How To,  Sewing Tips

Dyeing Fabric and Trims: some tips

Do you ever color-dye your sewing materials?  It’s quite helpful if you cannot find the exact shade that you want at retail, and especially useful if you need trims to match your fabric. But I never see dye products marketed for this purpose….maybe I’m the only person who does this?

“Rit” brand home dye products have been around for a long time….I’ve come across vintage magazine ads from the ’30’s and 40’s at the flea market.  The promotional theme was generally about updating worn apparel, which is a valid  reflection of the times (the Depression and wars):


In the ’50’s  Rit pushed the idea of dyeing home-furnishings, a reflection of the explosion of home-ownership plus that newfangled appliance: the washing machine. In the ’60’s the new Rit slogan was “I didn’t buy it- I dyed it!“:


My first personal memory of Rit products is of my mom dyeing a sofa slipcover in the washing machine, in the ’60s.  She wanted that deep hunter green color in the picture above. It was not as simple as the ads had made her believe.  She went back to the store 3 times to buy more and more dye, salt, and vinegar.  I think it took 8 packages altogether, and took 2 days. The color never did get that intense. The washing machine was permanently stained. Lesson learned: dark rich colors are not easy to achieve.


When I was in high school, Rit moved into the youth market, running ads in “Seventeen” and “Teen” magazines, showing teenagers how to use dye to perk up clothing into the latest trendy colors:


Personally I wasn’t interested; I would rather sew a new outfit.  I guess my own motto was less “I didn’t buy it- I dyed it”  but rather “I didn’t buy it- I made it”. Possibly I still felt bad vibes from my mom’s slipcover experiment?

I imagine many people think of Tie-Dye when they think of Rit.  In the sewing-and-crafts stores, dye is sold in the kids’ crafts area, next to tee-shirts:


I’ve certainly done my share of tie-dye teeshirts: I was “class mom” every year of my daughter’s elementary school experience and it was a school tradition for every child to tie-dye a shirt each year for camping trips (Montessori schools start kids on camping trips in first grade).  And then there was Girl Scouts: more tie-dye shirts.  After my daughter left for college, I donated all of the tie-dye supplies (squirt bottles, dye powders, teeshirts) to an after-school program. Time to move on!

Or so I thought. How is it that I again have a new arsenal of Rit dyes (this time in liquid)? :


It’s because I now sew a lot of white fabrics, and there are countless shades of white, from optic-brightened “blue-white”, to soft whites with overtones of yellow or pink.  Many of my designs are embellished with  lace, applique, ric-rac….it’s extremely difficult to find trims that match each fabric.  Mass-manufacturers overcome this problem by having all components dyed-to-match, but the minimum order quantities to do this are enormous. This is where Rit is so useful for the home-sewer or small-batch maker. I use it all the time now….however I’ve made a lot of mistakes through trial-and-error.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Use tools dedicated for dyeing; even though the Rit website says their products are non-toxic, do you want to mix up your “dye” tools and your “food” tools? I dye everything in an inexpensive plastic dish-pan and drain in a plastic colander before hanging outside on a wash-line:


(I’m also blessed to have a slop-sink, because the previous homeowner was a fine-arts painter and my sewing room used to be a painting studio. But you can use any sink as long as you put the dishpan in it…..even if the dye is non-toxic, but it can stain.)

  • Bleach is good to have on-hand, in case the colors come out too deep; you can sometimes lighten a shade or two with chlorine bleach (Rit also makes a Color Remover product):


  • A  clear Pyrex measuring cup is useful for color-testing, and for heating up water in a microwave. Sometimes you need to warm up the dye-bath water and this is simple with a handled cup. Some colors (such as yellows) have an oily component that dissolves much better when boiling hot.  You can use a stove-top, but a microwave is quick and easy, and the clear Pyrex lets you see if the dissolving is complete:


The last items you’ll need are dish-washing gloves (to avoid staining your skin….plus the water needs to be HOT) and a wooden cooking spoon (or chopsticks) for stirring.


The directions to use dye are pretty straightforward: fill container with hot water, mix in dye, put in wet fabric, rinse in cool water.  Here’s what else you should know:

  • Buy extra fabric, trim, or whatever you are dyeing.  You’ll need it for testing colors, and sometimes for “do-overs”. This is NOT an exact science.


  • Be patient.  Don’t dye under pressure. There’s a lot of trial-and-error to get the color you want, and it can be frustrating to do this in a hurry.
  • Choose fabrics/trims carefully. Materials must be absorbent to use regular Rit dye. Cotton, rayon, silk all take dye beautifully. Nylon is amazing, it drinks up the dye so quickly and completely that the dye-water in the dishpan becomes clear! (Note: Rit does make a product called DyeMore that will color polyesters; I haven’t tried it because the reviews on Amazon are so mixed…some really bad. You can also get polyester dye from Jacquard.)
  • Thoroughly drench your materials to be dyed. Soak for awhile , and squeeze water through and through. Any areas that are still dry won’t absorb dye evenly. If there’s time, let the materials soak overnight, then dye the next day. The process is: soak materials in the dishpan, remove and place in colander, fill dishpan with dye-bath, return materials from colander back to dye bath.
  • Test, test, test. Before you fill a full dye-bath, use your Pyrex cup to try a small amount of a color with a small piece of fabric/trim, then rinse, dry with a hair dryer to see if it’s the shade and tone you expected.  If you had used a whole dishpan of water/dye and it’s not right, that all goes down the drain.
  • Use the hottest water you can stand, and mix dye into water well. Don’t put in your materials-to-be-dyed until all specs of dye pigment are dissolved into the dye-bath. This may require more agitation or heat.  Yellow is notorious for not dissolving well; I’ve learned to dissolve yellow in a Pyrex cup in the microwave before pouring into the dye-bath.
  • Colors are deeper when wet; wait ’til your test piece dries before deciding if it’s what you want.
  • Heat and time affect how well dyes absorb. If your dye-bath cools down, you can warm it up by dipping your Pyrex cup in, scooping up some liquid, then microwaving and pouring back into the bath. As for time, let everything soak well until the materials stop absorbing color. This takes trial-and-error, as fiber-content and weave-density vary.
  • Start with light shades; you can add more color later.  It’s much easier to re-dye with more color, than to take out color.  You CAN remove some color (from some fibers) using bleach….nylon is almost impossible, once it drinks in that dye it won’t give it up, but natural fibers (cotton, rayon, silk) can be bleached for a “do-over”.
  • If you want to add more dye to a dye-bath, take out the materials first!  Put in more dye and stir well before putting the fabric back in.  Ask me how I know (ouch). Yes, I’ve thrown away a lot of materials in the process of learning -to-dye.
  • To change a color, you can  (sometimes!) re-dye a different tone.  My latest project called for a slightly peachy-pink. I started with Rit “Rose Petal” but it was too “blue”, I tried re-dyeing with “Yellow” and then it was too orange.  I was out of trim so I ended up going back and forth bleaching and re-dyeing until I got it right. This is not the ideal process: it’s much better to create a recipe “mix” first and dye once:


  • It’s more efficient to combine dye colors and dip once, than to re-dye. If you come up with a “recipe” that you like, you can bottle it for future use.  Here’s one I use very often to “warm up” cool whites:


(Update: you can get a custom dye recipe from RIT!  See note at end of post)


Does this sound like just too much work? Maybe….but look how awesome when it all turns out well:


My customer had asked “Can you make this style in pink?” and I was able to say “Yes!”


If you have tips for dyeing, do tell!  I’m always learning…..

10/23/2016 Update: received this AWESOME information from Angela Jacobsen, she contacted RIT about getting a custom recipe and received this reply:

Thank you for your question. We would recommend mailing a physical sample to our color matching expert. Please send your color swatch (paint swatch, physical piece of sample fabric or it can be printed out and verified it is the correct shade before mailing) to our free color matching service at:

Color Matching
Att: Yvonne Dickinson
2855 North Franklin Road #7
Indianapolis, IN 46219

Please be sure to provide your name, e-mail address and return address.













  • Renita

    They have a service where they can give you the specific formula for the color you are trying to match. When I made my wedding dress in 1968, it was from silk gazar and silk chiffon. I chose cotton galloon lace (only available in white) to separate into individual motifs to scatter around the a-line above the knee skirt. Also to edge the silk chiffon mantilla (short Spanish veil). I sent samples of the fabric and lace to Rit. They returned the samples with the lace dyed to match and the formula o 3 colors th mix to get the match. And they suggested that I dye the faux pearls too. It turned out fabulous and everything matched. I believe the service was free.

  • [email protected]

    Wow, that’s amazing, THANK YOU for sharing! And here I am testing over and over again. I forgot about pearls, I should try to dye those too, I only have “white” and “ivory” and often need something inbetween. Thanks so much Renita!

  • Marsha

    I occasionally dye thrift store finds, if I like the fit but not the color of the garment. All of your tips are great–I especially second the one about making sure all the pigment is dissolved, unless you want a randomly spotted fabric. My additional tip, since I’m usually working with used clothing, is to make sure that there are no stains, especially oily ones, because a stained area will frequently not dye uniformly with the rest of the garment. (Does it sound like I’ve learned these things the hard way?!) Also, even if the garment is a cotton, linen, rayon, etc., the thread used is often polyester and won’t dye like the rest of the item. So be aware of this especially if there’s topstitching or a straight-stitch hem.

  • [email protected]

    Good point! Same thing with elastic…it’s usually polyester, and doesn’t take the dye. Have you ever seen photos of garment-dye projects in the magazine “Altered Couture”? There are definitely a lot of surprises, when certain components absorb the pigment differently!

  • Angela

    Has anyone had RIT match a physical swatch more recently? I was just looking around on their website. They have an email address you can send pictures or a pantone number to and they will send you a recipe, but I feel like that could end up being pretty inaccurate if you don’t have a set of pantone colors handy. I’ve got a cherry print fabric I’d love to have matching red trim for, but the red in the cherries makes every other red in the store look weirdly dark and orange.

  • Angela

    So I emailed RIT and they gave me the address to mail a physical swatch in for matching. I am excited to try it out!

  • Angela

    This is the email I got back:

    Thank you for your question. We would recommend mailing a physical sample to our color matching expert. Please send your color swatch (paint swatch, physical piece of sample fabric or it can be printed out and verified it is the correct shade before mailing) to our free color matching service at:

    Color Matching
    Att: Yvonne Dickinson
    2855 North Franklin Road #7
    Indianapolis, IN 46219

    Please be sure to provide your name, e-mail address and return address.

    My swatches are in the mailbox waiting for the postman to pick them up. I sent them a piece of the white twill I’d like to dye as well as the cherry swatch for matching. I don’t know if they’ll use it, but I thought it couldn’t hurt. I’m interested to see how long it takes and if I’ll be able to recreate their results.

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