Trust me, it’s to dye for

Every year my students’ dance performance rolls around (too quickly, I might add), and every year I find myself inflicting new forms of chaos and so-called creativity on my already full to-do list. Last year I tried dying a backdrop for photos, which I was fairly pleased with. This year my dilemma was finding costumes for our all-liturgical performance that are modest, cost efficient, unique, and practical for re-usage throughout the year.

Dance costumes are typically pretty flashy and sparkly, which wasn’t what I was going for this year. The mainstream “liturgical” outfits are pretty boring and a little bit too “frumpy” if I am allowed to be so bold. And the gorgeous, flowing, more lyrical watercolor dresses are hand painted and very pricey. So it’s back to bottles of rit dye and venturing into the great unknown for this dance teacher!

After doing a test run on my own skirt, I decided to go ahead and buy two sheer, handkerchief style skirts for each student. The underskirt would be either black or white, and the overskirt we would dye. After doing some research online and finding nothing to help me create a watercolor look with material (no, I don’t want tie dye!), I just had to figure out what worked best with the material I had. I also tried to keep in mind that I had 5o skirts to do; so the idea of using a paint brush to slather some dye on and letting it run down was quickly ruled out.

In the end, I decided to try mixing liquid rit dye with water, pour it into a spray bottle, and simply spray the liquid onto the skirt (starting at the top) and let it drip down. The effect with 100% chiffon would have been absolutely gorgeous, but the “nylon tricot chiffon” pretty much just soaked through and left some streaks where it didn’t dye the white material. Which was fine in the end; it just didn’t exactly have the “watercolor” look that I was hoping for.


  • Spray bottle ($1 at a dollar store, the quality of the nozzle probably won’t make any difference)
  • Measuring spoons
  • Glass measuring cup
  • Liquid rit dye ($50 for 8 bottles)
  • Skirts ($14-$16 each)
  • Plastic gloves
  • Old sheets
  • Newspaper
  • Hangers

Remember that rit dye will stain. 🙂 Use newspaper whenever you can when you’re dealing with it. There is a handy little color chart on the rit dye website, but in the end I just tried to purchase colors I could use as-is and avoid mixing, which didn’t work very well anyway. I would mix one tablespoon of rit dye liquid with one cup of water, mix in the measuring cup and pour in the spray bottles.


I wanted to have two contrasting colors for each skirt, but sometimes the dyes looked very similar even when I watered them down more. It could also be due to the fabric content, but most colors came out lighter than I was expecting. The navy blue and hunter green, however, were total disappointments. The navy came out as purple and the hunter as a green-esh gray. Needless to say, one class has a turquoise/purple blend, and the other a gray-with-a-tinge-of-green blend. Oh well. The nice thing is that the skirts will still have a neat effect and look more interesting than just a solid color would, even if they weren’t what I had in mind color-wise.

Once I had the dyes all mixed up, I invited some dance moms to help me spray all 50 down to speed up the process. We strung up rope in a garage and hung the skirts on hangers. The dripped a LOT, so unless you want a speckled garage floor, old sheets and newspapers are good to have on hand.

And then with spray bottles in hand we would spray on the first color, leaving some white streaks, then after a few minutes of drying we applied the second color to fill it in. I did try doing both at once and found the colors mixing too much, which could be pretty disastrous, unless you like puke green…

The bottle instructions will tell you to use really hot water to help bring out the color. I was unable to do that since I mixed the dyes in advance, but if you can try to use warm-hot water. It might help to bring out more vibrant color.

The skirts aren’t perfect, but that’s part of the fun. They have more character than the solid colors bought online.

It took 5 of us an hour to spray down almost 50 skirts, and after a few hours of dripping they were pretty much dry. Since rit dye is pretty permanent, I’m expecting the color to stick even when washed, but not having tried it I think I’ll hold off putting it in the laundry until AFTER the performance.

So that was my little adventure for the week. I like to try new things, especially when it means that my students are investing in something more practical than a tutu that they can wear again. We’ll see what they end up looking like on stage. Only 2 more months!  (P.S. If you found this post helpful for your own project, leave me a comment and tell me about it!)

2 Responses

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  1. Anna Lofgren
    Anna Lofgren April 6, 2012 at 7:42 pm |

    You’re more adventurous than I am when it comes to dying things. But they turned out really cool – great job! I like the effect, and can’t wait to see them IN PERSON! I’m still amazed that I’ll actually get to BE at your recital this year! 🙂

  2. Megan
    Megan April 21, 2012 at 4:07 pm |

    These look great!!! I’m so excited!!

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