My Rollercoaster Ride with Rit: Dyeing American Duchess Pompadour Shoes
June 24, 2013
Green with envy? These shoes are to dye for!
Sorry for the silence lately on the blog, but I’ve been too busy fawning over my new shoes to get any writing in until now!
I finally saved up enough money to buy a pair of American Duchess shoes! I had been salivating over the Pompadour since it came out in Summer/Fall 2012. I had just saved up enough money for an imperfect pair when Lauren announced that the Pompadour was going to undergo a re-design:
The American Duchess Pompadour
The American Duchess Pompadour 2.0
The new Pompadour design is shorter, rounder, features a different fabric pattern, and has a classy white rand (in the 17th and 18th century, a white line of leather “piping” around the toe called a rand was the sign of a well-made shoe). I was faced with a huge costuming dilemma: do I wait (im)patiently for the new Pompadour with its sexy white rand or do I spring for my already beloved sans-rand version with the fabulous long toe? I love the white rand and the new fabric pattern of Pompadour 2.0, but I fell in love with the original Pompadour because the shape was so extreme; it just looks antique! That “antique vibe” is hard to find in modern shoes. The banana-esque curve simply isn’t admired like it used to be:
Yellow Wool and Leather Shoe, circa 1720-30
Green Silk Satin Shoe, circa 1710
I was browsing the American Duchess site in the wee hours when suddenly the page refreshed and the old ivory Pompadours were magically– dare I say fatefully– on sale! I could have afforded a “perfect” pair, but thrift and a love of flawed things prompted me to stick to my original plan to buy an imperfect pair. Luckily, the very last pair of imperfect ivory Pompadours was my size!
Though shipping was quick (4 days over a weekend), I was a nervous, giddy wreck by the time the postman dropped off the box.
I kept them pristine in their box for a whole day, afraid of grubbing them up. These shoes, however, were not destined to remain creamy white for long! I longed for a pair of bright green shoes, specifically this shade of green:
Green Silk Shoe, circa 1730-55
This shoe is later in the century than the Pomadour by about 10 years. The shape is very close to the new Pompadour 2.0, but with latchet straps instead of ties.
I consulted Lauren’s guide to dyeing shoes and decided that though Rit dye was risky, it was the way to go. I’d dyed wedding gowns and fabric with Rit before, so I though I knew my way around the dye– this would be both a triumph and a pitfall. The following saga of shoe dyeing took place during three terrifying, triumphant days.
Also, just in case you are curious, here’s the “imperfection” in my shoes. It’s barely noticeable, but Lauren’s company has extremely high standards. If a shoe has the slightest blemish, into the imperfect pile it goes!
Day One: The Day of Terror
Between the bubbling brew and shoes sitting in my dishrack: oh, the looks the landlord gave me when she came up to check! You can see the ribbon ties drying on the rack beside the shoes. I dipped them into the dye as a test.
It’s important to wash your shoes before dyeing them. If any residue or grime is left, the dye will have trouble adhering to the fibers.
Carlsbad, NM is out in the middle of nowhere. The supply chain to any store, even Walmart, is wobbly at best, so I was limited to Kelly Green and Dark Green. When I first tested the dyes on a swatch, the dark green turned the fabric brown and the Kelly turned it cloudy-blue. Not a promising start. After years of sitting neglected, my art degree proved useful! Yellow dye to the rescue!
I was totally unscientific about my measurements, so I’m not much help if you were hoping for direct instructions. I do not know the exact fabric content of my Pompadours, but both Rit and American Duchess recommend a 1:1 ratio of vinegar and water to dye silk. I ended up diluting the dye with pure white vinegar (5% acidity) and only enough water to keep the pot from boiling dry. It made the whole house smell like pickles!
I averaged about 2 cups of vinegar to about 2-3 tablespoons of dye. It’s very important to shake the dye bottles really well before pouring them! The dye is usually very dark, so it can be hard to tell exactly what hue you will end up with just by staring at the liquid. I had tested the dye mix on the the ribbon ties with deep teal results. I will admit that the boiling pot of brackish vinegar brewing on my stove made me nervous. With the precious, pure Pompadours gleaming like innocent white doves on the counter, I was just praying that my experimental dye job wouldn’t spoil their beauty forever!
The most terrifying moment of my life.
I used a synthetic bristle paintbrush to apply the dye right from the pot to the shoes. Rit dye must be applied hot; otherwise, it will just wash right off. I kept mine at a merry simmer the whole time since lots of heat is lost when you transfer your brush from the pot to the shoe. Rit usually dries much much lighter than what it appears when wet, so I was a little anxious when the dye batch turned out a little blue at first.
First dye bath next to an undyed Pompadour. Note that the leather heel and eyelets are not affected.
After the first layer dried, I rinsed off the shoe to see how well the dye took. When it dried, the dye turned out a very pale sage color, so I applied a second coat. By that time, it was late and I needed to get to bed, so I wouldn’t see the dried color until morning.
Day 2: Doomsday
Comparing the ribbon and shoe colors from the previous day. The ribbon dyed much darker than the shoes, even though they were only submerged in the dye for 10 seconds. The ribbons are very pretty and don’t have to match the shoe color, so I’m not concerned.
I saved the dye from the previous night so I would not have to risk mixing up a mismatched color. I added more vinegar and dye, trying to correct the blueness with some yellow.
This is right in the middle of applying the third coat. You can see the difference between the dried color on the back of the right shoe and the wet dye on the front. Also, I noticed that the fabric pattern runs up one shoe and down the other, which makes one shoe look lighter or darker than the other depending on the lighting. This is not a problem in “real life,” but it will make the shoes look unevenly matched in photographs.
The Pompadour’s fabric has silver undertones, so the previous day’s color dried to a silvery sage. For a mid-century impression, the light color would have worked beautifully. It was very pretty, but shoes from the late 17th century to early 18th century were often bolder, brighter, and more deeply colored. I added a bit of the dark green to the pot for the fourth layer. I had faith that the smidge of dark green/brown would do the trick. Bad idea. When the shoes dried, they were the same sage color with a strange rusty tinge splotched unevenly over the surface. This simply would not do! I rinsed the shoes and left them to dry.
It rained merrily that night, a blessing in the drought-stricken desert! While the grass outside greened up, my green shoes were taking forever to dry. I ended up tossing the ruined batch of dye and waiting for the morrow to continue my adventure. I was worried that I would never reach the right color mix. I was melodramatic enough about it that Chris teased me for worrying more about shoes than sanity. I laughed manically in response and went to bed.
Day 3: The Triumphant Reckoning
The shoe on the right is how the dye from Day 2 turned out. It is obviously browned and splotchy. Not flattering at all. The shoe on the left is coated in the fresh batch of dye.
Day 3 dawned drier and brighter than the last, and I leaped/hobbled from my bed, thirsting for victory and caffeine. Chris was not yet awake, but my tenacity waits for no man! He awoke to the distinct scent of triumph, which smelled strongly of pickles and chai latte.
I started a fresh batch of dye. I had only about a cup and a half of vinegar left, so I got it boiling and added about 2 tablespoons of yellow dye and 3 tablespoons of green dye. It was thick. It was black. It was barely enough, but I eked two final coats out of it! I rinsed out the extra dye and set the Pompadours out to dry.
The Circle of Life: Return to the Dishrack! Even my chef towel is celebrating.
1. Keep the dye as hot as possible.
2. Keep dilution to a minimum, but don’t apply the dye in pure form (salt crystals will form).
3. Shake the bottles thoroughly.
4. Dark Green Rit dye does not work for shoes.
5. If at first you don’t succeed, try another layer.
6. Turn the shoes upside down when rinsing to avoid getting dye inside.
7. Vinegar. ALL the vinegar.
8. Use a fixative wash and/or Scotchgard to seal your hard work.
The Final Outcome:
When they finally dried, the color was still a little silvery, but it finally had depth! Even with two or more coats of dye, I don’t think I could get my shoes any darker, but they are very close to my target shoe color. For a home-brewed dye job, I am very pleased! If you want purer color without all the dramatics, consider a professional dye service. If you love adventure and the thrill of experimentation, dye your own. It’s worth it!