DIY – Dyeing heavy duty clothing

Dyeing a pair of insulated Carhartt overalls with Rit dye

Dyeing a pair of insulated Carhartt overalls with Rit dye

This is the long story of dyeing a pair of Carhartt quilted cotton duck canvas overalls.  Sure, I had heard of dyeing fabrics or clothing and knew of the classic Rit brand of dye.  I had gone through the childhood rite of passage of tie dyeing t-shirts – maybe that’s just in Vermont.  But, I had never really used a fabric dye to functionally change the color of a garment.  Now, anyone who knows me well, knows I appreciate and seek out good deals.  If you’ve forgotten, I strive to live by Kramer’s words in Seinfeld, “Retail is for suckers.”  So, after a long winter of activities like plowing and carrying water buckets for cows out to the pasture last season, I started thinking about how cozy a pair of insulated coveralls would be.  Now, anyone who knows me, not even very well, knows that I am not one to fill out a pair of the coveralls most readily available to coverall buyers.  I certainly don’t fit in the usual work clothes found on the dusty but well stocked shelves of our town feed and hardware store or even the big box retailers over an hour’s drive from here.  There are a few things I can make fit adjustments for myself – hemming pants, for example.  Altering a pair of coveralls, however, was not something I wanted to attempt.  So where did that leave me?

I had to find women’s coveralls, kids coveralls? How common are women’s insulated coveralls?  Not common.  Women’s insulated coveralls on sale?  Less common.  Women’s insulated coveralls on sale that aren’t pink?  In my experience, virtually non-existent.  Coveralls were too much to ask for to begin with, really, once I saw what was available.  But, I did find some women’s insulated overalls that are usually over $100 for $35.  Despite the fact that they are made in a brown, the ones that I found on sale happened to be the dreaded bubblegum marries pepto bismol pink.  Turns out other women-folk who would consider wearing overalls aren’t enamored with the hue either.  But, really, what a deal!  I could just dye them, right?  So I ordered up my insulated overalls and picked up a bottle of Rit dye.  I didn’t really care what color they turned out, just as long as I got rid of the pink.  I also didn’t want to spend a lot on dye so I just bought one bottle.

Then I had to figure out just how I was going to dye these bulky overalls in a controlled fashion.  The Rit bottle and website suggest dyeing in the washing machine which then requires bleaching the machine out.  Our washer and dryer were purchased new when we built our house.  Not going to risk it!  The Rit bottle and website also suggest using the sink to dye smaller items.  I didn’t think I could fit the overalls in our sink and be able to agitate them during the dyeing process as suggested or, well, even fit the overalls in our sink.  The Rit bottle and website also suggested stovetop dyeing.  So then I felt like I was running out of options.  Maybe I could do the stovetop method.  We had really big metal tubs!  But then I realized how problematic this method could be.  What if the tub leaked?  Could I actually keep that amount of water hot on the stove?  How many burners to use?  So I brought the metal tub in and put it on the stove.  I started to fill it with water knowing that I couldn’t carry the tub full of water to the stove let alone lift it.  I couldn’t tell if the tub was sweating or leaking and if a leak wasn’t apparent now, would it be later once the black dye was in the water and the tub was too heavy and hot for me to lift if I had to empty it emergently?  It was at this time that I thought maybe D was right and I should have just bought the color I wanted for more money.  Was this one of the rare instances where the deal wasn’t worth it?  I guess I could just wear them pink.  Nobody really sees me doing chores, splitting wood, or plowing the driveway.  As a last ditch effort to avoid the dyeing process I tossed the overalls in the wash with some bleach.  The end result – an even brighter pink and a later discovery that you aren’t supposed to bleach Carharrts insulated products.  Awesome.  No, not really.  I was now needing to dye the overalls more than ever.

We lost some sunlight during this project and I ended up stirring by headlamp.

We lost some sunlight during this project and I ended up stirring by headlamp.

When D returned from that period’s training, we figured out a way to tackle the project.  By the time he was home I had decided I could dye the overalls in the metal tub outside, I just needed a way to heat the water.  Would a camp stove be capable of heating the water?  Should I bring hot water from the stove outside and then have a small stove outside keep it going?  D then told me that he could make the water spigot from the house run hot.  I knew this as it was all designed with the idea of putting an outdoor shower in, which has yet to happen, but I had forgotten this feature of our plumbing.  We put the overalls in the tub, on top of a couple cinder blocks, leaving an open area under the tub for a camping stove to sit and keep the hot water hot while we stirred the overalls for around 30 minutes.  Yes, despite my set up being very not by the book, I tried to follow the actual recommended steps closely.  I added salt.  I used detergent.  I rinsed like crazy.  I washed in the washer and I bleached our washer immediately after the final wash.

One of the rinses, pink accents still remaining.

One of the rinses, pink accents still remaining.

Carhartt insulated overalls dyed with Rit dye

Carhartt insulated overalls dyed with Rit dye

I wore my new overalls, which ended up being a dark purple accented by pink threads and zipper where the dye didn’t take, the other day to stack wood with the neighbor, split more sugarwood for us, and plow the driveway.  I haven’t noticed the dye rubbing off on anything yet, so fingers crossed.

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