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To dye for - part one

In part one of a series on dyeing your clothes, here's how to wash-and-dye

BeforeAfterReader Shelley told me off recently for being bored with my clothes, which galvanised me to finally do the batch-dye I've been planning on.

There are several reasons I periodically dye my clothes. Firstly, it covers wear - pale colours show wear more than dark colours and you can get an extra year or two of life out of a t-shirt or a pair of jeans by overdyeing it a dark colour (navy, brown and black work the best). 

The second is to cover stains. Since our water is brown (from a well) it sometimes leaves stains or streaks on clothing, a bit like coffee stains. The best way to cover these is shibori, which is a posh kind of Japanese tie-dye. 

The third is because our brown water also makes everything dingy. White t-shirts quickly become a soft rust colour, and pinks and blues fade to quite nasty shades, at which point, overdyeing will make them look a lot better. 

And fourthly, I dye things to get something 'new'. For instance, I currently have about five cream cashmere sweaters and am thinking of multicolour dyeing at least two of them. 

There is also a fifth reason I used to dye things when I still had access to charity shops - to simply get them the right colour. As an impoverished student, I routinely bought clothes in awful colours and had them redyed at Sketchley's - a service that is sadly no longer offered. 

As it happened yesterday, I had a pack of Dylon Wash-and-Dye in the house. It was the wrong colour - I fancied navy, but it was dark brown - but it would have to do.

Machine dyeing isn't actually a particularly cheap method of dyeing, as the dye costs about 8 euros a pack and you end up doing three washloads - one to wash the clothes, one to dye, one to wash the dye out. You're then meant to do another one with bleach, but I just wash some darks instead and that cleans the washer out to my satisfaction. Silk and wool I prefer to dye by hand, so I use Wash-and-Dye only for cottons. 

Clothes to be dyedFor yesterday's dye batch I chose two t-shirts and two pairs of jeans, one of which was moleskin. That is about the most you can dye in any one go and expect to get consistent coverage - you need plenty of room in the machine drum for items to turn, and even with this amount of clothing, the brown, although said to be dark, has not come out as dark as I would like - it is more of a weak khaki colour. To get the colour as shown on the pack, you really need two packets of dye, or to put the clothes through two separate dye baths, but that begins to stroll on, pricewise.

As you can see, the denim jeans (on the right) were dark blue and the moleskin ones (on the left) were bright jade. The first pair were just looking a bit faded and since I have plenty of bluejeans, I figured they'd probably go black once overdyed, which would be useful. The jade jeans were a mistake buy. Beautifully made, but not my colour at all and I felt like a clown every time I put them on. They had also picked up a small stain from the dog's paws.

AfterAs you can also see (even, I hope, although I've accidentally switched the garments around), the blue jeans did indeed go black, while the jade jeans ended up a khaki colour.

Meanwhile, the two t-shirts had both gone dingy after two years of constant washing, with particularly grubby-looking necklines, and one had a brown stain, so I decided to shibori them to get a mottled effect, which hides stains better than plain ovedyeing.

Pink t-shirt afterThe pink one, I just knotted tightly in several places and as you can see, the result isn't particularly satisfactory. I like the effect on the sleeves but on the body I have lost too much of the pink and ended up with something that looks a bit too much like camouflage clothing for my taste, even though it co-ordinates with the moleskin jeans (don't take any notice of the crinkling - that comes out with ironing or if you tumble-dry). I will probably re-do this tee with black shibori to get a stronger effect zigzagging across the khaki. If all else fails, I'll simply dye it black.

Blue t-shirt overdyedThe blue one I did with a wrapped shibori technique. To get this effect, you take the wet t-shirt and pleat it horizontally to form a sausage, then wrap the sausage very tightly with string, to-ing and fro-ing and overlapping it. The string forms a resist, creating areas where the dye can't penetrate, and you end up with these spider-web effects. This effect is much more what I was after, though again, I think it would have looked better with black or navy dye. 

stitchingThe stitching on nearly all modern garments is where dyeing can catch out a beginner. It is nearly all polyester, not cotton, so it doesn't pick up the new colour. In casual clothing, this looks fine - we're all used to contrast stitching on our jeans, for instance - but in more formal clothes, it can look a mess, especially where seams join. You can cover the contrast stitching with embroidery but you need either embroidery skills or a sewing machine with embroidery stitches to do this successfully. 

Anyway, I am quite pleased with yesterday's work. Four 'new' items of clothing, all co-ordinated, and nothing going to the landfill.

More on dyeing another time. 

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