(denim) battle jackets for dummies

For dye, I personally use liquid RIT dye. It’s found at a lot of stores (Walmart, Michael’s, some grocery stores) as well as online, and is relatively cheap. It also comes in a powder form. Whichever you use is up to you, I haven’t experienced much of a difference using one or the other. I use around 2 bottles or packets per US size M men’s denim jacket. It comes with directions on the package, which I strongly suggest following. The only real thing I tweak about the dyeing process is that I often use slightly less water than recommended in order to fit everything in the stock pot. There’s plenty of other dyes out there, so feel free to experiment. I’ve even heard of some people using Kool-Aid.

Click here to see the instructions for RIT’s dye methods.

Make sure you lay down plenty of “splash zone” dropcloths, plastic, or anything else around where you’re going to be doing your dyeing. It will splash at least a little no matter how careful you are. I use the stovetop method of dyeing, and usually have some old towels on the floor and counter. For the areas that get splashed and don’t have protective covering, some bleach and gentle scrubbing will remove the dye most of the time.

If you’re using the stovetop method, use a vessel you don’t plan on eating out of. The dye will likely stain whatever you’re using and you probably don’t want that in your food. Be aware that using the washing machine method can also stain the interior of the washing machine as well. To get the color you’re looking for, you may need to do several rounds of dye, so keep that in mind when buying the dye. Also keep in mind that, when wet, the fabric will look darker than it will dry.

If the color of the jacket is not what I want after about 45-60 minutes, I decide it needs multiple rounds of dye. In this scenario, I’ll empty the vessel out into the sink and hand-rinse the vest until the water is almost clear. It’s fine if there’s a bit of a tint to it, since without fixative you could probably keep rinsing until doomsday and still have dye coming out. Once I’ve rinsed it sufficiently, I repeat the dye process until I’m satisfied.

You can see the instructions for the fixative here.

After dyeing, I immediately use a dye fixative, usually RIT again. You can find this fixative in most of the stores where you’d find the dye.

I use the same vessel as I use for dyeing and I don’t wash the vessel or jacket between uses– I pour the dye out and pour the fixative in, then throw it back on the stove. I also add white vinegar, usually a cup or more. This helps secure the dye to the fabric and makes a visible difference. It also prevents it from bleeding out as much while washing. Once I’ve finished the fixative process, I rinse the jacket. If the vinegar smell is especially strong, I'll sometimes hand wash it with a little bit of laundry detergent.

After that, it can either be hung to dry or put in a dryer. If you're putting it in a dryer, do so alone or with stuff you don't mind potentially getting discolored.

No matter what, keep in mind that a home-dyed jacket or vest might always be hand wash or spot clean only. If that’s too big of a risk for you, look for something already dyed.

You can and should get creative with the dye– it doesn’t have to be one solid color. Doing a two-way split, where one half is one color and one half is another color, can be easily accomplished by letting the half you want unaffected stay out of the dye bath. I do this by using clothes pins to clip the jacket to the sides of the stock pot I use. Essentially it’s just glorified dip dyeing. You can also tie-dye your jacket, and most patterns that you could accomplish on a t-shirt you’ll be able to do on a jacket or vest.

A word of caution, though: if you are doing a pattern or dip dye, try to make sure the vest has been dyed, fixed, rinsed, and dried for each color phase, since this can help prevent the colors bleeding into each other too much. It’s not always realistic to do this, but do it when you can.

When you’re done, you can also add some visual texturing by using a paintbrush or toothbrush to flick bleach (using the same bleach to water ratio as when you initially bleached the jacket) or dye at the jacket to create fun patterns.