Dyeing 911: How to Use Overdyeing to Fix Handwoven Fabric

When your handwoven cloth doesn’t shine with the color you imagined, you may be able to rescue it with overdyeing. Armed with a little color knowledge and some dyes, you can make every cloth a color success by dyeing the woven fabric. Overdyeing also teaches you more about how to use and manipulate colors effectively in your different weaving creations.

Here’s tips for using dye to help rescue your handwoven fabric!

Handwoven fabric

Blue cloth overdyed with a pale scarlet

Tip #1: Know your dye.

Unlike dyeing a natural or white yarn/fabric, overdyeing is done on an already colored fabric after weaving. This means you have to account for the original color of the cloth in the overdye dyebath. For example, if a fabric is blue, and you overdye it with red the fabric will become purple because blue and red make purple. You can’t create another primary color with overdyeing, only changes to a tertiary or toned color because you are adding another additional color. Try this simple online color mixer to get an idea of what colors can be created. mixing primary colors Another consideration is the depth of color in the existing fabric. You may not want to overpower the existing color with a dye strength that would normally be required to achieve a color on a white fabric base. I usually go for a pale/light dye of the color I require. You can always go darker but you can’t go lighter so it’s good practice to start with a lighter shade.

Tip #2: Use complementary colors.

Another easy way to harmonize your cloth is to overdye it with its complementary color. For example, the complementary of red is green. By dyeing the cloth a light shade of green the red cloth will become another color which leans towards a brown tone. complementary color

Tip #3: Try toning.

Sometimes a toning is only required to create a subtler colored, united cloth. When colors in the woven cloth seem unharmonious and awkward a toner dye can relive this. This is essentially a mix of the three primary colors in various proportions which form a brown or black shade.

Only a small amount of the toner dye is required to unite the colors in the cloth. See below for an idea of what proportions of primary colors can be used to create either a cool or warm toner. By using either a cool or warm toner you will subtly change all of the color shades in your woven cloth. For example, see below that three parts yellow plus two parts red and four parts blue produce a cool toning dye mix. colors for toner dye mixes

Tip #4: Learn some sneaky fiber tricks.

Look at what fibers you have used in your woven cloth. Using dyes specifically targeting a fibre allows you to have even more opportunities for overdyeing fun. For example, below is a fabric woven with a tencel warp (cellulose fiber) and silk weft (protein or cellulose). It has an additional woven shibori process on it too.

The fabric was woven with a natural fine silk weft which was dyed green AFTER weaving with Landscape dyes for protein fibers. Only the silk weft accepted the green dye. The warp colors in the tencel were unaffected and remained the same colors as designed. This is a great way to deal with the color of the weft AFTER dyeing rather than dyeing the color before weaving.

woven shibori cloth

Overdyeing is such a rewarding way of rescuing an ugly or unsatisfactory colored cloth. All handwoven projects can be color successful!

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