t want a super bright purple, or a very blue like purple – I wanted it with a bit more red. So I knew I’d need a redish dye – I chose wine, since I already had a bucket full of wine dye after making these pants.
  3. Buy some dye. I always recommend RIT dye, because after trying a couple of brands I just find the results to be the best. I also recommend going for the liquid dye over powdered.
  4. Follow the directions on the side of the packet. (oooooo you say, that’s mean and unhelpful meg~!) Or you can do my quick way:
  5. Put on some rubber gloves. You’ll thank me later.
  6. Fill a bucket with very hot water (I go for boiling most times), mix the dye in well.
  7. Then leave your garment submerged for a few hours. You can take it out almost straight away or even after a few minutes, but the colour will not be as strong or as deep. I tend to just leave it a few hours, stirring every now and then to make sure it gets evenly dyed.
  8. Rinse your garment really well under the tap, until the water runs clear.
  9. Wash in the machine (on it’s own) and then dry as you normally would.
  10. If after it’s dry the colour isn’t as dark as you wanted, guess what – you can do it again till you get it dark enough! (I’m considering doing this on this cardigan to get it a little darker).

Other things to consider:

  • If you are overdying a patterned garment, some parts of the pattern will inevitably take more of the dye than the others, so be aware of that.
  • Watch out for what colour the stitching is. Most garments are sewn with polyester thread which will not take dye well
  • Only dye something you will not cry over if it gets ruined. I know that sounds a little like spoiling the fun – but when you dye something you are taking a calculated risk, and it’s always possible that that risk may not pay off.

If anyone is interested, I have a sweater I’ve been waiting to dye till after my 30 for 30, and I could post a little tutorial on it when I do it (maybe video? I promise I’ll be super awkward and possibly dorky). Let me know :) Also if you have any tips you’ve learnt from your overdying experiences, leave them in the comments below!

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  1. says

    yes, overdye video please!

    p.s. your sunnies remind me of a my favorite pair from sportsgirl, which broke a couple weeks ago. WAH!

    • MegMeg says

      Mine are from modcloth – they might still have some!! Gosh I hate it when stuff from Aussie stores breaks… can’t replace it. (I love sportsgirl…so very awfully much) XOXO

  2. says

    I over-dyed a denim skirt this winter and it worked great! I had a denim skirt that I loved the style of, just not the light color of; so I used Rit Dye in Denim Blue. Ta-da! “new” skirt! I did mine in the kitchen sink — it would have been a bit easier in a bigger sink/bucket but I didn’t want to use the bathroom — I was scared of ending up with a blue bathtub!

    • MegMeg says

      ooo that’s clever! I’ve never overdyed denim before – totally on my to do list now!!

  3. Sandy E says

    How do you set the dye when you use Rit? Do the garments fade a bit each time they are washed???
    Sandy E

  4. Ericka says

    Hi there! I was wondering if you’ve come across a dye combination that will dye a fabric a linen/flax/oatmeal color. When I try, it turns too pink or green.


  5. Cheeky says

    I OD’d some lighter blue cotton shorts to navy. They look fantastic but now I’m reading about rit dye and a common sentiment seems to be the color fades quickly.

    How often do you find yourself re-dyeing the garment???

    I’m going to OD some lighter jeans to dark blue, and a cream trench coat to red or khaki. :) Thanks for the instructions. The boiling water and liquid dye seem to do the trick.

  6. Gloria says

    Great info! I have dyed fabric, but haven’t done any “over dyeing” yet. Your method sound easy. Thank you.

  7. Sue says

    I was wondering how would you go about dying a thick knit cardigan??
    It’s a baby pink, and it’s totally not a color that I can pull off and I want to dye it black. Do you think just buying a Rit black dye would do the trick? Or would I have to bleach it??

    • MegMeg says

      Hi Sue! I think the most importnat thing would be the fiber content of the cardigan. If it’s a natural fibre (cotton, wool, cashmere etc) then it should dye really well. If it is polyester, then it probably won’t hold the dye. Though I have heard some great things about idye Poly dye, though haven’t tried it.

      Black is a pretty strong colour, so it should cover baby pink well – i think if it was me (but i am a bit lazy) i would probably just dunk it in black dye and see what happens!