Sunday, April 29, 2012

Dyeing 100% Polyester Chiffon Bridesmaid Dress

One of my most recent projects has been learning to dye polyester fabric. "Dye" is probably the wrong word - it's more of a stain, since it's basically soft, woven plastic. 

It all started when I realized after some Google image browsing that the lovely bridesmaid dress I'd ordered for my friend wedding was probably not coming in the burgundy shade I had set out to find. The tiny fabric swatch and color block suggested a dark wine, but I was finding customer reviews with phrases like "oh and by the way, it's more of a true red than a maroon." Not encouraging.  Of course there are no returns on things like this, and while Jenny is ridiculously accommodating, not demanding, and probably the anti-bridezilla, I didn't want to wreck the lovely color scheme with my fire engine red dress. My options, it seemed, were to either buy a new dress ($$$, and probably too late anyway) or to try my hand at dyeing.
You can imagine my chagrin when my initial research turned up the fact that it's almost impossible to achieve a strong dye set on polyester fabric, even with harsh, toxic chemicals and very high heat. Both options would likely to destroy my delicate garment with the bossy Dry Clean Only on the label, but further digging revealed that a tint was possible. This tutorial from College Fashion for using Rit Dye showed that while a vibrant color was out of the question, I might be able to add enough of a tint to change the bright red to something darker.
Eventually, with encouragement from various tutorials, I bought two bottles of black Rit Dye (around $4/bottle, or $2.50 for the smaller boxes of powder) at the grocery store and a yard of similar fabric from Joann's and set to testing. The results were good, if not mind-blowing, so I nervously cut the tags off, grabbed Joel to take some pictures, and got to work.

First off, what you need:

-Rit Dye
-Big plastic container you don't mind possibly staining
-Rubber gloves - the longer the better. Mine are elbow-length and I still ended up with some weird bruise-like purple stains.
-Plastic cooking spoon. I used an old one that had melted on the end, but you can get a sacrificial spoon at the dollar or thrift store if need be.
-Old clothes...even if you're more coordinated than I am, some splashing is inevitable.
-Bowl to transport fabric from dye bath to sink

Since high heat helps set the tint, I started with boiling several stock pots full of water - how's that for exact measurements? - and poured them into an old purple Rubbermaid. The last pot got the contents of both bottles of dye. I mixed it up and hauled it out into the back yard so I wouldn't have to worry about splashing. 
Next, I stared at the dress  for a few seconds and tried to convince myself that it was already a perfectly good color. When that failed, I saturated the dress in warm water and dumped it into the dye bath. 
"Are you dissolving a body?" - Joel

I stirred it constantly for about 5 minutes, and then at intervals for the next 45. About ten or fifteen minutes after it seemed to have taken on a good amount of color, I lifted it out...
Looking way darker than it will after rinsing...


Yeah, I know. I keep it fashionable. (Actually, that sweatshirt was the result of a project for re-purposing those hoodies that swept my dorm in college. Upcoming issue, maybe?)
It seemed to be as set as it would ever be while still keeping an even tone. I wrung it out gently and put it back into my handy ferry/bowl...
Also good for contrast, since the bowl is pretty close to the original color of the dress.
...And to the sink....

Bad lighting, sorry.
...For a few minutes of rinsing. I rinsed until the water ran only faintly red...I was afraid of washing it out too much of it if I went much further. Post-rinse, the color had lightened considerably. I was a little worried at this point, because I knew it'd lighten up even more after it dried.

Coloring chiffon is kind of the opposite of getting stains out of your laundry - you want it to stay, but you're never really sure how well it will. Since the color doesn't set all that well, I knew it had the potential to run and dry unevenly if I didn't soak up as much extra water as possible. Rolling it in an old towel did the trick.

Joel had to keep telling me to slow down so he could take pictures, or at least stop at interesting moments...yeah, I'm bad at this.

Rolling got it to the point of being more damp to the touch than actually wet. We were still worried about it dripping on the floor, though, so here it is, hanging off of the tree in our yard:
Yeah, our neighbors hate us.

An hour or so in the strong wind dried out the skirt almost completely. The color had lightened a bit and wasn't as dark as I'd like, but it was much improved.  None of the pictures we took really captured it, but it's very similar to how this burgundy chiffon 'Windy City' dress from Modcloth looks on my monitor. If it's burgundy to the hipsters at Modcloth, it's burgundy to me.
Overall I was really happy with how it turned out. Being able to pull it off was a huge victory...and a huge relief.  I can't wait to pair it with my spray-painted silver wedding shoes (another post, maybe) in June!

Thanks to my wonderfully patient husband Joel for his photography skills!

Next up: Spray-painted shoes? Tea for an upset stomach? Henna for hair? Indian food? Who knows!

-The Rit Dye website has a lot of information on different techniques and a fantastic guide for mixing colors. The t-shirts I threw in the dye bath for a previous project worked beautifully...anything 100% cotton took on a wonderfully saturated tone, and blends ended up as a subtly-textured heather. They do bleed a little in the wash, but have kept a really good level of color so far anyway and don't transfer when dry. The dye is pretty reasonable, and it made a few cheap, yellowed, somewhat transparent white t-shirts brightly colored and suddenly wearable again. I can imagine discolored white cotton sheets, pillowcases, etc being equally successful. 

-The aforementioned College Fashion tutorial is really informative, and renders my post pretty superfluous. 

-I experimented with using acrylic paint & textile medium, too. The color was lovely, but the texture was still too stiff. Might be okay for some things, and it would be great for actually painting on fabric, but it wasn't acceptable for this. Apple Barrel seems to be the mostly commonly mentioned brand, and it's around $1 for a little 2 oz bottle at a craft or fabric store.


  1. Wonderfully intrepid! (And hardly inept.) I am so full of admiration for you right now.

  2. You are my freaking hero. A few months ago I was cutting up my old choir dress, which yielded acres of black polyester chiffon, which I thought maybe I could tint subtly.. however, I did not have as strong Google-fu as you and gave up after a few links worth of "Silk Chiffon Only" tutorials. I never did finish the project that I was so ineptly working on with that stuff, maybe I could pull it out and get navy blue or dark green instead of boring old black.

  3. Hello!:)

    I'm in a similar situation that you were in (bought a polyester chiffon dress whose colour is vastly different from what it looked like on my computer) but the problem is, it's darker than what I had expected. (it's nude-coloured, I thought it would be white) Is it still possible to dye it?:) to a lighter shade?:)

    Thanks so much!!:)

    1. Hey! I know the feeling well...unfortunately I honestly don't know. I'd imagine it'd be pretty difficult, since you'd be lifting color instead of depositing it... I highly doubt you could cover a darker shade with a lighter one. :-/ A few ideas, though:

      -First, see if you can find a very similar shade of 100% polyester chiffon at a fabric store - if you can't, maybe something similar in tone, like a pale pink...just to see what happens to the level of saturation.

      -Then, I'd do some research about dyeing or lifting color... sorry I don't have any experience with that!

      -Finally... you could try diluting an acrylic paint. It'd be wash-out, but you *might* be able to cover it with a thinned white enough to at least make the color lighter? Be warned that it *does* make the fabric stiffer, and it's hard to apply evenly. Apple Barrel is a really common brand that is dirt cheap at craft/fabric stores (I want to say maybe $1-$2 for a small bottle), so it might be worth playing with.

      Hope that helps!!

  4. Hi I saw that you weren't wearing it until June, and I was wondering how it was as far as bleeding out if you wore it. I want to dye my polyester chiffon dress, but Im worried with the summer heat at a wedding, I could sweat and I wouldn't want the dye to stain my legs or chair without me knowing it! :) Let me know if you had any problems with it bleeding out on your skin.

    Thanks! :)

    1. I didn't - but it was a loose style against my legs, and I wasn't sitting for much of the day. I didn't notice any bleed-through on my skin up near the bodice, but I realized later that I had no idea whether it had or not - I took it off quickly in the reception hall bathroom and threw on a black tank top, which I proceeded to wear for the next twelve hours or so (fun travel times! ha) by the time I took that off, *if* there had been any bleed-through, it had since rubbed off on the black shirt, if that makes sense. That said, I really don't think there was any, and there was a lot of dancing while I was wearing it, so...hopefully you'd be good!
      If you're still nervous about it, I'd maybe get a hidden patch damp and rub it on your skin to see what happens...and then maybe not where anything underneath that would be ruined by dye transfer.

  5. I just tried to dye a polyester chiffon dress last night, using this same technique, however it didn't quite work! Any suggestions for taking a brown dress to a deep chocolate brown? Dark Brown dye didn't do the trick.

    1. that sucks, i'm sorry it didn't work out! The thing with dying polyester is that you're really just sort of trying to stain's not going to ever suck up a lot of dye. A few things that I think helped my dye take:
      1. Keeping the water as hot as possible
      2. Making a more concentrated dyebath - be careful with this though, since if it gets *too* concentrated it won't dye evenly. Make sure the fabric has plenty of room to move, and keep it moving *constantly* for 45 minutes at least, the longer the better (I think my last attempt was for around 90 minutes...Netflix streaming on the laptop out on the porch kept me going!)
      3. Rinse by hand, rather than in the washing machine, if you did.

      Also, this link has a lot of information about the undertones in RIT colors, which might be helpful as well:

      Another thing is to look into is iDye Poly, a line of dyes that are supposed to be slightly better for synthetic fabrics. I haven't seen them in stores, but they're available online - I think the maker is called Jacquard.

      I hope that helps!

  6. I have an off white evening gown I wore as a wedding dress when i married a previous husband. I've remarried and want to "change" this dress so I can wear it out with my new husband for our 1 year anniversary. Maybe make it my husbands favorite color(any shade of blue) or mine (any shade of purple)...pretty much anything that isn't whitish. Your step by step instructions give me hope. My dress only says it's polyester, but I'm sure the thin over lay is maybe chiffon. I hate to toss out a dress that I spent almost 200.00 on, so I'm hoping this works. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Hello! I am in pretty much in the exact same situation! I ordered burgundy dresses for my bridesmaids (chiffon) and they arrived a brighter red color! What a let-down! I know you did this months ago, but do you have a before picture of the dress before you did your work on it? Just so that I can compare, ya know.
    Also, do you think that if you left the dress in there longer, it would have gotten darker? Or did it soak up as much color as it could and that was it?
    Lastly, what is the point of rinsing it? I don't get it!
    I am pretty desperate and really wanting to do this! Bright red and and gold for wedding colors= gross! Deep burgundy and gold for wedding colors- aww yeah!

    1. Hey! Sorry, just saw this or I would've replied sooner!

      I don't have any pictures of the original dress, unfortunately... it was a bright, true red, sort of the Target store color.

      As for leaving it in longer...Maybe a tiny bit? You'd need to keep it moving so that it stayed even. I did long soaks on my test fabric and it didn't make much difference.

      1. Again has to do with even dyeing. If you dry the dye straight off of it, there's no way to make it come off evenly, if that makes sense.
      2. The texture of the fabric is different pre-rinse, and dries stiffer.
      3. ...the dye kind of smells bad.

      Hope it helps!

    2. rinsing, I'm sure, would help with color transfer too.

  8. Hi Shannon, your post is a God send! I have purchased online...NEVER AGAIN! 2 bridesmaid dresses that were supposed to be pool blue but they are really a bright aqua blue and dont work with my wedding dress colour of a taupe at all. They cost me a packet + had to have my daughters taken in at another $120. I want to make the bright blue a more green blue but am unsure how to achieve this. Any ideas? I get married in 2 weeks :( Thank you so much! Tammy

    1. Hi! I'm so sorry that happened to you! What material are they made of? Are they too dark, or just tinted more green than you expected? If they're too dark, there's probably not much you can do about that - I don't know for sure but I'd imagine bleaching would ruin them completely! If it's that they're only more green, you might be able to tint them with a true blue dye to cover it up a bit. You'd need to be careful that they dye doesn't have purple undertones, otherwise it might make the color a bit muddy (think of painting with watercolors as a kid, and how the shades changed).

      If the material is silk, cotton, etc, you might be able to make them a darker shade of blue, but definitely seek out tutorials and posts online about dyeing with that particular fabric first!! If it's polyester, the best you can hope for is taking the tone a bit more blue. :-/ I hope this helps!!

      This post has a ton of good information about home dyeing, and the undertones of Rit dye brand. I don't know what dye is available in your area, but hopefully it will be some help! Also, there aren't professional dyers in my city that work with individuals but there might be in yours, so you could check on that as well.

  9. Hi! I have a very similar situation. I'm wondering if the part at the chest dyed evenly? (where there's multiple layers of fabric). Thanks!

    1. It was even! A little hard to dry properly because of all of the bunches of fabric though.

  10. Shannon, I had to laugh out loud very hard about the spray-painted shoes. I've done that in the past and was told quietly, "Don't tell anyone you did that." Guess it is taboo but if I hadn't anted up they'd not known the difference.
    I am currently making a belly dancing costume of which the purchased coin scarf is fluorescent orange. I really need a burnt orange. Tried dyeing with tea. Tried dyeing with Rit. I know there is another dye available at JoAnn's but after reading your experience I am wondering whether a great brownish stain,as in an oxident or something, might do the trick. My concern is the coins are alreadey attached and I wouldn't want them discolored. Any thoughts?

    1. Haha, I'd heard that too... my stained cream-colored satin shoes were totally useless and now they're... less useless, so I decided to not care either. ;)

      That sounds like a gorgeous scarf by the way! I'd do some research about what the coins are made of and if the dye (or the ph of the dye at least) could harm them. You could also rub a bit on an out-of-the-way one to test it out if you're willing. Good luck on the tint! I know there are higher-quality dyes available, if you don't have any luck with the ones available in stores, but I can't remember any actual brands now (sorry!)

  11. Similar story ... bought a junior bridesmaid dress online for my daughter. It was supposed to be navy blue, but it came in more of a royal blue than navy. I notice that you mentioned black rit dye. Did you use black dye to darken the red or did you use a burgundy dye in the color that you wanted? Have you heard of disperse dye and have you tried it?

    1. Hi! I used a combination of black, brown, and burgundy, because my dress was already reddish and I didn't want to add too many blue/purple tones (which can be under black dyes).

      I've heard of disperse dyes, and that's what I was going to try next if my RIT experiment hadn't worked. But it worked well enough for me, so I stopped there. If you're thinking of dyeing a dress I'd strongly encourage you to find some fabric scraps in a similar color and the same fabric to experiment on.

      This post has information about the undertones on RIT dyes that might be helpful:

  12. Hello Shannon!
    Question, how did the fabric feel afterward? I'm worried about the "dry clean only" warning and that the fabric will shrink or be stiff.. did this happen to you?

    1. It was not quite as soft as it had been, but it didn't shrink and didn't feel too weird, and wasn't stiff or draping any differently!

  13. Help! I bought an off-white dress for my son's wedding (in 3 weeks). It was the only colour available, and I love the style. I wanted to dye it navy blue, so I bought RIT, and followed all instructions - it is now a terrible greyish-light-mauve colour. I live in Canada and so I cannot even get the iDye for Poly (dress is 100% polyester). Any suggestions? Thanks so much,

    1. Oh no! I'm sorry that happened to you! You could try ordering the dye online. I wouldn't try to go to a dark color like navy blue, even with the made-for-synthetic dye, but you might be able to pull off evening out the color to a periwinkle or something similar.

      I don't have any experience with iDye, but you could try googling "iDye for Poly tutorial" Best of luck - I hope it works out!!

    2. I just ran across this post, might be relevant! It seems like your best hope is purchasing some iDye online...

  14. Well, thank you for the tips! However, to order iDye online is $3.99 for the dye and the total ends up being about $35.00 for shipping etc. I think I will have to find another dress..........

  15. My daughter is getting married and wants me to wear a color close to the bridesmaid’s dresses. The color is raspberry and let me tell you that is one color that is hard to find. I ordered a dress and the small swatch looked close to the color, however when it came in it was a cotton candy pink. I was devastated so I decided to search the internet and was so happy to find your site. You did an excellent job of describing the process, thank you. It gave me the courage to consider to consider taking on this project. I would like to dye this dress a darker color for future use. (I found another dress for her wedding) I would like to dye it black or some other dark color. Do you think the cotton candy pink will dye black? If not please give me some suggestions. It’s a beautiful dress and I would like to wear it at some point. Thank you for any advice you can offer.

    1. Sounds just like what happened to me! If the dress is polyester you'll probably have trouble dyeing it a very dark color, but you could try for a darker pink/red. Maybe try a burgundy or dark pink dye? I don't know if you'd be interested in either of those colors, but if you're not going to wear it as it is now anyway it might be worth a shot!

    2. Thanks so much. I really appreciate your guidance. I am going to give it a try. Thanks again.

  16. Do you know if it's possible to dye an orange cream colored, chiffon polyester dress, to an aqua color?