I have a light blue polyester dress with some stains on it. I want to salvage the dress but know conventional dyeing won't work on polyester.
Country or region: USA
Message: Hi~ I have a light blue polyester dress with some stains on it. I want to salvage the dress but know conventional dyeing won't work on polyester. Is there a paint you would recommend that I use as a last ditch effort to save the dress?
Polyester can be dyed by boiling it with a special kind of dye designed only for synthetic fibers, called disperse dye, but dyeing your dress a solid color would not cover up the stains anyway, unless you choose a very dark color with a huge amount of dye. Stains usually end up showing right through any dye, since they become darker at the same time that the rest of the garment does.
If you apply a "busier" sort of design, though, that might work well. The random splotches and crystal shapes of low water immersion (LWI) dyeing are pretty good at distracting the eye from a stain that shows too well on a light solid color.
There are a number of fabric paints that you could use, combined with stamping, stenciling, sponging, or other decorative techniques that do not yield a solid color. All of the fabric paints made by Jacquard Products, for example, including Dye-Na-Flow, Textile Colors, and Lumiere, are supposed to work on polyester.
There is an even better answer, though. A unique property of the special polyester dyes called disperse dyes (which are the only type of dye that works on polyester) is that they can be applied to paper and then transferred by heat, using a hot dry iron or a t-shirt press. This is easier than immersion-dyeing the dress a solid color, because the heat transfer method does not require the smelly dye transfer chemicals that solid-color dyeing does.
If you would like a childlike crayon design—these can be surprisingly effective—then I recommend that you buy some Crayola Fabric Crayons, or Dritz Fabric Crayons (these are the same thing sold under two different brand names). You can usually find them at a fabric store or a crafts store. Look at my example here: "Iron-on Fabric Crayons for Synthetic Fibers". The crayons look dull on paper, but turn beautifully bright once ironed on to polyester. You can use the transfers you've made more than once, but the image will get a little lighter with each successive printing. For more repeats of a motif, or to ensure consistent color intensity, you can recolor the paper repeatedly after you've used it to iron on the design to your dress. It's easy to do this since some color remains on the paper to act as your guide. For a more artistic effect, you can buy disperse dyes in powdered form and use them to make disperse dye paint, which you can paint onto paper and then transfer with an iron, exactly as you would with the fabric transfer crayons. Good sources for disperse dye powders in the US include PRO Chemical & Dye in Massachusetts and Aljo Mfg in New York; both sell their dyes online. Here is a link to ProChem's instructions for "Transfer Printing on Polyester using PROsperse Disperse Dyes" [PDF] .
You could make transfers in random blob shapes using colors that you like, or write words (be sure to write them backwards, since they will be reversed after ironing them on!). Try making motifs inspired by the shapes of leaves, birds, butterflies, flowers....anything you can think of. If you don't like your own drawings, you can trace shapes that you find in pictures. Be careful to test computer printouts to see whether the ink in them will transfer, also, if you are printing them out in order to color over them, as a guide; some older inkjet printers use disperse dyes in their ink formulas.
Before you try transferring any of your designs to your dress, it's very important to try doing so on scraps of fabric, of the same fiber content and texture as your dress. You need to get an idea of exactly how the colors will look after transfer. If you don't have a suitable rag to use from worn-out clothing, go to a fabric store and buy some inexpensive fabric that is similar to the dress. Note that disperse dye transfers work only on light backgrounds; they will not show up well on fabric that is already a dark color. The light blue of your dress should work quite well for this.
A very nice things about all of these disperse dye transfers is that, since disperse dye is a true dye, it does not leave any stiff or scratchy feeling on the fabric. Even the best fabric paints do alter the hand of the fabric at least a little. If you close your eyes, you will not be able to tell where you've added disperse dye color and where you have not. Check the manufacturer's instructions for care, afterwards; you can wash it normally, but I believe that clothing colored with the Crayola Fabric Crayons should not be placed in a dryer, as the heat might cause the color to stain other parts of the fabric.
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Posted: Monday - February 13, 2012 at 08:36 AM
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