How to Dip Dye a Sweater (or any Fabric!) 1
Refashions,  Dye Refashions,  Sweater Refashions

How to Dip Dye a Sweater (or any Fabric!)

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Dip dyed clothing, hair, wall art, napkins…heck…everything is super on-trend right now.

While temps are warming, we still have a few lightly chilly days ahead of us. What better time to make my own DIY Dip Dyed Sweater?

I scoured the interwebs looking for inspiration and settled on this piece by Madewell that retails for $88 (at the time of this post).

Madewell Dip Dyed Sweater
That’ll be $88.

I chose this $1 thrifted sweater for this refashion:

white sweater before dip dye refashion
Just a boring white sweater.

I’m about to show you how to dip dye a sweater. But first, I’m going to show you what went wrong in my first attempt.

That’s right. My first go at this was a Nailed It-esque fail. But I learned from my mistakes, and I think you could too!

The Botched Attempt (Don’t do these things!)

I thought it would be a super smart idea to execute this dye job outside to avoid making a mess inside. I filled the stock pot I use for dyeing with a saturated mix of these dyes:

rit dyes
I thought these would give me a nice clay hue. I was wrong.
filling pot with dye
You fool! This doesn’t end well!

Then, I hung my sweater on a shepherd’s hook in a planter and sat in its dye bath like so:

How to Dip Dye a Sweater (or any Fabric!) 2
Wait…that’s not the color I wanted…huh…

I left it in its way too saturated dye bath for about an hour.

Then, I had the bright idea of using my garden hose to rinse it. *facepalm*

How to Dip Dye a Sweater (or any Fabric!) 3
Note: This is where this DIY really starts to plummet downhill.

Of course, rinsing my sweater that had way too much dye in it with a freaking garden hose meant dye splattered all over the sweater in ugly splotches. 🙁

I don’t have pics of this, so just imagine me panicking and running this dripping wet sweater through my house to my washing machine.

My thought was, maybe the dye that splattered wouldn’t be as “set” as the dye on the bottom of the sweater. Ergo, maybe washing it would fix the splatters while still keeping the bottom dye.

Of course I was wrong.

After washing and drying my sweater, I ended up with a result that looked nothing like my inspiration piece.

The color was all wrong, and I didn’t even have that nice sharp contrast of stark white/dramatic ombre at the bottom.

dip dye fail
Fail.

But I didn’t give up!

Alright. This time’s for realsies. Here’s how to (correctly) dip dye a sweater!

Step 1: grab a white sweater and stick it in a plastic bag, rubber-banding it a little above where you want the dye to end.

sweater in plastic bag with rubber band
It kind of looks like a squid, doesn’t it?

This will help to avoid my previous problem of dye splattering over the pristine whiteness of the top!

Step 2: Pick your dye combo.

rit dyes
No pink’s gonna happen here! Not this time!

You can see how this time, I’m omitting that wine dye, as it seemed to dominate my last dye combination.

dye in dye bath
Don’t overdo it with the dye!

Last time I used at least TEN times as much dye. This time, I went with a much smaller amount (and a smaller bath).

dye bath ready for sweater
Much better!

Step 3: Carefully lower your sweater into its dye bath.

lowering sweater into dye bath
In ya go!

If you’re wanting an ombre effect, once you’ve dipped it in, lift it back out a little bit.

Step 4: Let it sit for 30-40 minutes.

lifting sweater out of dye for ombre effect
See?

You can see why I liked using my sink for this. It was easy to just tuck my sweater around the faucet.

To make the ombre effect more gradual-looking, just lift the sweater in and out of the dye bath a couple of times during its bath and then return it to its original position.

Step 5: Rinse the bejeezus out of it.

rinsing dip dyed sweater
Keep rinsing!

Rinse the bottom of your sweater (with the bag still on) until the water runs completely clear.

Step 6: Bag it & Hang to dry!

Grab a plastic shopping bag and put the wet part of your sweater inside (to avoid drippage, then hang it to dry outside!

putting dip dyed sweater in bag to take it outside
Bag it!
dip dyed sweater drying outside
Enjoy the sunshine!

After your sweater is fully-dried, it’s ready to wear!

how to dip dye sweater after
And wear it I did!

I’m soooo much happier with how the second the version turned out! It’s certainly not identical to my inspiration piece, but it definitely contains all the elements I liked about it…and for a fraction of the cost!

dip dyed sweater after
Sitting stylishly in my swell sweater.

Let’s look at the $88 version again, shall we?

madewell dip dyed sweater inspiration
Why is she smiling? She just spent $88 on a shirt. ONE shirt.
dip dyed sweater
Pretty close to the inspiration piece, methinks!

I love my new sweater! Am I terrified to wash it for fear of color bleed? Of course I am (I’m sure it will bleed at least a little). But I did my best to rinse out the excess dye, so hopefully if I wash it in cold water by hand, it’ll be okay!

AND I saved $86 by not buying the Madewell version ($88 minus $1 thrifted sweater and $1 worth of dye)! 😉

Looking for even more dip dye inspiration? Check out my previous dip dye tutorials!

Cheers!

How to Dip Dye a Sweater
Sweater Dip Dye Tutorial

38 Comments

  • Angie

    You can get a more umbra look if you wet the whole sweater 1st. Try it for your next creation. I think you will be even more happy with the results.

  • Nancy

    I just adore all your fashions. How did you get started? I have so many things I fell in love with at yard sales but don’t fit me the way I’d like. So to gain courage from you, did you just jump into pinning things to fit and cut then accordingly? It’s a scary thing for me. I have several button up shirts all different fabrics but look big and clumsy on me, like your day 360 Spearmint dress. Guess it’s go for it or donate. Wish me luck!

  • BC

    I use Shout color catchers in the wash. They work really well and catch all the over dye in the water preventing bleeding. Two other products synthrapol will remove excessive dye and retayne will help set dye. You can find both at quilting stores.

  • Debra Wallace

    Was this cotton, if not, what were the sweaters made of? And the first sweater didn’t turn out as you had hoped so, of course, for you it seems like a fail. But actually I like both. I use color catcher sheets in the washing machine when I am concerned about dye traveling and depositing on other items in the washer. They have never failed me.

  • Tisa van den heuvel

    Can you let us know how you go once you ways it please? Interested to see how that goes and if it runs in a cold hand wash. Xx

  • Erica

    I actually like the “fail”! It’s certainly not like the inspiration piece but I think it still turned out really nice!

  • internette

    Great techniques!
    Have you tried dyeing with diluted gradients? Start with a concentration of dye, then divide in half and dilute one half. Then divide the diluted batch and dilute one half again.
    Soak garment in water and vinegar, squeeze until just damp, dip lower half briefly in weakest solution.
    Dip lower third briefly in medium strength dye solution.
    Dip lower sixth or so briefly in strongest dye solution.
    Happy experimenting!

  • Lisa Hamel

    I am glad I am not the only one who liked both sweaters! The second one is more of a statement, but the dye job on the first gives a forgettable sweater new personality!

    Thanks for sharing, as always!

  • Lisa Hamel

    Have you checked the detergent aisle? Wal-Mart has a small display of RIT dye on their detergent aisle, maybe other grocery stores do, too?

  • Janine

    First,
    I love your Blog!
    Next
    I love the first sweater! I really like the color and the way it turned out! Different strokes!
    Thanks for all the inspiration-
    Take good care!

  • Theresa

    Soaking it in salt water before you wash it will help “set” the colors and then they won’t run when you wash them…I dip dye vintage doilies all the time and that is how I keep them from losing their color 🙂
    I LOVE that you are doing so many blog posts again, you have been a true inspiration while I have been home being adjusting to being a school teacher and full-time mother to a rambunctious 10-year-old. And I am sure I am not the only one, so THANK YOU!!!

  • Nancy Fisk

    I like both sweaters too. The light and dark contrast looks nice on the first one. It took something white and made it way more interesting.

  • Leslie Aguilar

    Have you tried setting the dyes with salt and vinegar? I think it is 1 part salt with 4 parts white vinegar. I had a friend who used to sew a lot and she would always wash her new fabric this way.
    I do love it. Makes me want to find something white and get to dyeing.

  • treadylady

    I think if the sweater had been damp your ombre would have been a tad longer and more gradual. Did this with a wedding gown and it was damp beautiful effect.. It was vintage silk

  • Cathleen

    Trying to find dye, I am currently ONLY going to the grocery store about once a week, so I’m trying to find a grocery store that sells clothing dye and will do my whole shop at that store just to get the dye in one stop 😉
    PS- I like both sweaters too.

  • Amy

    I know you have done this a lot, and probably already know this trick. When I dye yarn, I put my finished project to vinegar and watch to soak before I hand wash/machine wash with Woolite.
    I don’t do the vinegar before I knit the prject because I don’t like the smell of vinegar on my hands for days (or weeks depending on what I knit). I love your blog!

  • Tonna Chavez

    Well…your fail wasn’t quite so bad, really! Tho I’m not a big fan of that color…but, your second try was spot on! The color is lovely and I like the casual look of it…plus I prefer that style sweater more so than the first one. Good job ma’am, and good for you for not giving up!
    Ps…thank you for your posts…you have a cute sense of humor and your pictures always make me smile! Take care… Tonna Chavez Ott

  • Judy Cromwell

    The first version was looking good, until….I’m surprised you gave up after the splats and splotches. Bet it would have been cute. If it was unevenly splatted, you could just add to the spot with the dye you had. Came out great, no matter. Great job. I love thrifting too.

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