Extending garment life with natural dye.

When I first started writing this blog, I never thought I would end up flashing my underwear online, but fast-forward and here we are – a post, solely about my smalls.

Before we go any further, I should probably explain.

Generally, when something of mine wears out, I replace the item with its second-hand equivalent. Generally. There are, of course, some exceptions. One of these is definitely underwear. So, that being the case, when I do buy underwear, I buy it with longevity in mind. For me, that means 100% cotton, bright white (the reasons to be explained below) and with replacable elastic. I can’t honestly remember where the current set came from, but they’re ingenious – the waist band has what appear to be button-holes sewn in, but they’re actually there so that if the elastic snaps, it’s a really simply job to replace it.

Above, I mentioned that I like to buy bright white underwear – that’s because I used to bleach them to extend the time they looked new. Then I realised that bleach probably wasn’t environmentally brilliant so I took to dying them when they started to look a bit grey. This worked far better in terms of longevity – begin with a pale shade and then go darker until eventually you dye them black. Winning. Only, until now, I’d been using the machine-dye packets which are probably even worse than the bleach for my septic tank.

Then I watched this video, and decided to try some of the natural dye techniques it suggests. In this case, I made dye using red onion skins and turmeric.

I won’t show you the horrible, grey ‘before’ shots of my old pants. No one wants to see those… but here are some pictures as things got underway.

I started by mixing water with some of the non-brewed condiment I bought a few months ago – a ratio of around 2 parts water to 1 part condiment. Then I added the cotton and the onion skins and boiled for half an hour. I allowed this to cool in the pan and then tossed them in the washing machine drum.

Then onto the turmeric. Again, I added a 2-1 combination of water and non-brewed condiment, then around 3tbsp of turmeric powder.

Again, I boiled this for around 30 minutes and allowed it to cool. Then I tossed the cotton in the washing machine drum with the onion-dyed garments.

I washed both at 30 with my regular powder (at this point, Asda Non-Bio), then dried them.

The results were far better than I had expected. The vibrancy of the yellow doesn’t really translate to the screen very well, but it’s like sunshine in real life.

What I didn’t realise, as I threw the turmeric underwear into the machine drum, however, was that there was already a pile of napkins in there. The napkins were, from the residual turmeric, turned a very pale lemon colour. Fine – thought I – I can use some laundry bleach on them to bring them back to white. Not ideal, sure, but at least it’s laundry bleach and not actual bleach bleach.

Well… here’s the thing. When you add an alkali to turmeric, it goes red. So there I am, stirring laundry bleach round my slightly yellow napkins and they’re turning slightly pink and it occurs to me that a lot of this ‘bleach’ is probably bicarbonate of soda. My next experiment is absolutely to see what sort of red turmeric and bicarb make.

I’m not sure how these will wear, or if the colour will rub off on other clothes, but underwear seems like a fairly safe starting point – if it does transfer to other clothes, it will be on the inside.

Like I said above, dye is a really great way to extend the life of clothing. I tend to buy ‘new’ things (i,e, in charity shops) in as pale a shade as possible so when they start to look grubby, I can hide all the stains with a new colour. I love the process too – you never know what you’re going to get at the end of it. Some of my all-time-favourite garments have come about this way.

Is there anything you do to make your clothes last longer than they would otherwise? I’d really love to hear about any methods you use.

2 Replies to “Extending garment life with natural dye.”

  1. Well, flashing you knickers online is proof of just how committed you are to the cause! 🙂 Natural dyeing is a great way to extend the life of garments and a lot of fun, too. It’s amazing what colours are possible, I had interesting results from walnut leaves and French marigolds last year and some gorgeous shades from madder which I used to tie-dye an old white summer vest that had had its day and I now wear as a pyjama top (my favourite way of extending t-shirt life). Washing soda makes a good alkali modifier to brighten colours, citric acid or vinegar will darken / deepen shades so there’s lots of playing to be done. Here’s to rainbow underwear in the future!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh wow! So many amazing ideas! Thank you!

    I think next to try are some old, ‘white’ cot sheets that I can then make some reasonably smart trousers from – it’s my friend’s wedding this summer and I want to make some nice clothes for my youngest. I know I could get some from a charity shop but it’s a good way to practice making clothes without having to use loads of fabric on stuff for myself which might turn out dreadful 😉

    Like

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