High Heels and Training Wheels: DIY: Transforming a Drop Cloth With RIT Fabric Dye



DIY: Transforming a Drop Cloth With RIT Fabric Dye

So with me being gone for quite some time this might seem an odd post to come back with. Quite random, I know. But there is a method to my madness, I promise. I've just completed the biggest project I've ever done, that I will be sharing soon, but it all began with dying a ginormous canvas drop cloth. Yep, a good ol painters drop cloth from Home Depot....

RIT custom color dye for canvas drop cloth

Problem was, I couldn't find anything on how to dye fabric this big anywhere! You can't use a washing machine or stove top to dye a 12ft x 15ft piece of cloth. There's just no way I'm fitting 9 lbs of fabric in a pot on my stove. And I couldn't find anything on custom colors or color mixing anywhere either. So I was between a rock and a hard place. But I just knew that there had to be a way to achieve this! Where there's a will, there's always a way. So today I'm going to fill that tutorial void and help you along your way so you aren't hinging your project solely on crossed fingers like I was.

canvas drop cloth fabric

Now I was dying my drop cloth to do some reupholstering, (upholstery fabric is so expensive it makes my head spin) but there are so many other DIY projects you can do with a drop cloth too. It's such a great alternative to pricey fabrics because it's incredibly durable and kind to your wallet. It's a genius DIY hack to get around high costs. That said, the color of a drop cloth isn't exactly jazzy. It's not ugly per say, but we can definitely do better.

So whether you're reupholstering, making a rug, a headboard, curtains, throw pillows, whatever, you probably want to dye your drop cloth too. No problem. Just throw some fabric dye on it, right? Easy peasy. But how do we cover so much fabric, and what if you want a specific color? RIT offers a nice selection of colors, but I am very stubborn and I wanted a very specific color for my couch. I have been working exclusively off of my inspiration since the conception of this living room and I'll be damned if a let something as small as fabric color throw a wrench in it!

modern, monochromatic living room

modern, monochromatic living room

modern, monochromatic living room

So as you can see, light or dark, grey seems to be the winning color for me. Wait, says you, RIT has a grey! Yeah, says I, but it's a "pearl grey" and it's a little too silver for my taste. As I said, stubborn. Luckily, RIT has a huge color library with over 500 custom colors you can mix up. Problem solved! But wait, their recipes are for a single ounce of fabric (what?!) and this drop cloth is roughly 9 pounds. Damnit! I have to do math now! Conversions and stuff too! GAAAHH! "Hey, honey, you wanna help me with something real quick?"

Ok, so here is where I'm going to be super helpful and I'm going to share the conversions and math with you. I do the math so you don't have toooooo... (little Joe Dirt to make the numbers go down a little smoother). First you need to find your recipe by choosing your color from the RIT custom color library.

using the RIT studio custom color library

Keep in mind that the colors will vary based on your monitor settings. For instance, on my laptop this color appears slightly blue, while on my phone it looks a deep slate grey. Just something to consider. Anyway, my recipe says I need 1/4 tsp Kelly Green and 1/4 tsp Black. This made it a little easier for me because I just needed equal portions of each color. That way if my math was slightly off, as long as I kept my ratios the same for each color, there was a good chance it'd still turn out alright. And it also meant my math could be cut in half because if I found the measurement for one, I had the measurement for the other. As you can tell, I really didn't have high hopes for my exceptional math skills. So let's just start the dreaded business....

Since this recipe is in ounces and my fabric was measured in pounds, the first step is to convert the fabric's weight from pounds to ounces. For me, 9lbs = 144oz. No, I don't know that off the top of my head. What am I? Crazy? Google is a handy friend. If you're not using 9 lbs, just Google "(insert your weight here)lbs to ounces".

Then, once I have my fabric as 144 ounces, it's in the form of measurement equivalent to the recipe and I can start figuring out how much I need. Now I want to look at my first color in the recipe and check it's measurement. For mine that's 1/4tsp. So now convert the weight (144oz) into the color's form of measurement (tsp) so you can multiply them.

So after converting, my fabric is equivalent to 864tsp (yikes!) and I can now multiply it by 1/4. Why 1/4? Because remember, that's what my recipe called for. Still with me?

So for this recipe, and my 9 lbs of fabric, I'm going to need 216 tsp of each color. BUT it doesn't end there. Oh, no. Because RIT is sold in ounces, not teaspoons. So I now need to convert 216 tsp back to ounces so I know how many bottles to buy.

So I need 36 oz of the Kelly Green and 36 oz of Black. Since the dye comes in 8 oz bottles, I need to divide this number by 8.

So I need 4 and a half bottles of each color. Yep, 9 bottles of dye for this drop cloth. And that makes sense because, if you're doing a single color straight out of the bottle, they say to do 1 bottle per pound of fabric. For my 9 lbs of fabric, that would've been 9 bottles of dye. So, I must've done at least some of this math right at the very least!

And let me say, if you're in the southern Indiana area and you're looking for Kelly Green dye, Joann's has been cleared out. ;)

mixing RIT dye custom colors

So now all that math is all done and our dye is purchased, we can actually start the process of dying the fabric. Whew! But there's another issue. (isn't there always?) The other half of my problem was not knowing how to cover so much fabric, because my fabric wouldn't fit in my washer. So how do we do it then? Well, I used my bath tub.

**IMPORTANT: The RIT instructions caution that the dye could stain your tub. So, that's something you need to consider if you choose to do it the way I did. I'm not certain what material my tub is made of, but it's one of those solid, glossy pieces that go all the way up the shower wall. I know, that's really technical and helpful isn't it? (you can see pictures of it below to see what I mean) You're just going to have to go with your instinct and decide whether you think your tub will stain or if it's something you want to risk. I honestly didn't care either way; I just wanted my fabric dyed. Of course I might have felt different if it actually had stained my tub, but I had no staining whatsoever anyway and my tub looks as white now as it ever did.**

drop cloth

Starting with the drop cloth right out of the package, you will have to wash it. Fabrics like this have what's called "sizing". This is that gross chemical you smell when you open up the package. It's almost like a sealer of sorts and you need to get rid of it so the fabric can absorb the dye. Getting rid of it will also soften your fabric and make it more comfortable for projects like reupholstering. So, it definitely needs to go. But as we've established, washing the drop cloth cannot be accomplished in the washer (or not mine anyway) because of it's large size, so we're going to do this in the tub too. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. Seriously, look at what came out in this water....

Yeah, gross. It's like a cesspool of chemicals.

So I started by filling my tub with the hottest water I could get and added a cap of laundry detergent (plain old Tide, nothing fancy). I submerged the fabric and swished it around a little before letting it sit in the water for about an hour. After the hour, it's time to rinse the detergent out. I drained the tub, refilled it with clean water, and moved the fabric around a little with my hands. I did this rinse twice, letting it soak for an additional 20 minutes on the final rinse. Then I drained the tub and manually squeezed as much water out of the fabric as I could and set it aside while I prepared the dye. (Don't dry the fabric, you need it wet)

RIT dye custom colors

Next, I started mixing up my dye. I just measured it all out in my glass measuring cups. I also measured a cup of salt to add as well. The salt helps the dye absorb into your fabric so you will get a darker, more even color. And that's for everything; even if you're not dying a drop cloth and even if you're not mixing a custom color, you should always add salt to your dye bath any time you use a fabric dye.....unless you're dying wool or something, and then you use vinegar. But that's a whole other post for another day.

RIT dye custom colors

Then I started filling up my tub again; making sure to get the water as hot as possible. The hotter, the better. You could even boil some water on the stove to add to the tub, but my water heater gets pretty hot so I just went with water straight out of the tap. As the tub was filling I added my dye and salt, using my (gloved) hand to sort of swish it around and make sure it was evenly mixed. Once I had the tub filled I added my wet fabric slowly to the tub. Now, here is where you need to give your full attention. Do not put your fabric into the tub unless you can dedicate a full 20 minutes to staying with it. You have to keep your fabric constantly moving. If the fabric sits idle, you will have streaks where the fabric was folded or creased, even if it's all submerged. A washing machine agitates the fabric for you but since we're using the tub, we have to do it manually. So clear your schedule and set a timer for 20 minutes.

RIT dye custom colors

Because the water was so hot at first, I couldn't use my hands to move the fabric around. So to start out with I just used a mop. If I had thought ahead I might have planned for something better to use, but I didn't have time to be picky and I needed a new mop anyway. So I just stirred it around like a soup. Once the fabric cooled down enough I could stand it, I used my hands to kind of knead it like bread. I just kept flipping and squeezing, just making sure to keep it moving.

Once my 20 minutes were up, I drained the tub and I rinsed the fabric as much as I could with our removable shower head but it was a difficult feat, I promise you. This was honestly the hardest part; even harder than the math! 9 pounds of dry fabric turns into like 100 pounds of wet fabric. But you need to rinse this the best you can to get as much of the dye out as possible. You're still going to have to wash it though. Like with an honest-to-God washing machine. I had no doubts I could get the sizing out in the tub, but I was doubtful I could remove all the dye and since this was going on our couch where we will all sit on it, I couldn't risk it. I bit the bullet and took it to the laundromat.

After that, dry that baby and you are done! I absolutely loved the way it turned out. The drop cloth fabric has great texture and color variations to begin with, so when you dye it, you get a rich dynamic color with natural lights and darks. A flat grey could have been boring, but it really looks like an expensive upholstery fabric. I am already planning on upholstering a headboard and making some throw pillow covers. Drop cloths are a great fabric for cheap and, even if you don't plan on dying it, I definitely recommend trying them out!

Check out my couch reupholstering post to see how I used the fabric!

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