When you are looking to revive, change or refresh the colors of your leotards, you can hand dye these cotton, spandex and nylon garments without ruining them. Dyeing these garments can seem daunting, but the process is simple if you know what technique to use. Before dyeing your clothing, check the garment's care tags to see whether the fabric has been treated with a stain-resistant coating. If so, this may prevent the dyes from working adequately.
Use an acid dye for nylon. Check the care label on the leotard to determine the highest water temperature recommended for washing. Nylon leotards are generally blended with spandex, which cannot tolerate extreme heat. Your label may say "Lycra" which is a brand name of spandex.
Heat a stainless steel pot of water on the stove. Use just enough water to cover the leotard, while allowing it to move freely in the pot. The pot you use should not be used for food preparation after it has been used for dyeing. Use an old pot or purchase one at a garage sale or thrift shop.
Place your cooking thermometer into the pot and begin to monitor the water temperature. Pour the dye into the pot and heat the water to the highest temperature recommended on the garment care tag. If you have a recipe to produce a particular color, follow the amounts indicated. Use approximately 3 percent of the weight of your fabric in dye. For example, for a leotard weighing 8 ouunces., use 1/4 ounce. of dye.
Stir vinegar into the dye pot. Use 1/4 cup of vinegar per 1 pound of fabric. Leave the leotard to soak in the dye at the high temperature for about 30 minutes, stirring often. Put on rubber gloves and remove the leotard. Rinse it out completely, using warm water.
Machine wash the leotard with 1 teaspoon of liquid dishwashing soap per 1/2 pound of fabric.
Use a cold-water dye. Leotards made of cotton are typically blended with spandex. However, the elasticized fabric is only a small percentage of the total fabric and is concealed by the cotton. Dye the fabric as you would cotton.
Machine wash the leotard, but do not dry it. The material should be damp.
Wear rubber gloves and dust mask. Mix 1 cup of soda ash into 1 gallon of water. Stir to dissolve. Soak the leotard in this solution for a minimum of 30 minutes.
Stir the dye into a small amount of room-temperature water to dissolve it. If you are using a recipe for a certain color, follow those instructions. A general guideline is 1 tablespoon of dye per 1 pound of fabric.
Place the leotard into a clean bucket or container and add enough room-temperature water to just cover it and allow it to move freely. Pour the dye mixture into the bucket and stir to combine with the water. Leave the leotard to soak for 3 hours, longer for very dark colors, such as black or navy.
Remove the leotard and rinse in cold water until the water runs clear. Machine wash the leotard with about 1 teaspoon of liquid dishwashing soap per 1/2 pound of fabric.
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- Spandex/polyester blends cannot be dyed. The polyester requires a very high temperature to absorb the color, and the heat will ruin the spandex.
- Wear old clothing, a smock or apron when dyeing to protect your clothing against splatters.
- Wear a dust mask when handling soda ash, as it can be hazardous when inhaled.
Jennifer Komatsu is the founder and director of Minnesota-based greyhound rescue shelter, producing content for the organization's website, blog and newsletters. She has also published articles in "Celebrating Greyhounds" magazine, as well as various psychology journals. Komatsu graduated magna cum laude from Carleton College, earning a B.A. in cognitive psychology.