Dying a wedding dress: Fails (Kool-Aid, Tomato sauce & Coffee) & Thoughts

Wedding dresses are a great source of trim, fabric, petticoats and base garments for an upcycling costumer.  The biggest drawback to these dresses is that they are WHITE.  Unless you are Ella-going-to-the-ball, an “Addams Family” Ancestor, or perhaps Eliza Dolittle, a fancy white dress pretty much screams “BRIDE”.    Most wedding dresses are made of polyester fabrics and so they do not take your standard over-the-counter dye well.  The other draw-back to commercial dye is expense.  If you are costuming on a budget, purchasing an additional $5+ of dye can add a hefty increase to your costume costs.  The other issue is heat.  Many dyes want a nice soak in boiling water to help set them, and who has a pot THAT big?  and can your garment handle the heat?  It would also help to have a top loading washing machine, and mine is a front loader, so that’s a barrier for me.

I spent some time researching dying on the internet.  I looked at manufacturer sites and also tutorials.   It can be pretty intimidating and the investment in equipment (large dye-exclusive pots) and chemicals can be significant.  Logic says that if there is stuff that stains your CLOTHES it also ought to stain costumes, right?

After all, I DID have success tea-staining several wedding dresses.



So . . I thought, why not try other things that stain?  I wasn’t looking for dark, rich colors, I was just hoping to tint the fabric so it wasn’t WHITE.  I also didn’t need it to last through 30 washes, just a couple.  How hard could it be?

So, I picked out a nice white wedding dress.



It was massive.  It also came with a veil, stole, garter and gloves, and cost me $17.



I cut out the huge petticoat to make the dress smaller.

petticoat cut out

**Interjection:  I am hearing from multiple people that they have successfully dyed wedding dresses using RIT dye in a top loading machine.  Different components of the dress will take the dye differently, so they have different shades.  Lack of a top loader has deterred me from trying . . but . . from what I’m hearing . . go for it.**

I was at the point in my “Cinderella” adventure where I was upcycling dresses to make ball gowns, so I thought a lovely pink dress would be nice.  I knew that my mom had carpet at her house that was dyed from kool-aid my kids spilled.  Eventually, after multiple shampoos and many years, it faded out, but for my costume?  Why not.  It only needed to last through a couple weeks and a couple washes.  Another good point is that kool-aid is cheap.  If a make-do “dye” isn’t significantly less expensive than a commercial polyester dye, then that defeats part of the alternative-solution goal.

I purchased my cherry Kool-aid, and mixed it into a concentrated slurry.



I added some water to a plastic bin and added the mixture.  Then I added the dress, weighed it down, and added water to cover all the fabric.  It took more water than I thought, so I threw in a few more packets of randomly flavored reddish koolaid I had in the drawer or (strawberry kiwi?  watermelon?).  I let the dress soak for several days.  Then I rinsed it out in the sink.  The dress (and my hands) were a lovely pink.  I was SO excited.



Then I washed the dress.



a bit of the thread it still pink

All that remained was a slight pink cast to the bodice from the lining showing through,  and a few bits of pink on some of the embroidery.  Talk about disappointing!  Now, I did wash the dress directly after it came out of the kool-aid, which I hoped would even out the stain (one of my tea stained dresses needed that wash to eliminate streaking).  Would it have stained better if it had been allowed to dry?  I don’t know.

So, I tried tomato sauce, because, who hasn’t ruined a blouse or tablecloth with a tomato stain?

tomato sauce

The tomato sauce did succeed in leaving some yucky looking pockets of tomato residue where the dress was folded, and a light orange-ish color on the dress.  However, once I rinsed it . . .the dress was just as white as ever, and lost even more of the kool-aid.  (If I had pictures of this, I lost them).

So, next up . . if tea will stain a dress, why not coffee?  I brewed up some really dark coffee and ran a few more pots through the grounds (I couldn’t use too many, or the cost became an issue).  I also saved grounds for a few days and put them in a plastic bag with a few holes poked in.  I lay this on top of the pan that was weighing the dress down.  I soaked the dress in this mixture for several days.  The color was pretty.  However, I had a few escapee grounds, and they made dark spots on the dress.

coffee ground stains

Once the dress was washed?  Unfortunately, the coffee color was gone, except for some of the dots where the grounds had sat against the fabric.

So, I now have a white dress with some brown spots on it.

At about this point, I figured it was time for me to stop messing around and actually get some real costuming done.  My white wedding dress is still sitting in the basement, waiting, for the next experiment or “good idea” to come along.  I do want to try to see if it will tea-stain, mostly because it was so resistant to the other things I tried.  If I get around to it, I will add it to this post.

So . . what did I learn?  I have a lot more experimenting to do!  In the future I plan to take a smaller piece of fabric to use to trial dyes.  That will be much easier than using a huge dress.

I also was intrigued with the coffee ground spots.  I think this could have uses for making animal “print” fabric.  I also think it could be useful to age or dirty fabrics.  Specifically I am thinking of Marie’s cape, or the dessert-worn dress Rapunzel wears in “Into the Woods”.

What I have learned:

The type of dye that is used for polyesters is called disperse dye.  I have also read that many fabrics need the permanent press coating removed before they will take the dye.  Most require boiling in a stainless steel pot, and some require supplemental chemicals.

I have read tutorials for other dyes and pigments, for example, homemade alcohol ink.  Often these will be heat set.  One time I made Elsa capes by spray painting and stenciling snowflakes on organza.  I heat set the spray paint with an iron, and I never tried to wash them.   Ironing a small border is totally different than an entire wedding dress.

There are often some really fun dyed and painted wedding dresses available on Ebay & Etsy, often for several hundred dollars, so I’m not giving up.  I have also read some tutorials that report using $10-20 of dye, so I’m still going to look for a more cost effective alternative.

Often the “addendum” to any polyester/wedding dress dying post is that IF you get color it will be lighter than you want, and not to do it with anything you would be upset if it was ruined.


I wrote the above post several years ago . . and never DID try tea-staining that dress (always other projects to work on, so I never published it.  However . . .  in trialing techniques for ghosting and zomby-ing for my Etsy store I did come up with a new (for me) technique that I think has some real costume applications and I’m excited that I’ll be able to share that with you soon when I get back to blogging.  I wanted to set the stage and share what I’d tried before so you’d be able to see the path to where I ended up.  My Etsy store has been crazy this Halloween.  It’s great . . . but I’m itching to start sewing again.  Just a few more shopping days!



5 thoughts on “Dying a wedding dress: Fails (Kool-Aid, Tomato sauce & Coffee) & Thoughts

    • I hadn’t thought of that, lol. You’d need some cheap red wine, lol, otherwise the expense factor would kick in. I really thought kool-aid would work perfectly! I wonder if red grape juice has the same components as red wine? Maybe I’ll have to give that a shot a some point. It really was surprising how some of that stuff washed right out. Why can’t tomato stains come out of my clothes that way???


  1. We dyed wedding dresses to make ball gowns for Cinderella and they turned out great. We used RIT Dye and did it in the washing machine using that dye technique and it was really great. I can send you before and after photos if you’d like to see the results.


    • That’s great to know. Someone else commented that they had done something similar. I’ve seen results on youtube videos that were less than stellar. I think my lack of a top loading washing machine is affecting the scope of my possibilities!


      • Maybe it needs to be mentioned that you must use the dye for artificial (not natural) fabrics since wedding dresses are nearly always polyesters. I’ve used different brands and had different amounts of success but I think it depended solely on the dress. Some fabrics seem to have an amazing amount of stain resistant coating or something. I had phenomenal success making a bright yellow Belle gown. And a purple Medda gown (for Newsies) that came out lavender with very dark lace parts. Also, I had SOME success dip-dyeing (in peacock colors) part of my daughter-in-law’s wedding gown. The nylon netting layers underneath turned out amazingly bright. The outside unfortunately remained stubbornly pastel, but my daughter-in-law was happy. My method was to boil water, mix in the dye, and then as quickly as possible dip the hem of the dress in to the appropriate depth in a plastic tub (which remains purple stained to this day) in my garage and letting it sit forever (at least overnight). Then let it dry and do the next color. I went from lightest to darkest (I think it was green, blue, purple). So, lacking a top loading washer, a tub, a lot of stirring, and time might substitute. Not being so stringent about heavily rinsing afterward (and not washing before using) might help too, as long as you remember there is dye in the garment likely to bleed out when it IS washed.


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