Who doesn’t want to know how to dye fake fur? I mean, really.
Ok, fine. One of my main hobbies is sewing. And, since it’s cheaper to just buy wardrobe staples like jeans and t-shirts, that means that I mostly make fancy things and costumes. Which occasionally means dyeing fake fur. For the tutorial, skip down until you start seeing boldface and pictures. For the story, read on.
This year I’m making 4-6 Halloween costumes, so I’m starting extra early. We’re doing a group costume from one of my all-time favorite games, Chrono Trigger, and I’m Ayla. The only fake fur I could find was either really icky to the touch (I’m very sensitive to touch), way too hairy, the wrong color, or way expensive. They did have some tan, which I’ve seen on some interpretations of the character, but I’m fairly yellow-tan myself, and I know from experience that lightly fawn-colored stuff just makes me look naked at first glance. I also hate shiny, satiny stuff. It’s cheap, but it’s also very much not good (to my mind) for most costumes, fur or not.
So my choices were a long-pile dark brown, or a short-pile white. And to be honest, I really didn’t want to make a hairy, brown fur bikini. The underwear part would be… unfortunate, to say the least. I chose the fuzzy white, but it’s way off, and I wasn’t totally happy.
Enter the sidewalk chalk dye. It sounds really stupid at first, doesn’t it? That stuff will rub right off! But I used a piece of sidewalk chalk to mark the darts on my bodice, and realized too late that the bright pink could be seen from the other side. And for the life of me, I couldn’t get it to rub out. I figured I’d just wash it later, but I was really pining for some purple fur.
So I took some purple chalk and started coloring all over the back of the pieces, figuring I’d just line the whole thing so the chalk wouldn’t rub off. And only hand wash it. It looked surprisingly good, but it took forever. I looked up chalk dye, but everything was about human hair — natural fibers. And soft, pastel chalks. I didn’t want to use that — I already own sidewalk chalk, and I don’t like throwing large amounts of money at things when I’m not sure they’ll work.
I did find some stuff about Sharpie dyeing. But… Sharpies are kind of expensive. And toxic. I don’t really want to be huffing them and rubbing them up against my skin all day, to be honest. Call me paranoid, but there it is. If you have a small child or are a bit hippie-ish in bent, you might agree with me.
Eventually, I decided to throw caution to the wind and make some chalk dye by dissolving chalk in water. Well, not completely — I used a test scrap, of course.
The weird thing is, it worked. I really didn’t expect it to work at all. I tested it pretty thoroughly, too. I kept the scrap for two days, rubbing it on random things, and tucked it into my sports bra while I was working out. Gross? Probably. But it tested for sweat. I even put it in my sock the second day, though I wasn’t very active that day.
EDIT: My friend plays Ultimate Frisbee, and their theme was “cavemen/women” so she borrowed my costume and played frisbee in it all day. And it was fine. I would recommend wearing tights like she did if you’re engaging in extra athletic activity, but I would rate the dye job itself as a rousing success.
I would strongly suggest making a small sample piece and testing it yourself; I don’t know how your particular fake fur will hold up, and will not be held responsible for giving your grandmother’s cat green spots, or anything like that.
HERE’S THE TUTORIAL PART (Start reading again here if you’re skimming!)
Before we start, some disclaimers. 1) It’s not actually dyeing, as you may already know; it’s more like painting by way of soaking. But the actions are the same as for real dye.
2) There will be a very slight loss of softness. I actually favor this, as the polyester stuff I had was too soft for my liking.
3) It won’t produce a crazy vibrant color. My costume is definitely very purple, but it’s a light lavender. I doubt you’ll be able to achieve a jewel tone using this method.
4) It won’t produce a uniform tint. I actually really like that about it; one of my main gripes with unnatural colored fake fur is that it is all one color. Uniformly white/black/brown fur I can suspend my disbelief for, since they’re believable colors. Uniformly purple fur requires you to ignore two things that don’t match up with nature, and it looks even more fake.
5) Finally: it might not even work for you, and may not even be worth the effort to find out.
Still here after all that? Cool. Let’s go.
- Fake fur (white), preferably of a low fiber density (i.e. cheap). This allows the color to show through where it soaks the knit backing, which probably helps a lot.
- 1+ sticks of purple chalk (I used 1 stick for my bikini, boots, wrist brace and scarf, which probably totaled a yard or so in fabric)
- A mixing bowl, tub, saucepan or bathtub
- A hair dryer (optional)
- A hammer (optional, but highly recommended)
- Some experience dying something. (Optional, but recommended)
Time: 1-3 days
Cost: < $1, plus whatever your fabric cost
Take a stick of chalk and grind it up. You can use a spoon if you don’t have a hammer.
How much you need will vary. I probably should have used more than I did; the last pieces to be dyed are a little on the pale side. If you’re going for a subtle hue, though, start off with less; you can always repeat the process if it’s too light.
When you have a nice powder, fill a container with enough hot water to completely submerge whatever you’re dyeing. I used a large kitchen pot, because chalk is pretty non-toxic, so even if some residue gets left behind, it won’t hurt anything.
If you’ve ever dyed anything before, you know what to do now; dunk, wait, and wring.
How long should you leave it in? I only left each piece in for about 20 seconds, give or take. When I was testing, I actually used two samples. One I left in for 20 seconds, and one I left in for an hour. They turned out the same color once they were dried and rinsed. YMMV.
NOTE: For larger pieces, ones that brush the bottom of your container especially, you will probably find chalk bits stuck in your fur. They’ll wash out at the end. BUT if you want to achieve an even more variegated/natural look, take your thumb and smash the bits. Then rub them around; this will create darker patches that can look neat.
Now you need your patience; fur takes a while to try. Feel free to blow dry the pieces, but don’t try to dry them fully; that way lies madness. It’s more the application of heat, since heat helps set color. Hang them up someplace; you can put them in the dryer, but they might shed.
Note: you should probably do this before you sew everything together. I just didn’t think of it until I was done constructing the major pieces.
Once everything’s dry, you should rinse them in plain water until it runs clear. When I did this, the water ran clear right away, but this will get rid of excess dye that would otherwise rub off.
Now you can enjoy your custom-dyed garment. Huzzah.
If you make anything using this tutorial, feel free to link me to it – I’d love to see your creation! Happy dyeing, and may your couches forever be unstained.
Before and After Pictures
Warning: pictures of me in a fur bikini are below. If that sort of thing scandalizes you, then don’t scroll down.