Dyeing a Whole lot of Couch

We finally decided to replace the old “bachelor pad” couch, the main virtue of which was that it was extra long and could seat four people comfortably. To maintain the extra seating capacity we wanted a sectional, and after some debate we settled on the Ikea Kivik. I’ve seen/heard some people decide against it because they think it looks boxy and cheap, but we really like the functionality of wide, low arms and the width was just right for our living room. I also really liked the idea of removable slipcovers, but was really frustrated that the next cheapest slipcover after white was $70 more expensive. In fact, the covers that were my favorite were actually $150 more expensive than the white slipcover. Now, we know perfectly well that we aren’t really white couch people, but I was annoyed about  the price difference. So I figured we’d get the white slipcover, try it out for a few weeks, and then maybe dye it or use it as a template to make my own.

I have to apologize here, as I didn’t get  a before picture of the white couch. But after just a few weeks we had already spilled a few drops of wine, and Loki had managed to steal a slice of steak off of my dinner plate and eat it, juices dripping on the couch. Ewww. And of course let”s not forget that we have three animals with black fur and one with gray fur. Living with the white couch was a good learning experience overall, as it showed just how quickly the couch got dirty, something that was difficult to discern on our dingy old couch. Anyway, I decided to move forward with my dye plan. The biggest problem? There was a LOT of fabric to dye. Observe:

it took two very full loads in the washer to clean all that fabric. I was a bit nervous about trying to separate the pieces and dye them in two or more batches, so I started researching how best to attempt one single massive dying effort. Multiple Google searches kept leading me back to “fiber reactive dyes”, with many recommendations of this website in particular. I browsed around for awhile, and after a week of waffling, said “what the heck, adventure!” and I went for it. Our supplies:

I didn’t actually take the slipcover off of the couch until the day we had designated to dye it, so I was totally guessing on the total fabric weight when I placed my order. From the site I listed above I got 8 ounces of dye powder in “Gunmetal Grey”, which ended up being about the right amount for what ended up being 15 lbs of fabric. I figured we could work with pretty much any grayish end result, and I was predicting a high likelihood of fudging the process, and thus a high likelihood of not actually ending up with the exact intended dye color. I also ordered Calsolene Oil, which was listed as optional, but recommended for large amounts of fabric. (Umm, yes, that applies to us.) My final online purchase was two pounds of soda ash, which as I understand it makes the entire solution very alkaline and helps the dye fix to the fabric. Here I miscalculated and did not get enough for the amount of fabric we were working with. Ah well, close enough for our fudge-tastic project.

I did not order the salt online, which turned out to be a bit of a mistake, because I foolishly thought it would be easy to get non-iodized salt in large quantities from the grocery store on the planned dye day. We went to several grocery stores, Target, and Walmart, to no avail. We finally found some boxes of non-iodized kosher salt, and bought them up. If I had been willing to delay a few more days I could have easily ordered the salt online… I hear pickling salt is actually the best option for this sort of project. But I was impatient, so we worked with what we could find. I didn’t try very hard to figure out the volume conversion from regular to kosher salt (kosher is much coarser) but we figured to just go with three 3lb boxes and call it close enough.

We had one last very important piece of equipment:

We were originally going to buy a 32-gallon trashcan, but when we got to the hardware store and saw this big storage tub (with wheels! and a lid!) we realized that it would be nice to buy something that would be useful even after our project/experiment/potential-failure-in-progress was complete. So we ended up with this lovely 45-gallon tub, that will move on to probably hold lots of gardening supplies. It still wasn’t technically big enough, since we were supposed to use 3 gallons of water per pound of fabric. Filling say, a 60-gallon tub with 45 gallons of water probably would have been best. But we were already calling a lot of things “close enough”, so we figured this would just be yet another thing to fall into that category. Oh, and we also bought a nice sturdy wooden dowel for stirring.

On to our process. We pretty much followed the steps here, but I want to add more pictures to this post, so here are the the steps we took… First we dissolved the powdered dye in warm water:

We used a convenient bucket that we had lying around. From what I managed to research, this dye is supposed to be fairly non-toxic, but in general it’s probably a bad idea to inhale strange powders, so we both wore dust masks and I stayed far away aside from this one quick picture. The powder didn’t really blow around or anything, but it never hurts to be overcautious.

Once the dye was all dissolved, we poured it into the tub, which we had already filled with water:

We also added the Calsolene Oil at this point, though it didn’t make for a very exciting picture. After that, we added all three boxes of salt:

And then, finally, we added the fabric:

From here it started to get pretty exciting, because 15 pounds of dry cotton is “whoa heavy” once it’s completely wet. In hindsight, we think we might have had more stirring/agitating success if we had used some long rubber gloves and just used our hands. Or maybe putting so much fabric in a too-small tub would have been pretty unmanageable no matter what we did. Well, we refused to give up, so we took turns doing our best to “stir gently, but frequently, for 20 minutes”. At that point, the fabric was a purplish-black shade:

The beige-ish color in the dye bath in the picture above is actually a reflection of Dave and our house. The white parts of the fabric are the lining and the velcro, none of which are visible once the slipcover is attached to the couch and the cushions are in place.

I didn’t take any more pictures since it was pretty much more of the same. Dissolving the soda ash in a little water caused some brief geeky interest, since I guess it must be an exothermic reaction and produced some noticeable heat. After that, we slowly poured the dissolved soda ash into the tub, attempting to stir and disperse it evenly. We then continued to trade off turns of some tired, half-hearted stirring. The directions called for “30 minutes for light colors, 1 hour for deep colors” at this point. I think our “Gunmetal Gray” qualified as a deep color, but after 30 minutes the sun was setting and we figured we’d be okay if the color didn’t end up as deep as originally planned. Have I mentioned that our motto for this project was pretty much “eh, close enough”?

Anyway, we weren’t done yet, because then we spent quite a bit of time with the garden hose trying to get the excess dye out of the fabric. After a while we moved to the laundry area and ran the fabric in two loads with a cold wash and no detergent. And then we did it again. We may have even done a third cold water wash, but eventually we gave in and ran the final hot wash with laundry detergent. (In case you were wondering, the washing machine did not change color at all, so yay for that.)

Once the fabric was finally done washing, we quickly realized two things.

  1. The fabric had dark lines and a somewhat “marbled” look to it, because we weren’t able to keep it from folding and bunching up when we stirred while it was dyeing.
  2. It was blue! kind of a slate blue color.

So we scratched our heads for a bit and shrugged, and proceeded to wrestle the slipcover back onto the sofa. It took me a few days to decide if it just looked silly or what, but pretty much everyone else that’s seen it claims that they really like it. I’m still adjusting, because our color scheme in the living room up to this point has been mostly shades of green, with some white and black and a little red here and there. The minty green walls go with the new couch color just fine, but some other things, most notably the rug, are going to have to change. I’m not too sad about the rug, since it’s pretty thin and scratchy, and we’ll want something more crawling-baby-friendly within the next year anyway. Anyway, enough blabber, here’s the finished result:

I think in this picture you can make out the “marbled” texture especially along the arm closest to the camera. And of course you can see just how very not-gray it is. Actually, the rug doesn’t look too clashy in this picture. I think in person the overall effect is just too many darker colors competing with each other. Ah well. Here’s the view looking back at the TV:

As a point of reference, the front door is on the right-hand edge of the picture above.

Hm, looking at that picture maybe it makes more sense to center the rug on the couch instead of on the TV, since right now it just looks like the couch is hanging off the end randomly. Thanks, blog! Again here you get a pretty good view of the marbled look. I’m not even sure if “marbled” is the right term, though I did try to Google to see if there was an official term for it. It’s kind of a single-color tie-dye effect, I guess. Anyway, here’s one last shot with Loki in one of his preferred spots:

That spot where he hangs out along the bottom of the couch gets covered in black fur quite quickly. It was very noticeable with the white fabric and not at all noticeable with the blue. That’s more than enough of an improvement for me to call this whole experiment a success. 🙂 And now I have a good excuse to budget for a new carpet, so double success. Oh, and I guess I should list out a rough breakdown of what we ended up spending:

  • Dye – $12
  • Soda Ash – $3
  • Calsolene Oil – $5
  • Textile detergent – $4
  • Shipping on the above – $9
  • 9 lbs of kosher salt – $9
  • Tub – $30
  • Wood dowel – $3

That totals up to $75, though $30 of that was the storage tub, which has moved on to the non-watery purpose for which it was originally designed: storage. All in all, not the cheapest weekend project ever, but overall I’m really happy to have a functional, non-white couch. And we’ve given it a slightly quirky, unique look to make it all our own. 🙂

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Posted on October 28, 2012, in decor and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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