Help and advice

A beginner’s guide to dyeing with a washing machine

While we can’t all be stars of the Great British Sewing Bee, there is an often-overlooked way to transform your wardrobe that requires absolutely no sewing skills at all. Many people feel that fabric dyeing is a labour-intensive and messy process, but these days there are plenty of products that you can use in your machine. This means there’s no mess, and all you have to do is set the relevant cycles, then hang your new look up to dry when it’s done!

What can I dye?

Before you get ready to go, you’ll need to know what the clothes you want to dye are made of. Plant fibres like cotton or viscose require different dyes to animal and synthetic fabrics. Cotton fabrics are the easiest to dye, so this is a good place to start. However, if you have a poly cotton or polyester-rayon mix, don’t despair! You can still use cotton dyes on these fabrics, but be aware that they will dye to a lighter shade.

If you’ve ever dyed your hair, you’ll be aware of the principle that dyes cannot create a lighter colour without pre-bleaching. For the simplest dyeing projects, going darker is the way to go.

Also be aware that many garments are sewn up with polyester thread, which will not take a dye designed for cottons. If this is a problem, consider attaching some fun trim to hemlines. There are even iron-on adhesives for fabric, so you don’t have to sew it on if you don’t want to.

Fun projects

White clothes or household linens that have lost their sparkle (or just got stained) are a prime candidate for home dyeing. Starting from white gives you the greatest range of colour choices, which lets you really express your individuality, but most light colours will work.

There are also tie dye kits designed for washing machine use, which can be a fun project to do with the kids. All you need are a few white T-shirts, duvet covers, or whatever else you can think of. Then tie it up with the dye threads provided, and wash according to the instructions.

What else will I need?

Before you go shopping, weigh your fabric so that you can buy the right amount of dye. You should also check whether you need to add salt to your product of choice. You can either weigh out the right amount of table salt, or take advantage of dye-makers who provide pre-weighed packets of cheap salt. Many shops run promotions where you are given the salt for free when you buy the dye, so shop around!

It’s best to wash your hands after loading your dye into the machine, as some of the substances it contains may be irritants. You should also carefully follow the instructions when it comes to what cycle to run. Most products advise that you run an empty cycle immediately afterwards to clean any residual dye out of the machine. If you’re feeling nervous, you can then check that it’s all gone by washing a piece of white fabric.


© Axonn 2015