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How Not to Dye Curtains

Not every project we take on has those perfect, shiny results we hope for. And in this case, our results were pretty much as opposite as you can get from the original goal, but as luck would have it, we actually think it worked out pretty alright. More importantly, our “client” and friend Penina (whose bedroom you may remember), actually loved the outcome. Because the last thing we want is an oh-no-situation and asking her to pass the bread over take out while feeling mega guilt.

So here’s the short story. She asked me to help her take her lime-colored living room curtains and dye them to the perfect shade of khaki-mustard beige-ish. Having dyed nothing else in my life other than a pair of long johns when I was 10 (what?), I agreed on the premise that she understand I don’t know the first thing in Rit-etiquette. She didn’t either. It was a match made in heaven – if only it was opposite day. Here’s where we started:

I think we were aiming for something between #364 and #52, or at least something remotely close (hint: that didn’t happen):

Now for the long and not-so-short of it. Because the panels were light in value (albeit bright), we nixed the idea of bleaching them first or using any sort of color remover. (Hence, this post’s title). Using the color formula guide on Rit Dye’s website, we figured out the highly mathmetical proportions of taupe to yellow in hopes of getting that not-so-bright mustardy color we were aiming for. Ten minutes later on a smart phone calculator, we figured that for 3 panels, we’d need 12 oz yellow and 6 oz taupe. (FYI, the formulas are different for liquid vs. powder, and the mixtures are diluted with warm water.)

We chose the easiest and most convenient method of dying by using the washing machine and allowing for 3 wash cycles. Another highly calculated move on our part was to use the oven timer, reminding us to turn back the dial on the wash load every 12 minutes. (Again, refer to this post’s title.) Rit recommends at least a 30 minute wash, but our washer didn’t have a timed option, and a regular cycle runs for 12 minutes. Chaos, I tell ya. Thirty-six minutes later, we found this color.

It was certainly yellow. Needless to say, Penina wasn’t thrilled, and we were surprised to see the lack of taupe show through. (Perhaps this is where step one should have been a color remover?)  After a lot of what now?, we decided to heck with it. Let’s just go for it. Let’s go bold. If taupe doesn’t show, surely dark brown will. All reason went out the window – which was largely in part due to afternoon cocktails.

Two oven-timed beeps later, we got our brown. Of course there was a ton of girly shrieking (surely coming from me), followed by a what’s done is done sort of mentality. We tossed our three very brown panels in the dryer and crossed our fingers they’d come out lighter.

They dried, we ironed (okay, she ironed and I totally just watched), and we hung ’em. And you know what? They looked good. The wet, dark panels turned a pretty chocolate-y shade, and the window light brightened them up even more.

While our original intentions were nowhere near the end results, we easily warmed up to the whole ooh-la-la dramatic effect they brought to the room. Penina’s green throw and patterned, colorful rug already add the oomph, and the curtains are now an elegant back drop. And lucky for me, I received a very happy email from my lady a few days later – well after she’d had the time soak up all the moody goodness.

Okay, we know y’all are pretty darn smart, so who out there successfully transformed something with dye? And what was it? Goodness knows my long johns weren’t experience enough, but surprisingly, I learned a thing or two along the way. Or, shall I say, I learned what not to do.

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  • Jane @ The Borrowed Abode3.29.11 - 9:26 AM

    Way to go!!

    One of my fave ways to spruce things up for the home is with RIT dye. A dingy white slipcovered Ikea sofa, found on CL for only $40, became first a bright pink sofa (overwhelming) but then an espresso brown, lovely one for only the cost of a few packets of dye.

    Most recently I tried to die my white (secondhand, again) slipcovered Ikea chairs an espresso brown. Maybe I didn’t use enough dye, because they’re rather purpley-brown rather than chocolate. But I LOVE a quick change with dye!ReplyCancel

  • Amanda3.29.11 - 9:29 AM

    Well, despite the mishaps along the way, I think this was a very interesting post! I’ve never dyed anything, but always wondered if it was easy or not. Obviously it DOES work, considering all the drastic color changes that happened here! And I do really like the chocolatey brown.ReplyCancel

  • Loren3.29.11 - 9:55 AM

    I know it wasn’t what you were looking for but the dark brown does look good. I’m not super experienced with dyes but I’ve used them enough that I was going ‘Tsk tsk, to much yellow’ with the first picture and then mentally screamed ‘Noooo!’ when I saw the photo of you pouring in the dark brown dye.
    Still they didn’t turn out bad at all!ReplyCancel

    • Kim3.29.11 - 10:01 AM

      Thanks, guys!

      Loren, that is too funny. You went through the same emotions we did!ReplyCancel

  • Mandy3.29.11 - 10:36 AM

    So many washers are new and the RIT directions don’t accommodate for new washers and settings. We had to call the washer manufacturer for directions in adjusting the settings, only to find there really was no way to fill the washer with water to add the dye to. The stove top directions work fine if you are doing a small project, but mine is not a small project. Saving my RIT dye until I find a friend who will let me use their old washer instead of going to the laundromat to ruin their machines (and pay to run empty loads to clean them). Any suggestions how to use the dye in newer washers?ReplyCancel

    • Kim3.29.11 - 11:28 AM

      Hi Mandy, by new washers, do you mean the high efficiency kind? This was not a h/e washer, and we added the dye mixture while the machine was filling so it would mix together. We then added the curtains to that. Since this was one of our first times, we were surprised that there was no residue left behind in the washer – even with the dark brown!

      Perhaps you could try your larger project in the bathtub – that was another option, but we didn’t have the washer issues it seems that you’ve come across. Has anyone else used RIT with a “newer” washer?ReplyCancel

  • Kim @ Life Analytical3.29.11 - 11:25 AM

    The brown looks nice! I love the yellow though. I’m dying to do bright yellow curtains somewhere.ReplyCancel

  • Meagan3.29.11 - 1:30 PM

    I feel your pain! I was thinking about dying my curtains but tested a dress first and I had a similar dying fiasco… thankfully, at a much smaller scale, but it turns out, it’s really hard to figure out what color rit dye will turn out. My fabric was more neutral but my green definitely turned grey. I just posted about it yesterday, check it out: http://style-edition.squarespace.com/style-edition-blog/2011/3/27/fabric-dye-job.htmlReplyCancel

  • emily @ the happy home3.29.11 - 3:42 PM

    to be honest, i’ve never successfully dyed a damn thing. but your curtains look fabulous!

    i’m considering taking a pair of dark skinny jeans that have faded and color-removing them, so i can have a great fitting pair of white(ish) skinny jeans for summer.ReplyCancel

    • Kim3.29.11 - 3:52 PM

      Emily, let us know how that turns out! On the opposite spectrum, that could be a fabulous solution for darkening faded jeans as well!ReplyCancel

  • Cait @ Hernando House3.29.11 - 4:08 PM

    I agree with Kim @ Life Analytical, I am so in love with bright yellow curtains recently! (Probably because of my art room curtains). I love the brown though! Glad Penina likes them :)ReplyCancel

  • Cait @ Hernando House3.30.11 - 11:01 AM

    Thanks Kim!ReplyCancel

  • Penina3.30.11 - 12:42 PM

    I do like the way they turned out, thanks everyone! The brown really warms up the room, although at first I was worried it would be too heavy looking with all of the brown furniture.
    I’ve dyed two summer dresses since the curtains and it “is” really difficult to figure out exactly how the color will turn out! I ended up dying the first dress twice in order to get the desired shade of olive green, and have come to realize since then that it’s important to add salt to the mix in order for the color to better saturate, as some websites recommend.ReplyCancel

    • Kim3.30.11 - 1:32 PM

      Penina, shoot! Too bad we didn’t know that tip before!ReplyCancel

  • Marcia4.7.11 - 7:31 AM

    This was so funny! I am truly impressed by your creative innovations. I just bought several white pants on sale and have been dying them. It worked well until I tried using Spray-and-Wash on the knees of one pair. Now I have two bleach spots.ReplyCancel

  • Kim4.7.11 - 8:59 AM

    Marcia, that’s so sad but so funny, right?! I guess we’ve learned that Spray and Wash can really get out stains, eh?ReplyCancel

  • MP4.16.11 - 10:49 AM

    Looking for info on dying but now more interested in where to find a rug like that. Do you know where she got it?ReplyCancel

    • Kim4.16.11 - 11:06 AM

      Hi MP, she got the rug at HomeGoods. What a steal, eh?! Looks like something straight from Pottery Barn to me!ReplyCancel

  • JJ4.29.14 - 10:08 AM

    I liked this article and the attitudes to the finished outcome. I just inherited sailcloth curtains and even though they are freshly washed and are white, when crunched together there is a yellowed look, which I dislike. However, your story has inspired me to bleach first, then if I choose a subtle color, I am thinking a cottage green just to add a bit of flair to my neutral pallet and decor of Northern Michigan Beach style. First, I shall dry on a clothes line with sunshine to see if they will brighten more white. I too have never used Rit dye, but have recently purchased to attempt another project for my grandsons bedroom sheets. He wants blue, I have white. If anyone has any tips of dying sailcloth material, I’ll take it!ReplyCancel

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