Giving New Life to a Special Dress: An Arts & Crafts Story


When I graduated from college, I wore these boots. They were part of a giveaway being hosted on my blog with sponsorship from Boot Barn. I wanted the PERFECT dress to go with the PERFECT boots. And I was lucky enough to find it for $13.99.

So, theoretically, if we’re talking in terms of cost-per-wear, this dress earned its keep the first time I wore it. The problem is, it was a white lace dress. An adorable white lace dress. But, I can’t keep white things white very long. The saying, “This is why we can’t have nice things,” was invented because of how well I manage my white clothing.

So, I got brave. And creative. And did some Pinterest-stalking. And realized, I wanted to give this dress some “new life.” So, combining research and hands-on experience as an arts and crafts nerd and design student, I did it.

With highlighters. And hot water. I took three pink highlighters, popped out the filling (you know, the plastic-wrapped stick of cotton that is drenched in ink), cut up said filling, and let it soak in hot water.

Cutting up the filling helps the ink disperse into the water. Science lesson: the more surface area of ink-saturated cotton is exposed, the faster the ink soaks out into the water. (Highlights make more vibrant shades. If you want something more subdued, I’m sure there are brands of markers out there with water-soluble ink that aren’t actually highly washable. I’d caution against your well-known brands like Crayola, as they emphasize washability.)

So, we’ve got our dye. The next step was to fish out the highlighter filling parts. There was still some ink lingering in the cotton, and I didn’t want that to cause random dark spots on my dress. I also wanted to have a little bit of a tie-dye effect, so rather than just submerge the dress, I made sure to knot it up a bit. The areas deepest inside of the knot would saturate less dye that the areas that are further out or right on the outside of the knot.

I’ve always been told that hot water will “set” a stain. Some reading verified that, so I boiled up some even HOTTER water and dunked the dress in it. There was a little bit of fade-out, but the dress had saturated enough dye to make most of the color stick well. After that, I let the dress cool a bit and unknotted it. I put it on a hanger and took it in. It looked great, but needed a little something more. (According to my friend Jody Donohue, who referred to herself as a “former Home Ec queen,” vinegar will set the dye almost instantly. I’ll be trying this on my next dye project. And believe me, there WILL be more.)

Hanging up in my bathroom to let it drip/air dry overnight. While my bathroom is far, far, far from perfect or luxurious (and has water-damage to some of the paint/drywall), it IS completely tiled and stain-proof. It made this whole project a little less stressful.

I had saved the highlighter parts in a paper bowl, off to the side. Because they were still wet and still had some concentrated ink in them, they had created an even darker shade of pink dye in the bowl. I fished out the highlighter filling (which was just about empty after bleeding out the last bit of highly-concentrated pigment) and used that dark, concentrated pink dye to dip the bottom of the dress into. I let it soak a bit, and the color crept upward on the lace to give the dress the look of fading to a darker pink at the bottom.

The bottom edge.

I don’t have any good photos of the process of dying — the only bowl I have large enough for this project is a red mixing bowl. You couldn’t even tell the water had pigment in it, on a red background like that.

I wouldn’t say this is a ground-breaking fashion statement. However, it killed several birds with one stone. I had wanted a pink lace dress, but did not want to cover the price tag of a pink lace dress. Being a recent college grad living alone in a city with plenty of other expenses, that just wasn’t a priority to buy. It was also a great de-stress project. I love arts and crafts, and since I’m not drawing and painting for classes anymore there’s been a lot less creativity in my life. This was a great way to turn off my brain and just be crafty for a while. The most exciting part, for me, is that I took a dress that had massive sentimental value but very little practicality to it, and gave it a new chapter of life in my closet.

The boots I mentioned are brown and pink. However, on the day of the “new” dress’ maiden voyage, the brown legging I wanted to wear with the dress and boots were dirty. So, I paired it with a black belt, gray scarf, gray tights, and my black square-toed Justin Bent Rail boots, which feature pink stitching that matches the dress almost perfectly.

Am I sure the dye won’t fade or wash out? Not entirely. If it does, I already got my money’s worth out of this dress, several times over. And who knows, I may decide to try a second coat of dye, maybe marble it in different colors next time. That would be cool. And, if it doesn’t work out…well, I’ll be able to thank this dress for two lifetimes of good service. And perhaps a few more.

(Oh, and the best part? It still matches those Shyanne boots.)

4 thoughts on “Giving New Life to a Special Dress: An Arts & Crafts Story

  1. As a former rodeo queen I have dyed many, many items. The highlighter idea is interesting but a box of RIT dye is awful cheap and comes in a lot more colors.

    That being said when I did have an office job I often ended up with highlighter marks on light clothes, maybe I should have just armed myself with clothes that already shared the same hues.

    • Carrie, this was partially an impulse decision. I knew I wanted to dye the dress, but trips out of the downtown KC area to get stuff like craft supplies are rare (plus it was about 10 o’clock at night) — I wanted to dye it NOW but DIDN’T want to lose my parking spot in my complex’s lot to do it.

      Next time I dye clothing (and believe me, there will be a next time) I will probably do it the “right” way. But, I’m happy with out this highlighter experiment turned out!

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