make: ombre reverse dyed tee

It all started with an XXL men’s t-shirt on clearance at Walmart for $1. Sure, it was a nasty army green color, but it was a nice soft knit, and quite a lot of it, for a buck. So I brought it home with plans to see what I could make it into. After an hour or two of cutting, pleating, and sewing, I ended up with this:

Not bad, a little fun detail in the diagonal pleats, but (as I mentioned before) a fairly nasty army green color. So I decided to dye it, or actually remove color from it, a process I hereby name reverse dye. That’s where this little box of magic comes in:

Rit color remover (you’ll find it right next to the Rit dye at Joanns or Hobby Lobby, etc.) It costs about $2.50, and it’s really fun.

For some reason removing color from an item of clothing is less intimidating to me than actually dyeing something. I think it’s partly because the rinsing step is so much quicker with color remover than with dye. And as the color comes out of your item of clothing it doesn’t just get lighter (i.e. an army green shirt doesn’t just get lighter and lighter army green until it goes white) – it goes through different spectrums of color. I used color remover on a tan sweater and ended up with a gorgeous butter yellow. I took the color out of a grey top and ended up with pink. It’s kind of fun to see what you end up with. Add in an ombre technique (gradations of color) and you’ll end up with something cool, like my new shirt:

It goes from a pretty light green in one shoulder, through dark yellow to light yellow to cream at the bottom. And it’s easy enough that I did it in about twenty minutes one morning while my big kids were getting ready for school and my little kids were wandering the house, trailing destruction in their wake (as usual).

You start by warming water in a large pot on the stove until it comes to a simmer (a bigger pot than what I used would have been better, but it worked), then pouring in the color remover. I only used about a third of the packet for one shirt.

Then use a long handled wooden spoon to stir it up, then add your clothing item (again using the wooden spoon to stir it around so it all gets evenly soaked with the water. Turn down the heat if needed – you want to make sure the water stays close to a simmer but doesn’t ever actually boil.

Now watch the color remover work it’s magic. It will start taking color out immediately, so if you’re just looking for a slight color change, be ready to remove your item within a minute or two. If you’d like to ombre reverse dye, pull just a little of the garment out after a minute or two, and drape it over the side of your pot, like so:

Be careful because the material will be very hot, and any water that drips out from it will drip down onto your burner and you’ll hear it sizzle. I found it easiest to use my wooden spoon to hold the portion I was pulling out up above the pot for a few minutes to let the material cool off a bit and drain most of the water out, then use my hand to gently lay it over the side of my pot.

After a few more minutes I pulled even more of the shirt out of the pot and draped it over the edge:

I continued until I had as much color out as I wanted, then rinsed the shirt thoroughly with hot water in the sink.

The instructions tell you to rinse in hot water, then warm water, then finally cold water (I only rinsed for about two minutes total), at which point you can wring out some of the water and wash in a normal cycle in your washing machine.

And here’s how it came out:

As you can see, the polyester thread in the hem kept it’s color – that’s because synthetic fabrics don’t take dye (or give it up) as well as natural fabrics do. So if you want to try this technique, stick to cotton or other natural fabrics.

A few last tips – be aware that the color you see while your garment is wet is darker than it will look when it’s dry – so pull it out of the water when it’s a little darker than you want it to end up. And you’ll need to keep your garment moving around in the water as much as possible so the color gets removed evenly – so keep stirring with that wooden spoon. Finally, for an ombre look, plan on moving your garment out of the water quickly at the beginning, then slower as you go along (for example, it probably only took my shirt 1 minute to get the light green on the should, then 3 minutes to get to dark yellow, then 6 to get to med yellow, then 8 more to get to the light yellow at the bottom). Have fun!


  1. 2

    Shelly Rhodes says

    This is awesome! I had seen the color remover at the store, but had no idea what anyone would use it for! Now I want 3 boxes of it to do all sorts of things to everything I own. Thanks for the tutorial!

    • 4

      autumn says

      Hi Kathy! To tell you the truth, I can hardly remember – it was a few years ago. I think that I just started with a large square of fabric and did the pleating first, then ironed them flat, and then cut out the shirt front. HTH!

      • 5

        amanda says

        Please for the love of everything holy give us a tutorial for sewing this shirt – it looks so comfy! And super fashionable.

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