My Experiences Dying Fabric (or, When Fabric Stores Go Empty And You Have To Take Matters Into Your Own Hands)

I don’t know how things are in your city or town right now, but here in Waco, the availability of decorator fabrics is dwindling. We only have two places to purchase decorator fabrics in this city — Joann Fabrics and Hobby Lobby. Well, we’re pretty much down to one now. The decorator fabric section in Joann Fabrics is almost completely bare, and the store here has gotten rid of its entire section of special order decorator fabric swatches, which used to be a pretty big selection. So we’re down to Hobby Lobby for decorator fabrics, and they never, ever carry fabrics in colors that go in my house.

So my options at this point seem to be (1) spend hours online shopping for just the right colors, ordering swatches, and waiting for those to arrive, or (2) dye fabric to the colors I need. Since option 2 gives me faster results (and I have plenty of extra fabric in my stash), I decided to try to dye the fabrics I need for the new pillow covers in the sitting room.

I was able to reuse two of the pillow covers I already had on the benches in that room because they were this cream chevron chenille fabric.

Here’s a close-up of the fabric…

I wanted these to go from cream to orange, and the fabric is 100% polyester, so I got some Apricot Orange dye for synthetics. I meant to pick up some yellow for synthetics, but forgot, so I had to use the Lemon Yellow I had purchased for another project.

I followed the directions on the bottle and heated the water to just under boiling, added some dishwashing liquid, and added the dyes in about a 1:1 ratio. Then I put the pillow cover in and stirred it around for a few minutes

I didn’t want it to get too dark or saturated, but it’s also important to keep in mind that when the fabric is in the dye bath, it’s going to look much darker than it will once it’s all finished.

So here’s how the orange pillow cases turned out once they were thoroughly rinsed and dried.

I thought those turned out pretty good! I still would have preferred the orange to be more on the yellow side instead of the red side, but these will do just fine.

Next, I wanted a deep purple/eggplant color, so I decided to try dying this blue polyester velvet that I had in my stash.

On their website, Rit Dye has recipes for probably hundreds of colors. You just have to know which dye you’re using (the one for synthetics or the all-purpose dye), and then search for a color you like, and it’ll tell you the recipe. I found this eggplant color that was exactly what I wanted.

I had to adjust the amounts because I don’t have a pot big enough to hold three gallons of water. The biggest one I have is eight quarts (two gallons), so I adjusted the recipe accordingly.

This velvet fabric looked so pretty in the dye bath, but check out how differently the back of the fabric looked from the front. The back was really red, while the front turned the deep eggplant color.

But then when I got it out and rinsed it, so much of the red rinsed out of both the front and the back. That wasn’t necessarily a problem for my room since my benches are a pretty toned down bluish purple. So I was hopeful that it would still work.

What I didn’t anticipate is that the end result would be a crushed velvet. Have I ever told y’all how much I hate crushed velvet? 😀 And once you crush a velvet, there’s no going back. So while the color was very pretty and eggplanty, there was just no way I could ever live with this.

Lesson learned. Don’t try to dye velvet. 🙂

So I went back to my stash and pulled out the scraps from the purple curtains I made a while back for the living room. This is a heavy woven fabric, and while it was already purple, it wasn’t deep enough for me.

So I mixed the exact same recipe (this fabric is a blend of natural and synthetic), and put it in for just a few minutes. The dark purple pillows that were here before were so dark they almost looked black. I didn’t want that to happen to this fabric, so I stirred it around in the dye bath for less than five minutes. Here’s how it turned out…

I was very pleased with how that one turned out. It’s brighter than the bench, but I’m okay with that. It actually looks brighter in the picture than it appears in person.

And then finally, I wanted some pink fabric that was a lighter version of the curtain color. Joann Fabric didn’t have any solid white cotton decorator fabric (or any other kind of white decorator fabric), so I ended up having to purchase a plain white cotton curtain panel next door at World Market.

Then I looked up a recipe for the exact color I wanted, bought the colors for the recipe, and then forgot to save the name of the color or a screenshot of the recipe to my phone. Ugh. So I decided to just mix all three colors in equal parts and see how that looked.

It turned out really bright, so after rinsing the fabric, I dumped the original dye bath and then did another dye bath with just a little bit of Graphite in it to tone down the color. It didn’t take much Graphite at all (I could still see the bottom of the pot through the water), and I stirred it around for less than a minute, but that’s all it took to tone it down.

The color turned out perfect. Check it out next to my rug.

And just as I had hoped, it looked like a less saturated version of the curtain color.

The mistake I made was that I put the entire curtain panel (which was not a terribly thick cotton) into the dye bath all at once, so it couldn’t move around freely in the water like the smaller pieces of fabric could. And that left me with some areas that weren’t dyed evenly.

I bought two curtain panels (I figured I’d have some trial and error), so the next time, I’ll cut the panel into pieces the size I need for the pillow covers, and I’ll also leave it in the dye bath for a shorter period of time so that it’s lighter than this one. This one is still a little too saturated compared to what I had envisioned. But at least I got the recipe right, so there’s no guess work there!

I still need to sew the purple and pink pillows, and since I have some scraps of the velvet curtain fabric left, I think I’ll try to incorporate that into the pink pillow covers once I get the fabric just right.

So it’s been an interesting adventure. It definitely took a shorter amount of time to dye my own fabrics than to spend hours online searching for fabrics in just the right colors, ordering swatches, waiting for those to arrive, selecting the ones I wanted, making my purchases, and waiting for those purchases to arrive. But dying my own fabrics is probably not any faster than purchasing ready-made pillow covers from Etsy. Ready-made pillow covers can be quite pricey, though. The orange ones I really wanted from Etsy were $100 each, and I can think of a thousand other things I can and should spend $200 on right now. So buying two bottles of dye at $5 each gave me the orange pillow covers I wanted for $190 less than the orange Etsy pillow covers would have cost. (They really were a beautiful orange velvet, though!)

Is this something you would try? And how are the fabric stores looking in your area right now? Are decorator fabrics getting harder and harder to come by in your area as well?



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  1. I had new pink linen sheets. I do not like pink but I got them for such a deal (I love linen) that I thought I could learn to live with the color,….not. So I got dye remover, it took out all the pink and then I dyed them blue! I did it outside on a hot day using my huge lobster pot. The dye remover was a game changer for me.
    In my area of Virginia the fabric choices are few and far between. We need new front windows from storm damage, and they can’t locate cedar to replace the siding after the window installation. Roofing? Few choices. I am not sure why the supply chain is so far out of wack in some things. In others it is understandable.

    1. I’ve never tried the dye remover. I was wondering how well it works. I might have to give it a try! I wonder if it works on synthetics, or just natural fibers. I guess it depends on the fabric. I might give it a try on some other pillow covers that I’d love to reuse if I can get the color out and dye them.

      1. Hi Kristi, I have used the remover on 100% cotton, and on 100% linen and 50/50 blend of linen and cotton, but not on synthetics yet. I bet the RIT website has info on using it on synthetics. I have used it to remove color on both medium dark colors, and medium. The pink I removed from linen sheets was a pretty dark pink. I like the color pink, just not for sheets. It left the sheet a very light natural color, one which I kept that way, and another I dyed dark navy blue. It was kind of cool to watch the color just come out. I then immediately washed in cold water in my machine, did an extra rinse to make sure I didn’t leave any dye behind, on the fabric of in the machine. I really like how the orange pillow came out.

  2. The local Walmart (Dallas, Oregon) has a small section of decorator fabric; 5-6 times more than apparel fabric though. It hasn’t changed significantly in the last 2-3 years, except that a lot of it is now “pre-packaged” in specific 2-3 yard amounts. The quilting section is the largest of course, as well as the “bargain” pre-packaged bins which are mainly knits and rather flimsy for the most part. The closest Joann’s is about 20 miles away in Salem and the last time I was there a couple months ago their decorator section wasn’t all that much changed either, but mostly cotton and blends. However, neither of those stores has high quality fabrics. Thankfully, I’m not doing any home dec at this stage of my life, so it isn’t critical. The biggest plus is that it’s easy access if I can find something I can live with. There used to be a store out on Capital Street that carried only decorator fabric and they had a great selection, but I don’t know if it’s still there. Good luck with all your projects; looking forward to seeing the finished room. And your new wall dec is totally gorgeous!

    1. If you want the best results for cotton, linen or rayon do not use Rit dye. It is not color fast and fades with exposure to light.
      These fabrics use Procian dye available from Prochemical in Massachusetts. They have all sorts of colors as well as the pure dyes. I use these to mix my own colors for quilting fabrics.
      Paula Burch has a website called http://www.pburch.net where you can learn all about these dyes.
      I have been dyeing since 1998 and will help you with any questions. These are cold water dyes so no cooking, just a 5 gal bucket or a top loading washer. Very easy to do.

  3. I found the same limited….very limited…selection in Traverse City, Michigan! Thought it might have been due to location but sounds like it is everywhere! Great resolution and great results!

  4. I have a Walmart 10 minutes away with a decent, but not wide selection of home decor fabric, a Joanne’s about 25 minutes away where I didn’t get to check out the home decor fabric, but there was a lot of material, and Hobby Lobby is almost an hour away. You may have just solved my curtain dilemma with this dye post! Love the colors you created.

  5. Great solution to the fabric shortage, but I’m really impressed about the selection of dye colors you could find!

    1. The dye seems to be plentiful. Here in Waco, I’ve found a full selection at Hobby Lobby, Michael’s and Joann Fabric. I think they also carry them at WalMart, and we have three of those in the area.

  6. Yes, I would try that! I think your colors came out so pretty.
    Thankfully, living in north MS, we have an abundance of home dec fabrics. My favorite is about 25 minutes away. It’s a big warehouse with lots of choices. And fabricguru.com is a one day ship away. As for swatches, I ordered some from a canvas supplier on 6/23; it took two months for them to arrive!

    1. I love to dye things. I like the Dylon dyes. I have foubd a few colirs ar Hobby Lobby but mistly order through Dharma trading Co or Amazon. For the most part, they are more concentrated and a cold water dye. Great for natural fibers like cotton, wool, bamboo, & silk. The black & navy dyes are more durable than RIT in my experience.

      I just love your approach to decorating. If you can’t find it, you always show a creative idea!

  7. I used to see my mother and her friends doing this when I was a little girl because this was in the time after WW2, and times were harder. Therefore, the idea of dying fabric was not so scary to me, and we certainly have better product to work with! Over the years, I have dyed curtains, clothes, pillow covers, slipcovers, etc. Trial and error is the name of the game! I have not yet tried the formula for synthetic fabric, but I will now that I have seen how well yours turned out. In the past when I needed to dye something larger, I used a bit plastic storage bin, and used multiple kettles of boiling water because I do not have a big vat to go on the stovetop, either. I always do this in the back yard, since I do not want it on other surfaces in the house.

  8. I don’t know if fabric is hard to come by in SW MO but I’ve been using RIT dye for years and years. Love it! Your pillow covers are all beautiful!!

  9. Fabric shop, what’s that??????? Even with the Lob and Jo’s, we have NO drapery/upholstery fabric shop!!!

    And don’t even Attempt to find anything to go with red!!!! Oh my!!!
    Yes, I have a dye shop in my garage!!!! My daughter says I am the RIT queen.
    Blessings, J

    1. Remember those few good years that we had that local store called Frankly Fabric (over by Jack’s Stereo) that sold nothing but decorator fabrics? It was amazing. I was so sad when she decided to close. And then we lost Hancock Fabrics. And now Joann’s is bare. It’s so frustrating. I know we’re not a huge city, but we’re not tiny, either. We should have more options for fabric!

    1. Yep. 🙂 I hadn’t planned on it because I’ve gotten to where I like the untrained, relaxed look. But I decided to train these after installing the shelves. The untrained curtains poof out too much and cover the shelves more than I like. I want to see as much of the shelves as possible. 🙂

  10. Next time you need to dye a large piece like a curtain panel, Maybe use a 5 gal. bucket. Just get the water right to boiling in a pot or two, then when you pour it into the bucket it will be a bit cooler. (Do it outside on your back walkway.) Or buy a small plastic kiddie pool at Walmart to dye in. If you have a BBQ grill, you can heat the water on that. I know what you mean about fabric stores, they are dinosaurs almost! Here, west of St. Louis, I saw that Joanns had donated decorator fabric bolts to the Habitat Store, and wondered if they had just given up that section of the store. Covid has caused so much backlog on products, everything is either on a boat or in containers at the docks, waiting to be shipped.

  11. Just was wondering if you could go in to a furniture showroom that sells custom furniture, and see if they have fabric you need that you could order from them by the yard? The place where we bought our living room furniture said they could order some for me when I asked, but I never decided to do that. But that was quite a few years ago, maybe even ten or so!

  12. I live in Asheville. Its absolutely horrible here to. But I would never be brave enough to to try dye fabric. Too messy for me!

  13. A google search came up with videos and webpages about how to un-crush velvet (I don’t know if it would work for velvet that has been machine-crushed at the factory, but it looks like something that got accidentally crumpled in washing could be fixable?).

  14. Hmmm, Interesting. I was in our JoAnn’s within the past week, and although I didn’t actually walk thru the decorator fabric aisles, they seemed to be pretty full as I passed by. They’ve been refurbishing the store, and for awhile it seemed to be quite empty, but it’s pretty full once again Now all they need to do is clean the floors – all the spots where there used to be display shelves are showing disgusting dust and dirt, and grime. This has been going on for WEEKS!! Yikes. Definitely makes me pause.

    I really like your new display/gallery wall!

  15. The colors turned out beautiful, they look like pretty Easter eggs. I have tried dying before, years ago, and did not turn out so haven’t tried since. I am always amazed at your tenacity!

  16. I’m so glad to have read about your fabric dying adventures. I need to follow your example to create the perfect color for the backside of my needlepoint pillow. I know where to get the fabric but there is never the perfect color.