It's no secret that I love thrifting. Probably more than 95% of my wardrobe is thrifted and I wouldn't have it any other way.
There is, however, one problem with thrifting: You have to be patient. When skinny jeans first hit the market (what was that, like 2007, 2008?), you couldn't find them in thrift stores for another year or two. It was the same story with colored skinny jeans, once those hit it big, and statement necklaces, and gladiator sandals, and so on and so on. Trends tend to trickle into thrift stores rather than invade them full force.
This post was actually conceived last fall, when I fell in love with army / olive green skinnies and, despite searching and scouring every thrift store in the greater Boston area, couldn't find a reasonably priced, high quality pair anywhere (reasonable for me being under $15). But what I could find were white skinny jeans. Especially at the end of summer / beginning of fall, when everyone's realizing they can't wear white after Labor Day. So I happened upon a pair of white "legging jeans" from Gap (my favorite brand of skinnies) on the clearance rack for FIVE DOLLARS. That's actually even better than thrift store prices! They had a few light stains on the butt (hence the absurdly low price), but I didn't care because I had a grand scheme to dye them army green anyway. I went out and bought the colors of Rit dye I needed that same week...And then it all sat in my cupboard for the next year. It even traveled all the way across the country with me to Los Angeles where it sat in a cupboard again. Until this week, when, with fall in the air (but not actually--this is SoCal), I decided it was time to finish what I started:
Step 1: Pick a Color and Buy Your Dye
There may be household dyes other than Rit, but I used Rit dyes because you can buy them at any craft / fabric store and their website is super helpful with figuring out how to mix colors, dyeing techniques, etc. And they have over 500 color variations, including each season's Pantone colors, to choose from. The one I chose was called Moss Green, and is second from the left on the bottom in the picture above. You'll see that my jeans didn't actually end up that color, but it was my starting point.
How much dye you'll need depends on the size / weight of the garment you're dyeing and how much water you're dyeing it in. Here are a couple of helpful charts that you should NOT ignore (remember how I said my pants didn't actually end up the color I intended them to?):
Did you catch all of that? So, for kicks, let's say my pair of jeans weighed 12 ounces.
The original recipe to dye 1 ounce of fabric moss green is:
2 tsp Dark Green
1/2 tsp Golden Yellow
1/2 tsp Dark Brown
1 Quart Water
To make the same dye solution for 12 ounces of fabric, I need to multiply everything by 12:
2 tsp Dark Green x 12 = 24 tsp = 8 Tbsp
1/2 tsp Golden Yellow x 12 = 6 tsp = 2 Tbsp (or 1/2 Tbsp of powder dye*)
1/2 tsp Dark Brown x 12 = 6 tsp = 2 Tbsp
1 Quart Water x 12 = 12 quarts = 3 gallons
*When I went to buy my dye, Michael's only carried Golden Yellow in powder form. The recipes assume that you're using the liquid form. The second chart above shows that 2 Tbsp of liquid = 1/2 Tbsp powder.
HERE, my friends, is where I made my first mistake (yes, there were more). I hadn't found the first chart, and just went off of the figures in the second chart. Notice how under the "3 Gallons" column it says 8 tsp, 4 tsp, etc.? Have you ever seen the abbreviation for Tablespoons in lowercase, without a "b" in it? Yeah, me neither, and without those indicators, "Tablespoon" sure looks a lot like "teaspoon," amirite?
So, guess what I did? Yep, I used teaspoons instead of Tablespoons when I mixed up my dye bath. Yep. If only I had seen Chart #1 beforehand, I could have done the math myself and realized that, in Rit's editorial judgment, "tsp" means Tablespoon. (Side note: I'm kind of happy it turned out the way it did, because I think I ended up with just the right shade of khaki green, but if you want to actually get the color you think you're getting, don't repeat my mistakes.)
Step 2: Gather Your Materials
Now that you've figured out what color you want and how much dye you need, I recommend watching Rit's video tutorial about dying jeans. It's what guided my process. A note that I used the "bucket" or sink method to dye my jeans, and that your process will vary if you decide to use the stovetop, washing machine, or any other method. Here's what you'll need:
- A white or light colored pair of jeans
- A 3-4 gallon watertight container or stainless steel sink
- 3 gallons of very hot water
- Rit dye, using the calculations from the previous step
- Measuring cups / spoons
- 1 cup of table salt + 2 cups of water
- Plastic gloves
- Dishwashing soap
- A paper towel
Step 3: Prepare the dye bath and fabric
First, get your pair of jeans soaking wet (that's them in the left side of the sink)
Add all of your dye to the 3 gallons of hot water (the hotter the better) and STIR WELL
Dissolve 1 cup of salt in 2 cups of water and add to the solution (helps color stick to fabric)
Add a bit of dish soap (helps color stick to fabric)
See that line about STIRRING WELL? Yeah, that was my second mistake, and it cost me dearly. For one thing, the recipe said that I could add the powder dye right into the solution without dissolving it separately. And while that probably works fine most of the time, a few of the powder crystals didn't totally dissolve as I stirred them into the solution, and I found a couple of small yellow spots on my jeans the first time I pulled them out to look. This wasn't a big deal since I was dying them a darker color and the spots would be dyed over, but if you were using a dark powder dye this could be pretty devastating.
Secondly, despite shaking both bottles of liquid dye before pouring them out, the bottle of brown dye was...glorpy? It was just thicker than the other, and seemed to have coagulated a bit. I measured it out, poured it in, stirred it well, and figured that the glorpy bits were all dissolving nicely. NOT SO. The water had turned so dark at this point that I couldn't tell what was happening in its depths, but apparently some of the coagulated bits of brown dye didn't dissolve, and hung around in the water waiting to attack my jeans (pictures coming). So, let this be the lesson: STIR STIR STIR. It will feel like you're just stirring water, and maybe you are, but spend a few minutes now to prevent splotches later.
Once your solution is good and stirred, test the color with the edge of a paper towel. The first couple of times I did this, the color seemed a little on the teal side, and not as dark as I would have expected. (You and I now know that this is partially due to the fact that I confused tablespoons for teaspoons). So I added several teaspoons more of both dark green and brown dye until I got a nice army color green.
Step 4: ADD your jeans and finish the process
You can leave your garment in the dye for anywhere from 20 - 60 minutes, depending on how saturated you'd like the color to be. I probably left mine in for a total of 35 minutes, making sure to move them around frequently so that there were no uneven spots of color.
If all goes well and the color looks good (remember that it will always look darker when wet but will lighten when dried), all you have to do is wring out your jeans and rinse them in cold water until color is no longer bleeding out. Then wash and dry them with items in dark colors or that you don't care about (like old towels), and you're set!
Step 5: If all does not go well...
So, remember that glorpy brown dye that didn't totally dissolve and left several dark brown stains on my jeans? Here's what that looked like, right on the butt of my jeans (except it was darker and worse in person):
Blerg. So, Plan B. Once I'd gotten my jeans to the shade I wanted, I wrung them out, rinsed them until the water ran clear, and then laid them out on a plastic sheet (aka a trash bag cut along the sides). Using a Q-tip, I applied bleach to the spots that had been dyed brown. If you attempt something similar, make sure to put a paper towel or old dish cloth under the spots where you're using bleach so it doesn't soak through onto the other side. Here's what the spots looked like after a little bleach:
I ended up adding another coat (layer?) of bleach to make the spots even lighter than you see above before trying to re-dye them. Then I threw them in the dryer because spot dyeing works best if the fabric is dry.
Once they were dry, I mixed up a small batch of dye using the same proportions as I did for the large batch. I tested with a paper towel again to make sure the color was close.
Then, again using a Q-tip and again making sure I had a paper towel / dish cloth underneath the areas I was dyeing, I applied dye to the bleached spots on the dry fabric. If you end up having to do something similar, note that the dye will spread out a little bit from where you apply it, so start at the center of the spot and work outward. Here are the same bleach spots pictured earlier, now with a couple of layers of dye applied and waiting to dry:
Once I was satisfied that the spots were as close in color to the rest of the pants as I could get them, and once they were dry and had set for 20 minutes, I threw them in the wash with a bunch of black / dark items and then dried as normal, crossing my fingers that they'd look okay in the end.
Obviously it would have been better if they'd never gotten the brown spots to begin with, but considering the process they went through, I'd say these turned out pretty well! If you look hard you can definitely see a bit of mottling where I had to re-dye the bleach spots, but only if you're looking for it (and who will be?). If it starts to bug me I may re-dye them a slightly darker shade, but for now I'm pretty stoked with how these turned out, and even glad that they ended up being lighter than I originally planned! All in all, a totally do-able DIY project that should only take an hour!