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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, 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!

About Author

Meg is the Founder and Creative Director of Megan Nielsen Patterns, and is constantly dreaming up ideas for new sewing patterns and ways to make your sewing journey more enjoyable! She gets really excited about design details and is always trying to add way too many variations to our patterns.

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Caitlin
11 years ago

yes, overdye video please!

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

cassi
cassi
11 years ago

I vote video too!!

Erin/babesinthriftland
11 years ago

This is so helpful! I will be on the look out for thrift store purchases to dye now!

Justine
11 years ago

Yes! please show us a video!

Just Better Together

Annelise
Annelise
11 years ago

Love this outfit!

Beth @ Living Simply
11 years ago

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!

kimie
11 years ago

Yes, tutorial video please!!! I’m dying to dye some items (ha!) but I don’t know where to start :)

Renate
Renate
11 years ago

Lovely! What an absolutely yummy color for a cardigan.

Sandy E
Sandy E
11 years ago

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

Matilda S.
Matilda S.
3 months ago
Reply to  Sandy E

Use vinegar or salt water to fix/set the color. Called a mordant. We used to boil rusty nails strain the water and use that.

Ericka
Ericka
11 years ago

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.
Thanks!

Ericka

Cheeky
Cheeky
11 years ago

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.

Gloria
Gloria
10 years ago

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

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[…] If you want more tips on dying with RIT dye, check out this post! […]

Anna
10 years ago

Love the idea… Thank you so much for your DIY posts!

Sue
Sue
9 years ago

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??

Tara D
Tara D
4 years ago

Hi do u know if your advice will work on curtains? I have the most hideous dull coloured floral curtains n am hoping if I dye them midnight blue will the flowers(faded blue,green n pink) be dark blue but just with abit lighter than the background?