Dye work, the disclaimers

Most people in the US have easy access to some kind of fabric dye. A lot grocery stores still carry RIT, for example. Local craft stores often carry tie dye kits if they don’t have a full range of fiber reactive dyes. If not a craft store, then perhaps an art supply store or a fabric store will offer liquid dyes. But what these stores don’t offer is a sign… a sign in really BIG letters… with all the dye disclaimers! Things people ought to know before they embark on a casual project — things they are often unhappy about later. Here are my Gentle Suggestions for what should be on it:

  1. If You Can’t Wash It, You Can’t Dye It.  We Mean It. Home dye processes require the item to be submerged multiple times and live. A canvas tennis shoe? Probably okay. A dry-clean-only shirt? Probably not. Something that’s glued together? Bad idea. A cotton couch slipcover? Maybe. What will you wash it in?
  2. It Really Does Matter What It’s Made Out Of. If you don’t know what it is, you can’t pick out the right dye. So please know what it is before you come to the store, and be ready to read the labels. 
  3. If You’re Not Prepared to Ruin It, Don’t Dye It. Unless you’re working with a bunch of extra sample blanks, don’t dye something you’re sentimentally attached to (or that someone else is sentimentally attached to). Because the first time you dye any given material with any given dye, you might not get what you expect.
  4. Be Prepared. Have everything ready before you start. Don’t get halfway along and then realize you forgot to buy some important thing. Read and understand what you’ll need at each step before you jump in.
  5. Proceed With Caution. Use all your enthusiasm and creativity while dyeing, but take action carefully. Measure carefully, follow directions carefully, use protective gear as directed. You’ll avoid messy accidents… and if you want to do it again, you know just what you did last time. 

There’s no reason why novices should NOT try dyeing fabric! It’s a fun hobby, and you can dabble a little (no really, it’s possible if you’re not an obsessive person like myself) with just a few dyes and a few blank garments. But the ease with which people can try it without knowing what they are getting into is a shame.


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