Today’s project is brought to you courtesy of two women who have a prevalent presence in my life, despite the fact that I have never met them.
First, the main inspiration for this post: ReFashionista, who has indeed changed the way I think about fashion, as her site’s tagline suggests. The concept is simple – she purchases ugly / funky / oversized / gaudy / strange clothing from second hand stores and then completely transforms the found pieces into stylish and cute outfits by cutting, altering, sewing, dyeing, and everything in between.
Second, the inspiration for the title of this post: Lana Del Rey, my musical obsession for the last couple of years (and now, for life). Lana. She is a goddess and I could spend hours dissecting her music in an effort to explain why it is that I love her so much. Instead I’ll settle for an homage to my favourite song from her first album, also titled Born to Die.
But back to ReFashionista, and a few words on this lovely person, because it is really odd how things all sort of connect and come around in this small world of ours… I discovered her on Pinterest long before starting my own blog, and pinned a picture from her site because I loved the before and after side-by-side pictures and thought the entire concept of refashioning was awesome (arts and crafts PLUS saving the world by reducing consumption, A+). Several months later I started this adventure on WordPress, and surprise! ReFashionista’s blog is also a WordPress site! I immediately clicked the “Follow” button at the top of the screen and have been receiving emails of her refashions ever since. I really love her work. Every post from her inspires me to keep up my own blog; she’s hilarious, down to earth, candid, creative… OK, I’m gushing… I’ll move on.
To say I have been long overdue for a closet purge would be an enormous understatement – but I finally got everything reorganized and cleaned out last month, accumulating a huge pile of clothes to give away. That said, there was one sweater in particular that I kept to the side, even though it is many years old. (Seriously, many years old – I can’t quite remember when I bought it.) It’s got all the signs of an aged and loved piece – a few loose threads, pilled fabric, and a general air of dishevelment. But it’s a really great sweater – nearly sleeveless so it’s workable year round (layered with a long-sleeve tee in the winter or thrown over a dress in the summer at the air conditioned office), chunky but not too chunky, slouchy, long, all the good stuff.
In other words, I’m not parting with this sweater. I suppose the countless transformations I’ve seen the fearless ReFashionista master must have gotten under my skin, because sometime last summer I became fixated on the idea of finding new life in this old sweater of mine and I picked up a bottle of black Rit Dye from my local craft store on a whim. While the creamy white glow of my old sweater had faded, I knew a dark black version of this slouchy gem would make for a fantastic reincarnation to last me a few more years.
Since then, I have been mentally preparing for my first dye job. Although arts and crafts are my wheelhouse, this felt like it would be a serious step up on the crafting scale of difficulty. I’m no Jillian from ReFashionista – sewing machines baffle me – so dyeing is like the moderately reachable natural progression in my growth as a crafter. Accordingly, there was an unnecessary amount of angst before I started. I read and reread the instructions on how to dye fabric on the Rit Studio website… stressed over whether to bucket dye or washer dye… and wondered if others felt the same trepidation before their first time. Finally, almost a year later, after the great closet purge of 2015, I took the plunge. (Literally, into a bucket of purple-black water.) It was a pretty monumental experience – here’s my sweater dyeing step-by-step adventure:
MATERIALS (List courtesy of the Rit Studio website, with commentary from me.)
- A bottle of liquid Rit Dye (FYI, you will need more than you think – life lessons.)
- Large bucket
- Measuring cup (I picked up a new set of plastic measuring cups at the dollar store for this special occasion but ended up using a larger glass one from my kitchen.)
- Measuring spoons (I didn’t use them. Was I supposed to use them?)
- Large metal spoon
- 1 cup of salt (Or white vinegar, depending on the fabric – I used salt because the sweater was mainly cotton and that’s what the instructions call for, but vinegar is supposed to be used for silk, wool, or nylon.)
- Rubber gloves
- Plastic drop sheet
- Paper towel
- Liquid dishwashing soap
- An old towel
- Chlorine bleach (For cleaning afterwards, so much cleaning!)
INSTRUCTIONS (Courtesy of the Rit Studio website, with commentary from me.)
1. Prep the sweater by washing to remove all the dirt. (I did this last month and had the sweater folded in my closet until I was ready for this mission.)
2. Get the work area set up by spreading out the plastic drop sheet. (I learned that chlorine bleach will clean anything, but I’m glad I used the plastic sheet to manage some of the mess.)
3. Fill the bucket with enough hot water for the sweater to move around freely. The water has to be HOT – the instructions call for 140°F and suggest heating the water with a kettle if needed. (I used tap water and it seemed to work fine…but I definitely put WAY too much water in the bucket! It was almost full to the brim once I put the sweater in, so lesson learned for next time, half as much water would have been fine.)
4. Wearing gloves, shake the bottle of dye, add to the water, and stir to mix. (The instructions say to use half a bottle for 1 pound of clothing but I poured out whole bottle assuming that more dye would be better for saturation.)
5. After 5 minutes, dissolve 1 cup of salt in 2 cups of hot water and add to the bucket with a squirt of liquid dishwashing soap. (I learned that 1 cup of salt does NOT dissolve instantly in the water, so would recommend mixing the salt and hot water right away.)
6. Stick some paper towel into the bucket to determine if the saturation is right, adding more dye if too light or more water if too dark. (Since I had already depleted my entire bottle of dye, I didn’t really have much to do here, but was a little disconcerted and concerned by the results of my test, which came out very purple. Spoiler alert: My concerns were justified.)
7. Wet the sweater with warm water, squeeze out the excess water, remove any wrinkles and add to the bucket. (This was the most exciting part of the process – watching my sweater instantly transform as I dipped it into that liquid was strangely satisfying.)
8. Stir constantly up and down and side to side to avoid uneven dyeing, for 10 to 30 minutes. (The instructions state that the longer you dye, the deeper the saturation so I went all in and stirred that black water for 30 minutes straight. I kept my gloves on the whole time, occasionally checking the sweater to see how the dye job was progressing and could see it getting darker and darker… but don’t be fooled, as the instructions say, the colour definitely appears darker when wet!)
9. Remove the sweater from the bucket and rinse in warm water, slowly making the water cooler until it runs clear. (This took almost 10 minutes and was the most challenging part of the project – the sweater was extremely heavy when wet!)
10. Wash the sweater in warm water with a mild detergent, rinse thoroughly in cold water, and hang dry. (The instructions suggest washing by hand or on the delicate cycle in a washing machine with an old towel – I machine washed with a towel and it worked just fine.)
11. Use the chlorine bleach to clean anything touched by the dye. (My bathtub looked like a twisted murder scene but the bleach got everything off, no problem.)
12. REPEAT! (Uhhhh… at least in my case. The dye worked, but the black was nowhere near as dark as I wanted – it came out more like a pale black with a purple tinge, probably because I put too much water and/or should have doubled the dye and/or tripled the dye time.)
*Ongoing Care: Since I just finished this project over the weekend I obviously haven’t washed the sweater yet, but the instructions online suggest washing with an old towel and mild detergent the first few times in warm to cold water.
The final product is pretty great, even though it is a bit more of a charcoal grey instead of a dark black. I tucked away all the loose threads and it’s like a new sweater!
It’s funny now to think that I was so unsure of how this project would turn out. Of course there were a few lessons learned (clearly the second round of dyeing wasn’t in my original plan and now I know that more dye with less water is a better equation) but it was ultimately a relatively easy undertaking. The whole time I was sitting on the edge of the tub stirring that sweater, I kept thinking to myself, “This isn’t so hard, I could do this again, I could dye my favourite faded red sweater, and those black jeans that are starting to fade, and, and, and…” So this might be the start of a new phase in my life. Maybe I really was born to dye.