How Watercolor Tie-Dye Can Save A Thrifted White Dress

Sew Much 2 Wear
by Sew Much 2 Wear
5 Materials
1 Day

Any thrifter knows the feeling of spending hours mindlessly combing through the racks of stranger's unwanted clothes -- then screeching too a halt suddenly when you find "the one."

In my case, "the one," was a lace hi-low hem dress from Free People.

It was boho, it was chic, it was everything I wanted. Except for the fact that it also had a multi-colored acrylic paint stain near the front hem that horribly stood out on this otherwise white dress.

So many questions came to mind, like "why was someone painting in THIS dress?" Whatever happened, it doesn't matter. What matters is now to how make the dress wearable, and keep it out of the landfill.

Enter watercolor tie-dye for the win.

The best part about this method on a dress is it can carry into fall layered under a jacket, and paired with some chunky combat boots.

Here's a look at the "before" of the dress we are working with. The lace material is cotton, and the lining is polyester. Dye works best with natural fibers like cotton, silk and linen. On this piece I knew the cotton lace would hold the color, while leaving a white lining that would pop through to give some definition to those colors.

Prior to any dying, most fabrics need to be pre-treated so the colors come out as vibrant as possible and retain color longer.

I picked this Soda Ash treatment up at Micheals. All you have to do is prepare a soda ash bath according to the directions on the box and let soak for about 20 minutes. When the time is up, you should wring out as much of the soda ash liquid as possible, but do not rinse.

While the Soda Ash is treating the fabric I gathered my other tools, if you have an old pasta strainer on hand it's perfect to give your garment something to set in while allowing the excess dye to run off to prevent muddied color. I would not suggest using the stainer again for food if you do use it for a dying project.

Once your garment is pre-treated and wrung out, create your design. I chose to create a random design by crumpling the dress and securing it with several rubber bands.

Once you have your garment rubber banded, place it in the strainer and cover with a good amount of ice. Large ice cubes will create more white "blank" spaces while crushed ice will give more a crisp detailed look.

For dye, I used a Tulip tie-dye party fun pack. When you are ice-dying you do not need to add water to the dye, instead we will be sprinkling the dry powder on the ice. Try not to allow contrasting colors to overlap, as some of the colors might come out brown.

As the ice melts, the pigment powder will run off onto the garment, creating an abstract "watercolor" effect.

Once the ice has melted, leave your garment untouched for 24 hours -- ideally in the heat -- to set.

When 24 hours as passed, first wash the garment with rubber bands still on it in cold water until the water runs clear, and then warm water until the water runs clear.

To remove all excess pigment and set the color, place in washer with hot water and detergent (do not wash with other undyed garments, unless you want them to turn out a new color!)

I hung dry my dress. The result is something unique and beautiful, like a water-color painting.

Please let me know what you think of this dress and if you've used ice-dying to save any of your thrifted finds!

Suggested materials:
  • White thrifted dress
  • Tulip Tie-Dye Kit   (Michaels)
  • Tulip Soda Ash   (Michaels)
See all materials

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