Experiments with fabric dye

… Or “What happens when you try to dye wool and cashmere with regular fabric dye”.

In my May Purchases post I briefly mentioned that I had recently done a few experiments with fabric dye. The three garments that I dyed were hanging in my closet quite unloved, and I hoped that dying them would make them a bit more wearable. Dying can be a quite straightforward affair, but once you throw wool fibres into the mix things can get quite tricky. I didn’t use special dyes, just regular dyes for use in a washing machine (such as Dylon and similar brands). I had never tried to dye wools before at all, but I was well aware that things could go wrong and that my garments might very well end up in the trash. I figured it was worth a shot though, since I wasn’t wearing these garments much anyway.


My victims were as follows:

1. A dark red 60% tencel/40% wool skirt from Zara. The care label said it could be washed at 30 degrees Celcius, so that is how I dyed it. I used black dye, and when the wash cycle was over the skirt has turned a beautiful shade of burgundy. Alas, it had also shrunk at least four sizes and had to go in the trash. I didn’t remember to photograph it, but trust me, this was not a success.


2. The same skirt from Zara, but in beige. Since dying these in the washing machine turned out to be such a fiasco I went for a soak and hand wash this time around. I put the skirt and the dark navy dye that I had bought in a bucket of warm water and let it soak for two whole days. Here is what it looked like before (in an old photo from 2010):


And here is how it turned out!


As you can see the dye took a little unevenly in some places, but as the skirt now has the color of denim I think it looks more like faded denim than a bad dye job, if that makes sense. I have worn it a few times already, which is probably the same amount of times that I wore it in 2012 put together.

Now comes the really tricky bit…

3. A gray cashmere sweater from Zadig & Voltaire. I bought it on Holiday in Paris in 2010 and have adored it from the moment I first put it on, but I accidentally got an oil stain on it a few months ago that just wouldn’t budge. As it was very visible I just couldn’t bring myself to wear it in its current state, so I decided to try to dye this one as well. I did the soak and hand wash one more time, but with a gorgeous petrol blue color this time around.

Here it is before (also from an old photo):


And here is the final result:


As you can probably imagine, this is not exactly what I had in mind. It looks tie-dyed! However, I think I will be able to make it work somehow. The color is still pretty, and hey, if Isabel Marant can do tie-dye then I can do tie-dye as well. No biggie, and at least it doesn’t look stained anymore. “Tie-dyed hippie” beats “dirty” any day.

(Unless of course you’re a dirty hippie. Then I can’t help you)

I hope this was interesting to some of you, and that it might be helpful to a googler or three. I know I couldn’t find a single post like this when I was researching this little experiment, so why not just make the post myself?

For science!


21 responses to “Experiments with fabric dye”

  1. Nomadic D. says:

    Wow! I am super impressed. I think those are two huge successes. And even if you weren’t going for tie-dye, it doesn’t look hippie-dippy tie-dye, it looks very chic! Makes me want to dye a bunch of stuff from my closet as well. The last time I attempted anything of the sort was 2 years ago when I tried to bleach-dye a t-shirt and came up with something totally unexpected:


    It was fun, but not at all what I thought I was going to get. I think maybe it’s time to try my hand at coloring fabrics again… You’ve totally inspired me. Time to get out the bucket.


    • Maja says:

      Thanks Defne! I’m warming up to it – I was very disappointed that the dye didn’t set evenly, but it does look kind of cool! It is almost too bad I will have to wait until fall to use it, but only almost ;)

      I did a bleach experiment with denim shorts last year, that was a lot of fun too. Go go, get out the bucket!

  2. Undre says:

    “(Unless of course you’re a dirty hippie. Then I can’t help you)”


  3. Sue says:

    Oh my goodness – your legs are soooo long! Serious leg envy. Really serious leg envy. I would love to have legs that long but then I would look really weird.

    However back to the dye’ing business at hand. I have to say the Zadig Voltaire jumper turned out really nice actually. People pay oodles to get that kind of effect on the jumper! I love jumpers that look like that. And as to the skirts – bad luck on the first – I’ve had dye’ing catastrophes too http://susiesoso.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/dylon-burlesque-red-fabric-dye.html but the second skirt turned out well.

    and I am currently thinking about dyeing a cardigan and some jeans but … just too lazy to order the dye. It might happen yet.

    And yes, the dirty hippie comment made me laugh too!

    • Maja says:

      Hahaha, my legs are indeed quite long! I used to dislike being tall, but now I quite like it!

      Ah yes, the infamous synthetic thread problem. I hate that. You read the care label and feel assured that your fabric is perfect for dying, only to find out that the thread won’t take a drop of dye. Been there, done that. The same thing happened to the beige skirt actually, but as denim garments often have orange/beige thread it works really well. phew!

      As I mentioned in my previous comments, I use dye to touch up the colors on my jeans relatively often. It should work out fine :)

  4. jamie-lee says:

    I tried dying a pair of pants black years ago using the washing machine, they were originally grey and in the end they weren’t overly even but it did the job. Good to have an idea of what your results were though. I think if I was going to dye something I would just do it professionally now!

    • Maja says:

      I would definitely recommend to do it professionally if it was an expensive and/or much-loved garment! I wouldn’t bee too heartbroken if these turned out badly, that’s why I decided to experiment with it :)

  5. T. says:

    Thank yo for posting this. I have been wondering about dyeing cashmere…

  6. Anuschka says:

    Both items turned out so well! The skirt is perfect, and I also like the tie dye effect of the shirt, it’s not too in-your-face, but subtle and kind of summery. I also dyed a a couple of tshirts last summer and they I’m still wearing all of them!

    • Maja says:

      Thanks Anuschka! I’m liking the sweater more and more the more I look at it, and the skirt is in regular rotation. I do wish that burgundy skirt didn’t shrink though, the color turned out perfectly!

  7. Åh, dette innlegget var akkurat det eg trong no! Eg vurderar å farge ei sommarkåpe eg har arva etter svigermor. Fasongen er kul, men fargen er ein slags beige som eg ikkje kler, så eg vurderar å prøve å farge henne svart. Eg trur det er bomull – har du erfaring med å farge slikt? Gjekk det i så fall bra? Tips og triks? :)

    • Maja says:

      Jeg har ikke så mye erfaring med slikt, men om jeg skulle gi noen tips ville det være å vaske den først og, hvis du har muligheten, klippe en liten bit av stoff/tråd fra et sted der det ikke vil synes for så å brenne det over et stearinlys. Om stoffet “smelter” er det syntetisk, og da vil ikke resultatet bli bra. Om det brenner opp er det nok naturlig, og burde farges ok :)

      Det som ofte skjer i sånne fargeforsøk er at stoffet er naturlig og tråden syntetisk, og da tar ikke tråden opp farge like godt som stoffet. Siden kåpen er gammel kan det også være ting i stoffet som gjør at den ikke tar til seg farge så godt som et nytt plagg ville gjort, men det kan man nesten ikke vite før man har prøvd :)

  8. Touche. Great arguments. Keep up the good work.

  9. Ulli says:

    Hi Maja,

    I have just awoken to the wonderful world of fabric dyeing.

    When you dyed the skirt red at 30 degrees, was it even coloured? I want to dye some 30 degrees garments but it says 40 degrees on the dylon washing machine dye, and I don’t want to use the hand washing dye.
    Also, I dyed a bedsheet in sunflower yellow, and it’s too intense, so I am trying to soften the tone post-dyeing disaster. After an attempt with bleach at 40 degrees wash no success, any tips?

    I love your sharing :)


  10. […] Other DIYs: Ikea Hack Earring Stand + Experiments With Fabric Dye […]

  11. […] 2: Striped cotton sweater, self-dyed Zara skirt (blog post here), black tights, a Michael Kors Ritz watch (gold version), Diesel “Mallory” tote, and […]

  12. Joy says:

    (“I hope this was interesting to some of you, and that it might be helpful to a googler or three. I know I couldn’t find a single post like this when I was researching this little experiment…”)
    That is exactly what happened 2 years later.
    Thanks a bundle for this post!
    1 love

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