How To,  Sewing Tips

Sewing with Reds

I love red fabric. Red is powerful: when my parents met at a wedding in Washington D.C. in 1950, my mom was wearing a bright red wool coat.  Coincidentally they both lived in New York City. My dad got her phone number but then misplaced it…however he saw her again on the train back to NY and recognized her from the red coat.  If not for that chance encounter, who knows if their paths would ever have crossed again?

There’s a joke that if you want to get a man’s attention (whether it’s at a job, in politics, or even a single’s bar) wear a bright color. Have you ever heard of a guy saying “She was wearing a muted mauve floral print“? Nope, what you will hear is “She was wearing a bright blue dress“. 

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(costumes by Mary Zophres for LaLaland)

I don’t know if that’s because women in general are more attune to style nuances, or because statistically more men are color-blind, but it is what it is. Chances are you’ve seen this meme on social media:


https://www.memecenter.com/fun/204861/men-vs-women-with-colour-names


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All kidding aside, red is attention-getting, memorable, and festive. Every holiday season I get orders for Christmas Eve nighties in snowy white with holly-berry red ribbons. People want to make sure the ribbon color won’t bleed into the gown. I assure them it won’t, because I use Offray USA satin ribbon in polyester….and the color is built into the synthetic polymer before it gets spun into yarn and woven into ribbon.

But I do understand their concern. Red fabric has such a bad reputation for ruining laundry. Who remembers this episode of “Friends”? Poor Rachel just wanted to get the washing done, but one red sock meant everything turned pink:

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It’s a comedy classic because it happens so often. Do you know why red fabrics are notorious for “bleeding”? I didn’t until I worked in the apparel industry. Here’s the deal: every color of every fabric needs approval from the designer and/or buyer….and when it comes to red, brighter/richer/deeper sells better. Buyers keep asking for the color to be more intense. So the textile dye-house keeps adding more dye until the fabric is over-saturated, to get approval. Problem is, the excess dye that makes red fabric so vibrant can come off, either when dry (called “crocking”) or when in the wash (called “bleeding”). No big deal, just re-wash the white garments that turned pink with some bleach, right?

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Well not always. Sometimes the damage goes deeper. Here are three times in my work experience that red has caused havoc:

  1. First job in high school (at the very beautiful Sealfon’s of Ridgewood): we stocked a cute “poor-boy” ribbed top with a sewn-in crisp white collar. They came in a rainbow of bright colors and sold like hot-cakes…and every single red one came back to the store with a pink collar. Only the red ones! The red excess dye bled into the white trim fabric. They all went back to the factory, who probably got a rebate from the mill.
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2. Out of liberal arts college, I joined the Executive Training Program at Saks Fifth Avenue in NYC. This was in the 70s: Ultrasuede was a hot new synthetic-suede fabric popular in designer sportswear, and a bright red Bill Blass pantsuit was the ultimate power suit for women in business:

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Unfortunately one of our customers wore her suit while driving her white-leather-upholstered sports car, and the dye rubbed off onto the seats (crocking). Saks paid to have her car reupholstered. In leather. We are talking thousands of dollars.

3. After graduating from FIT, I moved from retail to product development, working at Victoria’s Secret. This is when I learned about the reason for over-saturation of red fabric. One Christmas we sold a gorgeous pure silk pajama set in bright red. The buyers wanted it rich, richer, richest red.  It made for a gorgeous holiday catalog photo, but sadly, it caused problems. Can you guess if the issue was bleeding, or crocking?

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It was crocking. The red rubbed off onto customers’ sheets. Victoria’s Secret replaced many sets of customer’s bedsheets…including Pratesi sheet sets which cost several hundreds of $$$.

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What does any of this have to do with sewing? Control. If you purchase a red garment at retail, you don’t know how well the fabric has been tested. When you create your own garments (or home furnishings), you can test a small piece of the fabric before investing in yardage.

In my previous post I explained that I don’t pre-wash every fabric, instead I TEST-WASH every fabric. Some polyesters (like Offray ribbon) do not bleed red at all:

But most natural fibers do bleed, and so I always pre-wash all red cotton, linen or silk yardage. I strongly recommend pre-washing reds with a Color Catcher sheet:

….or a Dye Grabber cloth:

How do these products work? They are manufactured to absorb excess dye floating in the wash water (see patent description here:
https://patents.google.com/patent/US5698476A/en )


https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/oct/12/colour-catcher-gravity-tea-whites-caffeine

I was asked in IG whether they actually pull dye from the fabric? I honestly don’t know, however I’ve used these for years and haven’t noticed any difference in fading between the tested and untested fabric.

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Take a look at this print my customer chose for her daughter:

Scary, huh? Red cotton with white dots. Can’t you just see the while thing turning pink? I tested 1 yard in the wash. Look how much excess red came off a 1-yard cut of this red-printed cotton the first wash:

After 2 washes, it was suitable for making this item for my customer, and I’m confident the red won’t run into the white dots or the scallop-edge trim:

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Have you had any red fabric disasters?

Happy sewing! Janet

4 Comments

  • Shelley

    I have a nice thick red cotton sweat-shirting that is currently sitting in a bag with the post-it of shame reading..still bleeds red after 3 washings. Had a red bathroom rug used only once during the holiday season that crocked on the floor ( finally wore off after a year).
    Wish Costco sold those color catchers in bulk. They are kinda spendy per little box.
    I’ve heard lots of fixes for color bleeding like adding vinegar, or products like retayne or synthrapol.
    Not sure I want to add more chemicals though.

  • Theresa in Tucson

    I bought two yards of red denim in a Craftsy sale. I prewashed the denim twice and thought I was home free so I went and made up my jeans. At the same time I made up two pair of off-white linen pants. Well you know the rest of the story. Fast forward a few weeks and wanting to save water I dumped the red jeans into a wash load of mixed pieces which included a pair of the off-white linen pants and a white cotton blouse. The blouse and the off-white jeans came out pink! This was not a game ender as I wear both the blouse and the jeans when i coordinate with other pink items in the wardrobe. The red jean alas are no longer bright red but faded to a darkish pink that also coordinates with elements of my pink wardrobe and they no longer bleed. The pink pants and blouse have gotten much lighter and are only noticeably pink when sat next to a white item.

  • [email protected]

    A rug crocking on the floor, that’s TERRIBLE! And it probably seemed like such a festive little holiday touch, too. I have heard of adding vinegar to keep dark jeans a rich color, but I haven’t tried it with reds. (And yes those color catchers are not cheap!)

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