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A So-Good-It’s-Like-Magic Technique to Bring New Life to Old Textiles

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Abe Martinez)

Don’t throw out your faded or stained napkins, rugs, or quilts just yet—give them a new lease on life by overdyeing them. Here’s how it works: Mix up a big batch of dye, then dunk old textiles to camouflage stains and brighten faded fabrics. Roll up your sleeves, grab the biggest plastic bin you can find, and get ready to turn outdated items into colorful, modern pieces.

What is overdyeing?

Just as the name suggests, overdyeing is the process of dyeing over already-dyed fabric. In this case, we’re talking about revamping old, outdated, or stained textiles by dunking them in a fresh batch of color. This will cover over many stains and gives faded items a fresh look.

Some helpful hints:

  • Use the hottest water possible.
  • Before submerging an entire rug or napkin, mix up a test batch of dye and dip a small section of fabric to make sure you like the color.
  • Look for items made of natural fibers, such as cotton or linen.
  • Soak the fabric before dipping it in the dye bath.
  • Be open to the unexpected. You never know what you’re going to get with dye, but the good news is, if you aren’t happy with how it turns out—you can always dunk it again! Now on to the fun part…
(Image credit: Jojotastic)

Update Old Napkins:

Joanna from Jojotastic gave some old white striped napkins a second life by overdyeing them. Follow her tutorial to find out how she mixed up that gorgeous golden hue. This project is perfect for refreshing stained white or light-colored napkins, or for combining stray napkins from multiple sets and giving them a cohesive color by throwing them all in the same dye bath.

(Image credit: Sweet Paul)

Modernize a Vintage Rug:

A worn-out and sun-faded rug that’s still in good shape is a prime candidate for a color-drenched makeover. To transform the pale beauty above into a vibrant blue masterpiece, Sweet Paul spritzed—rather than dunked—the entire rug with lots and lots of aquamarine RIT dye. Check out his tips for achieving an even color and making sure you don’t accidentally stain your floors!

(Image credit: Urban Acreage)

Refresh an Outdated Quilt:

Thrift stores are overflowing with old quilts with awesome patterns, but many have colors that are faded or look old-fashioned (and not in the cool, retro way). Save these special, hand-stitched pieces by letting them take a dip in a dye bath. Rachel from the blog Urban Acreage bought the quilt above for 10 bucks, and used a couple bottles of RIT dye to make it modern.

→ Want ideas for what to do with all that leftover dye? Try one of these shibori-inspired projects.