The Dye is Cast (and Some Pants are Shortened)

For the past several weeks, I’ve stood on the banks of my personal Rubicon, a bottle of RIT dye in one hand and two pairs of pants in the other. Finally this morning in the midst of my kids’ and my disappointment that my mom’s flight was cancelled and she wouldn’t be arriving today as expected, I waded across.

It all started back in March. I had a fashionable friend come over and help me go through my closet item by item, kindly and (mostly) gently giving her opinion of each. She told me which skirts were worth tailoring, which pants deserved a chance at a new life in a thrift store, which tops looked hideous on me.

And she schooled me about color.

I knew before Anne arrived at my house that I was nervous about color. I like colors and I like wearing colors, but I lack confidence that I can tell which colors go together and which combinations give passersby migraines.

So, Anne helped me clear some of this up. For example, she looked at my favorite pair of linen pants (my only pair of linen pants) and declared that the color “looks like death.”

Here are the death pants alongside some jeans that fit awesomely (except for needing to be hemmed) but are an unfortunately 90’s shade of denim:


“You should dye these!” she said.

“Oh,” I said, looking wide-eyed at her eager smile.

“Do you know about dyeing fabric?” A woman of action, Anne was undaunted by my lengthy pause. “Who do you know who knows about dyeing fabric?”

Lori!” I said, excited that I knew something. “Lori knows how to dye fabric!”

So, after a discussion about various colors I might dye these pants, Anne left me with instructions to have a stack of items hemmed (I know how to hem, but these were items that were stretchy or wool or too precious for me to get near them with scissors) and to make an appointment with Lori to learn how to dye.

Dutiful student that I am, I invited myself over to Lori’s house and she told me all about how to dye things black. She’s kind of like the Rolling Stones that way. She served me yummy tea and sent me a link to the instructions for dyeing garments in a front-loading washing machine and got me on Pinterest, on which I’m supposed to pin fashion looks that I like but which so far has been where I pin photos of lots and lots of foods that I want to eat.

I bought the dye and kept a milk jug out of the recycling bin for mixing and found some nitrile gloves as Lori had recommended and then…I waited. Every time I saw Lori or Anne: “Have you dyed those pants yet?”

No, I hadn’t because like Julius Caesar, I was poised on the brink and knew that if I took that next step, there would be no going back.

Maybe it was boredom that finally convinced me to put my laptop on top of the dryer (to read the online instructions while I worked), don some purple gloves, and fill a milk jug with black dye and hot water, or maybe the last-minute cancellation of my mom’s flight gave me the jolt of fatalism that I needed to realize that these are just pants.

Whatever it was, it worked.


About two hours later, I pulled these out of the dryer:


I am very happy with the results. I like the gray of the linen pants and the dark, dark blue of the jeans and the contrast stitching on both.

But that’s not all!

Once I was in the mood for no-going-back activities, I pulled out two pair of holey-kneed pants I’ve been promising myself for the past four years that I’d turn into shorts. I didn’t take a before photo of the khakis, but here are the gray-green pants:


And here are both in their new incarnation as shorts:


And THEN…I was so intoxicated by my own competence that I hemmed the jeans I just dyed!

I know, right?

It was just like when Julius Caesar marched right into Rome and declared himself ruler for life (although that turned out to be a shorter period of time than he expected, perhaps because he wasn’t wearing awesome, newly-dyed jeans).

And then I roasted some nuts and started a pot of beans and taught my daughter an algebra lesson because I still have two holey pair of jeans I’ve been saying I would turn into skirts but I knew that would push my abilities—and my sewing machine—a little too close to the breaking point. Another day after I’ve stayed up late watching jeans-to-skirts tutorials online and I’m at loose ends because my plans have abruptly changed and I don’t have a car, I’ll have another project to occupy me.

2 Replies to “The Dye is Cast (and Some Pants are Shortened)”

  1. Wow, the results are excellent! Now make sure you always wash those clothes with the dark loads, because the dye might bleed for a while.
    Even for me dyeing is a very spur of the moment thing. I avoid it until I just have to do it and then I throw all caution to the wind and do it. That is why I never manage to take before and after pictures: I cannot plan the dyeing, it happens when it wants to happen.

    I like your shorts too! You’re unstoppable!


    1. Thanks for the reminder about washing them with the darks. I might have forgotten and my family would not have been happy.

      And thanks for calling me unstoppable. I quite like that adjective to describe myself! (I often feel more on the “object at rest” side of inertia than the “object in motion” side.)


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