They Said It Couldn’t Be Done

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The Goal: Wear the quinceñeary-est quinceñeara dress to Litquake’s opening night party next Friday without spending any money to acquire said dress.

The Solution: Find someone who happens to have an old wedding dress which she uses to play dress up with kids and sit around until she gives it to you.

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¡Yay!

But get your frowny face emoticons ready.

All the directions that describe how to dye great big dresses claim that you cannot dye it if it’s 100% polyester. Cannot dye because it does not work or cannot dye because it does not work well? That’s what I had to find out.

It took approximately 16 hours of scouring the Internet (or 20 minutes if you take out interruptions) and skimming through DIY dye blogs where industrious young people sent their cute, 100% polyester off-white formals to Florida to be professionally dyed for undisclosed amounts of time and money, before I found what I was after. Back in 2003 on some costume forum, GitaGurl23 asked: “I want to dye my wedding dress for Halloween. It doesn’t have to look great. Can I do it?”

And the answer posted six years later in 2009: “Yes. And here’s how.”

The solution involved using isopropyl alcohol with water at a ratio of 7:1 (something about it evaporating faster), an iron to bind the color with heat (polyester is essentially plastic fibers, that’s why the color doesn’t hold), and a third thing that I read but subsequently ignored.

“I don’t have time to do this,” I thought. And immediately drove to Target and bought a 34-gallon bin, 3 bottles of RIT fuchsia dye, 2.5 gallons of isopropyl alcohol, and—because I fell under the spell that is Target—a jacket (so cute! and cheap! and the right size!), a pair of shoes (wrong size, oops) and ant traps. (We don’t have ants but I always like to be prepared).

The prospect of making white things pink was an exciting one, inspiring Michael to throw in a pair of underwear along with the dress.

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before (dress and underpants)

 

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materials to dye dress according to some random Internet forum

“I hope we don’t get some kind of chemical burn from these fumes,” I thought, as the children emptied bottles of rubbing alcohol into the bin.

Now, I’m not much for following directions, but here’s what I did and didn’t do.

1) 7:1 ratio of alcohol to water.

Nope. I added the 2.5 gallons as pictured above and perhaps another ten gallons of hot water.

2) Hot water (140 degrees).

Nope. I added some boiling water and a bunch of water from the hose outside. It was warm but not super hot.

3) Clean garment first.

Nah. I washed the bottom of the dress and the train in the tub because that was the dirtiest part of the dress. But I’m too impatient to wait for a dress that weighs more than my firstborn child to drip dry in my shower. And I’m way too cheap to dry clean it.

4) One bottle of dye for every two pounds of fabric.

I just grabbed three bottles and decided that should be enough.

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pink things in a bucket

This photo was supposed to be informative. You know, the way they do in the DIY blogs. But really it just looks like pink tulle in a bucket. Or maybe it looks like flamingo carcasses. I don’t know. This is my first DIY blog post.

 

5) Use rubber gloves. 

This is the one thing I should have done. Because the vinyl gloves I used were very thin. My left hand was bright pink for about 10 hours after dyeing.

6) Leave in dye for 30 – 60 minutes stirring constantly.

Seriously? I have things to do! I think I did about 25 minutes and then we hung the behemoth to drip dry in the backyard over an old shower curtain. (Which meant I didn’t iron it dry, either.)

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In short, I didn’t follow any of the special directions and it still looks fantastic, right?

A couple of caveats: turns out I can’t rinse the dress because most of the dye will rinse out. Also, the color isn’t totally even. The bottom is a little darker than the rest of the dress. And maybe I should have spent more time cleaning it because there are parts near the neckline that are dark pink (presumably something oil-based–makeup?) that absorbed a lot of dye. OH–and for several hours after dyeing, the whole thing reeked of alcohol. And not the good-party kind. The hospital kind. (It eventually wore off.)

In short, the professionals are right. You shouldn’t dye a polyester dress if you want the color to be uniform and permanent. But if you don’t mind the funky, dye away!

P.S. The tightie-whitey Hanes underwear is a beautiful bright fuchsia, much to Michael’s delight.

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(Michael, if, like GitaGurl23’s forum question, this post survives on the Internet for another ten years, I want you to know that you really loved this underwear.)