Recycling Clothing: Overdyeing


Hello everyone! Today I want to share a quick and easy way to recycle and upgrade your clothing in a different way other than sewing and alterations. Sometimes you have a garment that has all the right shapes and cuts but the colour isn’t right. This was my conundrum with a wrap sweater that was passed onto me from my Mom, I had no issue with the shape but the colour was all wrong so I decided to overdye the sweater to a colour that was more my style.


As usual I used a natural dye for this project. The only pre-requisite needed to do that was to ensure that the sweater was made from a 100% natural fibre, whether that be a natural blend or a pure fibre source, and lucky enough for me the tag said 100% wool. If your fabric is not made entirely of a natural the colour won’t be as vivid as it would be otherwise, however the difference is more significant than others and you won’t know until you try. However there is a synthetic fibre exception to this rule, which is nylon. Which is odd because there are synthetic fibres that are extracted from plants that don’t soak up the colour like nylon. Nylon seems to absorb natural dyes very well and it can sometimes absorb deeper hues than some entirely natural fibres. I am not a chemist so I can’t explain this to you, so I just embrace the fibre qualities for what they are.


Moving along, to ensure a deep rich colour I mordanted the woolen sweater with alum salts. Note that most alum baths require heating and keeping in mind that wool does shrink when heated. So if you are overdyeing something fabricated of wool be sure to consider this by not heating the pot too quickly. However disregard this information if you are dyeing something made of silk or a cellulose fibre or if the garment you are overseeing could use some shrinking.


I belong to that later group, the sweater I was overdyeing used to belong to my Mom who is taller than myself so if the sweater was shortened in the arms I wasn’t too upset. So I disregarded my own advice and heated my sweater in the alum. But I did take care not to shock my fibres (you do this by taking your fibres from a hot bath to a very cold bath or visa versa), I let the sweater cool in the alum bath after I removed the heat element. I left the sweater overnight to cool.


When I came back the next day I removed my sweater from the cooled alum and bottled up the remaining bath (as you can reuse the solution a few times before it becomes completely depleted). I knew that I wanted this sweater to be dyed with one of my personal favourite Maiwa dyes/dyes that I purchase, which is the lac dye. It produces a vibrant-captivating burgundy colour that I want to add as an accent colour to everything. I much prefer this colour to the vivacious orange colour of the original sweater and it is the colour I was after for this sweater.


So I filled my dye-pot with water added about two tablespoons of dye powder to the pot, stirred and waited for the water to heat up a bit. But it is important to note that I did not boil the dye, just simmered. Then I slowly placed the alum soaked garment into the dye pot, being careful not to splash. I stirred in the clothing until it was saturated with the dye, then I set the timer for five minutes and walked away. When I returned I gave the sweater another good stir and removed it from the heat as it looked like it had gotten to my desired colour. I then carefully lifted the steamy garment out of the dyepot into an empty sink for rinsing.


I rinsed the sweater using lukewarm water until it ran clear. Then I set the sweater out to dry in the sun since it seems to have become a rare thing. I just wanted to take advantage of the great UV rays. Now with the newly overdyed sweater it seems like an entirely new garment! No trace of orange is left, the only thing is that the tags of the piece have absorbed the dye and look a bit odd. But that is an easy fix by snipping them out.


I hope that you consider overdyeing as a way to recycle clothing because it does truly transform garments. Until next time




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