Dying Cashmere: It Can Be Done

Ah, my love/hate relationship with the classic Rit Dye goes way back. Tie-dyed t-shirts: love! Tie-dyed hands: hate! Beautiful colors: love! …but they all came off in the wash: hate! You get the idea. Needless to say, I was less than optimistic going into this project. During my recent closet overhaul, I pulled out two cashmere sweaters I bought on eBay and decided that it was time they get an upgrade.  I sniped them at a great price, but regretted my trigger finger after realizing they weren’t exactly, ahem, complementary to my skin tone. That ‘place bid’ button has a way to make you put blinders on. Please tell me I’m not the only one.

This photo booth background, so beautifully displayed behind my family in this photo booth picture from our wedding, was my last foray into tie dying:

But, cashmere? The soft and delicate and damn expensive goat’s fur? Yes, cashmere can by dyed at home. Now, I’m not saying this method will work for ALL cashmere (so don’t hold me to it!), but it worked for me and my sub $30 eBay find cashmere sweaters (I was surprised, too!). Maybe the secret ingredient was having nothing to lose. Weird how it works out that way sometimes, right? (So much easier to make the half-court basket when $50K isn’t on the line!)

Anyways, me and my fearlessness started dying with these ingredients:

We have two pots, a stock and a sauce, used ONLY for dying. I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but dying pots should be used only for dying – it’s toxic stuff! So, we have pots, white vinegar, a measuring cup, the dye, fancy stirring stick (some may call it a broken shim), and the sweater to be transformed. Coffee maker not included.

Now, I cannot lie, I basically just followed the directions on the box, but I do feel that a few of the steps were more important for this process in particular, so I’ll highlight them here. #1) Pre-measure your sweater, so you can lay it to dry with the same dimensions!

After measuring, we go on to dissolving the dye. I put the burner on medium-high, and poured in the dye. I don’t like this part because the fumes smell caustic and weird, but it has to be done. Now that I’m looking at this pic, I’m not sure having an open flame so close to the burner was such a great idea…

While that was warming up, I presoaked the sweater in tepid water. Now, I really think this made a difference in ensuring even coloring. The cashmere is weirdly hydrophobic, and it took me a good 5-10 minutes just to get it all soaked, but I’m pretty sure it was time well spent

Once that was soaked,  I filled the stock pot with warm water (not scorching hot, or the sweater will shrink!) to a level just above where the sweater would be submerged. I poured in the dissolved dye,

and dunked in the sweater. It was totally a ‘Here goes nothin’!’ moment, fingers crossed and all :).

After 5 minutes, add 1 cup of white vinegar (apparently, with animal fibers, it helps the color stick). Then starts the waiting game. I soaked it for a total of 60 min, stirring around every 15 min. After 60, it looked pretty red and I decided to go for the rinse. Wearing some rubber gloves (that luckily Mike had in his work truck!), I squeezed and twisted the sweater, then rinsed it in warm-then-cold water until the runoff was clear. It. Took. Forever. (20 min? In my defense, it felt like forever.)

Simple task, simply boring. BUT, through the magic of Rit, the dying worked!! The color was even, and didn’t wash out! Score! I laid it to dry (according to the original dimensions). Sorry for the bad pic, I think by the time I got to this step I was a little tired of dying.

It took about 4 days for it to dry all the way, and for research sake, to make sure I was dolling out at least semi-useable advice, I took it to the dry cleaner to ensure the color was held fast. Guess what? It did! And now I have a fancy red sweater that I’ll actually wear!

Heck yes! I also dyed an obscenely orange cashmere Lands End cardigan (also an eBay score) black. Now, this one didn’t come out exactly as promised (and hasn’t been dry cleaned yet).

I used black dye, but it came out mocha brown. For some reason I thought black would be a guaranteed slam dunk, but after cogitating, I realized dying black takes more pigment than any other color. So, maybe because it was originally orange, or because it required more dye, I now have a perfectly neutral mocha cardigan. Also, I think the thread used on it was synthetic, it didn’t take color. Call me crazy, but this was a happy accident. It does forewarn you, though, that this dying thing is a fickle beast. Proceed with caution. However, if you’re game for a little color adventure, grab a piece of clothing and dye away!