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Ombre is just a fancy word for a gradient of color—when the intensity of your garment’s hue goes from dark to light. Ombre-dyed clothes were popular in the mid-2000s, and these days, the trend is coming back around (as all trends do). Ombre dyeing an article of clothing is surprisingly simple and a great way to reinvigorate an old shirt, scarf, skirt or dress.
The first step is to choose and prepare your garment. White clothes work best, but a light complementary color can work too. In my case, I chose a light blue shirt with the idea of ombre-dyeing a darker blue from bottom to top. (It’s okay if your garment is a little wrinkled because the dye bath will be soaking it either way!)
Make sure your garment is washed and clean, then immerse it in water and wring it out. You want it damp but not soaking wet.
Next, set up your dyeing station. I like to dye in my kitchen sink, because the metal won’t stain. Outdoors is another great option if weather permits. Fill up a bucket or bowl (either glass or a plastic bowl that you won’t mind getting stained) with hot water.
Don’t forget to wear rubber gloves and old clothing… you can avoid getting dye on yourself if you’re really careful, but it’s best not to risk wearing anything you don’t want to get stained.
Follow the instructions on your dye package to prepare your dye bath. I typically use Rit dye, but there are several brands out there that’ll do the trick. Rit recommends adding vinegar to your dye bath if you’re dyeing nylon, silk, or wool, and adding salt if you’re dyeing cotton, rayon, or linen. I’m dyeing a 100% cotton shirt, so I added salt to my hot water before I added my pigment powder.
Next, dip the bottom edge of your garment into the dye. Depending on how dark you want your color, you can either hold it there by hand or drape it over the edge of your countertop or faucet to sit there for longer. Keep in mind that the color will look darker when it’s wet than it’ll ultimately look once it’s clean and dry.
I wanted a subtle color effect here, so I only dyed my shirt for about 15 minutes. If you want a darker or more intense color, you’ll want to leave your garment in the dye bath for 30-60 minutes. This is where it’s helpful to drape your garment over the counter or faucet so you can walk away… you probably don’t want to stand there holding a shirt in a dye bath for an hour!
Once the bottom of your garment is dyed to the level you want, dip the fabric into the dye a little farther. Hold or leave it there to sit again as it soaks up additional dye. After you have your two color-levels set (darkest at the bottom, next-darkest above that), begin slowly lifting your garment in and out of the dye bath. This will even out your lines and give your garment that gradual “ombre” effect rather than just being two clear sections of color.
When you’ve achieved the intensity of color you want, it’s time to rinse your dyed garment. Remove it from the dye bath and rinse in cold water until the water runs clear. This step will inevitably get a very light but still noticeable amount of dye on the top half of your garment, so if you’re working with a white shirt that you want to keep white on top, don’t immerse your whole garment in the rinse water until the dyed half has rinsed clear.
Allow your ombre-dyed garment to dry and be sure to machine wash it separately for the first couple of times to prevent staining on any of your other laundry. And if you’re not satisfied with the way your ombre looks (maybe it’s too light, or your lines aren’t even), you can always dye it again! The more layers you give it, the more gradual your ombre will be.