Last month, I accidentally bought two very similarly colored jeans on a final sale – Agolde in “Fixation” and “Subdued” washes. Online, Fixation was supposed to be a dark blue jean and subdued closer to a medium blue. In reality, the two are just one (slight) shade apart. Here they are side by side.
This bothered me to no end. So two days later on a Target run, I bought some Rit Dye on impulse and set about making my own dark pair.
What I used:
Half bottle (4 oz) Rit Dye Black ($2.99)
Full bottle (8 oz) Rit Dye Colorstay ($2.99)
My supplies – 1TSP dish detergent not shown, I did this in my kitchen sink so it was right by the faucet.
Why only black? The Fixation jeans were already a deep blue and I wanted an inky black-blue result, so I thought half-a-bottle of the black alone would do it (and it did!). I wouldn’t recommend the black alone for lighter colored jeans, especially since this black dye has a slightly purplish hue.
Manufacturer’s Instructions in detail – I followed these as closely as possible, instead of the instructions on various blogs (which sometimes leave out steps and details).
Jeans before, flipped to show cuffing. These were brand new at this point, so I gave them a run through the washer with detergent and an extra rinse before I dipped it (fully wet) into the dye mixture.
In it goes to a 4 oz dye, salt, dish detergent, and hot water mixture in the kitchen sink. First, thank god for stainless steel and black countertops! Second, the instructions call for 140 degrees F water but my attempts to measure the tap water temp with a cheapy electronic thermometer didn’t work (Error after 110). At this point it was still August and hot so my hottest tap water was pretty hot (thank god for rubber gloves). Your experience may vary, especially in the dead of winter when tap water runs cooler, in which case you may need to boil water and add it to the bath like the olden days.
Still stirring but progressively darker. The Ritdye instructions suggested at least 30 mins for a polyester/cotton blend. Since my jeans were 98% cotton but I didn’t want them to end up pure black, I dyed (and stirred) for 30 mins. As for the “stir stick,” I honestly ended up only using my gloved hands to move the jeans around – using the slotted spoon was surprisingly tiring after the first 10 mins but I wanted to keep agitating out of fear the dye wouldn’t be uniform.
Straight into the colorstay fixation bath – note how black the jeans are! I have a split kitchen sink, with two tubs, so near the end of the dyeing time, I ran another hot water bath in the other tub, mixed in the whole bottle of colorstay fixative, and then added the jeans after squeezing out excess dye but before rinsing. I stirred for another 20 mins.
Over time, the colorstay fixation bath turned really dark as well! Do not skip this part. I don’t know how many blogs I read online about this dyeing process, and they all skipped the colorstay fixative. I don’t know why, it’s $3 a bottle and 20 mins more. Don’t substitute vinegar or salt or whatever the hell else – honestly, it’s not expensive and it’s not hard.
Result immediately after taking the jeans out of the fixative bath but before rinsing – I can see a little blue show through!
One month later
Skip ahead a month or so afterwards to today. How did it hold up? Well first, I’m not one of those denim fanatics who don’t wash their jeans for months. I make it about 3 wears tops because I refuse to wear dirty feeling clothes regardless of what washing allegedly does to them. Second, I’m paranoid about bleeding, especially after reading a bunch of Rit Dye horror stories post-dying experiment, so I wanted to get in multiple washes quickly. As a result, I wore and washed these jeans once a week. Today was wash 5 (the fifth “real wash” anyways, I feel like the immediate post-dye wash didn’t count).
Results (with Agolde “Subdued” for contrast)
With cuffing – note the slight purplish hue on the inside weft threads.
The color faded in the first two washes and then seemed to “stabilize” after the third wash to this color. I have upholstered furniture and other clothes I was afraid of wrecking (tops, sweaters, etc) so I really wanted it to be colorfast as possible. I cut up an white bath towel and have been washing a white square each time with these jeans. This is how the towel came out of the most recent wash-and-dry (fifth wash). Still a tiny bit dingy (hard to see in the photo) but I feel like the color has set enough to wash the jeans with my other darks/colors in the future instead of by itself.
What about the stitching? Cuffing? When I first took the jeans out of the dye and the color fixation mixture, it was a uniform color. I had an oh-shit moment because I realized how much I missed the contrast stitching. After rinsing and washing, it became clear that the brown stitching did not dye. That’s because most jeans use a synthetic thread for stitching, which does not take to the type of dye I used. As for the cuffing – traditionally denim is woven from a mix of indigo (on the warp) and white (on the weft) threads, which gives it visual interest, nice fade over time, and creates the contrast in color when cuffing. I lost some of that contrast, but not all of it since I was still dyeing threads of two different colors, with the white threads still ending up lighter than the dark ones.
Am I happy with the result? Yes. This was my first dye attempt and I confess I didn’t do as much research as I should have. People who tye-dye recommend better dyes than Rit Dye – Procion and iDye for example (special order via craft stores). They are supposedly more permanent, more color fast, and don’t require heat-setting. During the process I was really nervous that the jeans would shrink (they didn’t – but that’s more a testament to the brand than anything else); the dye would bleed (it did a little at first and then settled); the denim would lose all of its subtle variations (warp and weft) and become completely uniform like bull denim (it did lose a bit of contrast but not entirely).
Would I recommend this? I would say only for high cotton content jeans and only if your goal is a “darker” wash and not a specific color. If my goal here was black jeans or a bright color, it would have been an utter failure. On the plus side, it did not stain any of my furniture, shirts, etc. like some people warned of. The color faded to the inky blue I was hoping for and then has remained an inky blue.