Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How to (and how not to) dye silk shoes and paint them.

First, the finished project. These shoes are closely based on the above 18th century shoes. The big difference is that the original has the design integrated in the fabric (either embroidered or woven), and mine are painted. The shoe is the "Georgiana" from American Duchess. The buckle is an actual 18th century antique. When I put the buckles on at the end, I was like jumping around! Over 200 years ago, a lady was putting them on her shoes, too! Ah, how cool...

Ok, so the dyeing. What an odyssey. Read, please, before you go off and dye anything. There was a lot I learned not to do. This goes for the scotch guard-ing and the painting, too.

I started with the shoes, some black Rit dye, a brush, gloves, cardboard and a cup. I used cardboard instead of newspaper or tarp etc. I mixed the dye as instructed on the Rit bottle. I used the hot water method. You will NEED gloves!!! No matter how neat you are, why risk it?

When I started to paint it on, this is what I got. This black dye has that sort of black sharpie effect, where it has a purple base. A lovely color, but it would take soooo many applications to reach a deep black. This picture actually makes it look much darker. It was really a watery, light lavender.

So I started dipping the brush right into the bottle. Don't do this. It looks great, but as I learned later, the dye has no adhering power this way. You need heat. And you need lots of it. More about this to come. 

I did a couple applications this way and left it to dry overnight, thinking the dye would be powerful enough to just stick to the fabric, and well, dye it. The next day the shoes looked really matte and chalky black, with stripes from the brush.

I rubbed one with a paper towel. A ton of the dye came off, and the silk where I rubbed looked that sad lavender color again. I started googling "dyeing silk," "dyeing shoes," "Rit silk," the list went on. Basically, what I learned is you need heat, best in the form of steam. I've read other tutorials about dying shoes and they never seem to think this is important. So here's what I did, and it seems to have worked really well.

I experimented with running the shoe under water to get the excess dye off. Sooo much came off. And don't panic; the shoe is fine. Water didn't kill it. I didn't drown it either however. You can see how much came off: (again the photo looks especially dark)

To solve the heat issue, I got out the hair dryer. Mine is exceptionally hot. It's blown out many a hotel bathroom socket... I also heated a mixture of like 90% black dye and 10% water in the microwave. Ten seconds at a time, tops. Open the window or turn on a fan. This smells seriously chemical noxious - but that means something is happening to it. This is a good thing. Also, use a cup you will throw out. Don't even think about eating out of it ever again.

I started to paint on the hot dye, layer by layer, and in between each layer I would hit it with the blow dryer on it's hottest setting. You want to really heat up the fabric, but keep the dryer moving so you don't burn the shoe. It took me about 4 coats. After it was dry, when I rubbed again with the paper towel, only a teeny bit came off. No where near as much as before. I was reading on one of the websites about dye that the heat helps the fibers in the fabric open up to accept the dye, then when it cools, the fibers contract, sealing in the color. I also suspect that the heat activates something in the dye chemicals, but I'm not a scientist... Below are the dyed shoes. The color is much more uniform and the luster of the silk shows now, unlike the matte effect from before. I left them overnight again before I touched them again.

On to the painting! Here too are some do's and dont's...

I used acrylic paints for this, copying the design from the original shoe. For the brush I used a very small, short tip. I chalked the design on first and then painted away! But wait... I should have scotch guarded pre paint - keep going...

They were so lovely! I was so excited, so I ran to Target and picked up some scotch guard (because this is what all the shoe dying tutorials tell you to do), and after they were well dry, I sprayed them with two light coats. The weirdest thing happened...

Oh no!!!

It's like the paint disappeared!! What was once opaque, bright paint totally changed. I have no idea how scotch guard affected this, but it most definitely did. So if you decide to scotch guard, do it first. The paint will be a little harder to apply, because it will bead a little, but if you use little to no water you should be fine.

I had to repaint the whole thing... Seriously frustrating. Oh well... Not the end of the world.

Some final reminders:

- HEAT!!! And gloves!
- Many thin layers, not one or two thick ones.
- Scotch guard is a magician! Use it before painting, but before using, do be sure you have the shoes dyed the color you want, because after you spray, there will be no re-dyeing.
- Don't even think of wearing these in the rain, in grass, etc. Basically only indoors.
- If you must wear white stockings, and you're dying your shoes a dark (or bright) color, wear them around the house with socks until the color stops rubbing off at the edges.
- For any part of this process you can stuff the shoes with tissue (gift wrap or toilet) to protect the inside. I didn't, but if you feel the need, take care not to use newsprint or colored varieties, as they may bleed when wet and stain your shoe.

So now that you know what not to do, get out there and make something beautiful! Cheers!


  1. This is a fabulous post. Your shoes came out gorgeous (especially for all the difficulty!), and I LOVE your buckles! Did you punch holes in the latchets to put them on?

  2. You will not be deterred! That's what I love about you! These are really wonderful looking. Happy feet, indeed!

  3. Thanks everyone! As for the latchets, I put holes, but I didn't need to punch them. Unlike reproduction buckles that I've used before, these have super sharp prongs that go right through the leather, with little effort, and they make the teeniest hole, like a pin. Doesn't ravage the latchet like if you punch (fraying silk, rough side of the leather poking through...), which makes sense, since if you were wearing different shoes, but only had one fancy buckle (back then) wouldn't it be so much easier to switch it out while keeping the shoe in top shape? It's so awesome to be able to see extant pieces first hand. I love museums and antique shops!

  4. Great job, I'm inspired to decorate my shoes!

  5. PS if you put on buckles, I find it's best to make the hole with an awl, instead of like a leather punch.

  6. Oh my lord these are so beautiful. I have the photo of the originals in my "shoe pictures" file and have drooled over it forever, never thinking that someone would actually be crazy enough to attempt it :P Also it is ADORABLE that you put the shoes next to your dog. I'd do the same for my bunny but he would chew them.

  7. Thank you! I've been drooling over them too. It was a bit ambitious but I was like, hey aim high :) And my dog is a total camera addict. I think she was a model in another life - every time I take a pic of something she pops up like take me too! But at least she doesn't chew... Haha I guess if she was a model shes like, no chewing, that's calories!

  8. Ha ha! Supermodel dog! Hey, are any for sale? or will you do a custom?

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  10. Caroline, were the acrylic paints just the normal inexpensive kind in the plastic bottles? Also, did you then re-scotchgard over the flowers after you painted them? I saw your comment on my entry but didn't want to reply there in case you didn't go back to check, and now I'm all hopeful that maybe I can add a little something to my Georgies.

    P.S. darn, I deleted my last comment so I could leave a whole new one but that didn't quite work. I posted a link to this entry on American Duchess' facebook page because I think everyone ought to see it...hope you don't mind!!

  11. WOW! I mean WOW! This is amazing! I am BEYOND impressed! Your shoes are truly incredible! I am so honored, and the information about the anique buckles is really interesting. I've been looking at doing reproductions and found the same problem with the dull prongs on the chape and tongue, and having to really drill through the latchet. This makes so much more sense. Thank you!

  12. Aww wow thanks about the link! It's so awesome to hear my things are thought worthy enough to share! :)

    As for the paints I used two brands of paint - liquitex professional (in the white tubes) and Americana (in the little bottles). Both from Joann. I wouldn't recommend liquitex basics (clear tubes). I used them in college and they have kind of poor pigment.

    From my experience, I would definitely discourage spraying scotchguard over the paint. If you look above in the post I have a picture of the paint after I scotchguarded it - the paint went kind of funny and streaky and transparent. Really wierd.

    Hope that helped :)

  13. And Lauren - thank you!!!! I replied to this on Facebook :) Keep the shoes coming!

  14. This is a great post. You have worked so hard! You did a great job painting the design. I wonder, as an artist, if these shoes will stand up to wearing much---I would not think so...I kind of see water marks, fading or peeling paint, etc.
    I must confess that as someone involved with 18th century garment construction, and who loves the period, the shoes themselves are not that attractive---(have seen much better repros), but those buckles are positively gorgeous!

  15. GORGEOUS!! Man, I want to try this with my Georgies now... I'm thinking baby pink with tiny blue Forget-Me-Nots. Thanks so much for posting this!

  16. Julie - thanks! And go for it! The forget me nots sound adorable!

    Anonymous - You're exactly right. These are not wear-me-around kind of shoes. Thank you for the compliment on the buckles. They are a truly beautiful pair. And I'm sure you have seen better examples. I'm not a professional. I'm learning as I go. As for all the trouble these gave me, I'm surprised these didn't turn out worse. That's why I wanted to share how not to do things, because I feel that's more important than just showing something perfect that no one can learn from.

  17. On another subject, just wanted you to know I received my Dressed in Time Boutique purchase! I'm very happy with it, and by the way, the packaging was wonderful, too! Such attention to detail!

  18. Anonymous (9:12) - I'm so glad you like them! Just something fun and small :) Do enjoy!

  19. Anonymous (12:34) - I can't really do custom since the shoes are a little hard to come by. If you have a pair already tho, feel free to contact me about it via the Dressed in Time Boutique on etsy. However, if you do have a pair, I really recommend doing them yourself. It's a fun process :) Don't miss out!

  20. WOW. These look absolutely AMAZING. Thanks for showing us how you did it; I'm planning on dying/painting mine eventually and this helps immensely!

  21. Laced Angel - Thank you!!! Sooo happy to be helpful!

  22. These turned out gorgeous! Thanks so much for sharing your method! I was considering painting mine too, but still haven't decided... :)

  23. Thanks Carly! I hope I gave some good info on what not to do. Anything I can do to help!

  24. I love a good risk taker. Good on you! They look wonderful! Mmmm wondering what to do with mine when they arrive! : )

  25. Thanks a bunch! It was a fun risk to take :)

  26. Replies
    1. Ooo the buckles! I'm glad be able to share them with everyone :)

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