Fabric Shoe Dying Tutorial

A Rainbow of Dyed American Duchess Shoes

Nothing Says “Spoiled” Quite Like Having Custom Dyed Shoes To Match Your Outfits!

Back in the day we used to send fabric shoes out to be dyed to match our prom dresses.  It was a mysterious process so I never realized it is so easy to DIY fabric shoes!  You can still send shoes out to be professionally dyed, but it is time consuming and involves mailing shoes and swatches, unless you are lucky and have a shoe repair shop near you.  So why not make it into a fun costuming project?

I will admit is it a little intimidating the first time you drop $100 for a pair of shoes and then proceed to do something that might ruin them before you even wear them once.  But what is life without risk?  And I will level with you, I did ruin a pair of leather shoes trying to dye them.  So stay tuned for the tutorial on how to use leather paint to save shoes you ruined with leather dye!

That said, it is easier to dye fabric shoes than leather shoes so it is a good place to start.  Less risk is good!

Special thanks here to Lauren at American Duchess, who not only sells great fabric shoes to dye but all the supplies you need.  There are instructional blog posts on her website but I decided to make my own to help me learn to use this new fangled flip camera.

There are several styles of period fabric shoes from American Duchess.  I am particularly fond of the Dunmores and I order a pair or two whenever they are on sale, usually around Christmas and in July for Bastile Day.  You can also buy imperfects as whatever is imperfect about them will be covered up by your dye.  I have also dyed Georgiana’s, Highbury’s, Pompadours, and Tissot Victorian pumps.  Most of these are no longer on the website but some might appear at the next sale, and new fabric styles will hopefully come out.

In the box with the shoes will be one or two swatches – save these as they are critical for testing your color.

The leather styles can also be dyed and I will do another tutorial on that, once I figure out how to do it!

Dyes and Colors and Stuff

OK so I will spare you the lecture on the color wheel, tints, hues, analogous and complimentary colors.  If you don’t remember all that from art school, google it and you will get more than you ever wanted to know.

Here is what colors are available on American Duchess’ website.  

I checked around and it is pretty much what is available from the company, International Fabric Shoe Dye if you are interested in the details.  If you are lucky there is a color there that will work for you.  I have used several of the colors right out of the jar and they look great.  Also order a jar of the mixing black unless you are using something really light, like the yellow I use below, so that you can darken the color.



What you Will Need:

  • A pair of shoes – clean and dry.
  • Gloves – wear on the hand that holds the shoes or you WILL get dyed hands.
  • Dye
  • Dauber (also available on American Duchess’ website)
  • Q-tips
  • Dye proof surface to work on

How much dye to order?

One 1 oz pot will do 2 coats on a slipper type shoe (Highbury or Tissot pumps) or one coat on an 18th century shoe (Dunmore or Georgiana).  Sometimes one coat will give you enough coverage, sometimes you need 2 coats.  I have never needed more than 2 coats.  The color does not get darker with multiple coats, it is more a matter of getting even coverage.  For boots I would recommend 4 1 oz pots.  Save any leftover dye for touch ups.

Here is my basic process: I order the closest color that is also lighter than I want.  You can tint them darker with the mixing black.  They sell a lightener for this dye but I have not personally tried it.  That said there is no reason it would not work using the same test swatch process.  You can also go over a light pair of shoes with a darker color but they will blend, so I don’t recommend doing this unless it is an emergency to save a pair of badly dyed shoes.  

I take the swatch and dye a strip on it with a Q-tip, then let it dry.  You don’t want to waste any more dye than you have to and the Q-tip helps use less.  Once it is dry (several hours or overnight) I check if it is dark enough and also label it so that I remember what “formula” I used.  Long term, I keep a list of successful dye formulas in my sewing notebook.

If it is not dark enough, I add 1/8 tsp of mixing black, stir it up, and repeat the same process until I get the shade I like.

I did one pair of shoes in purple – there is no purple for sale so I ordered a jar of pure red (#2020 and a jar of pure blue (#2011).  I mixed them together in a larger container (stick with glass or ceramic).  Then I tested it as described above.  It was actually a very nice color straight mix 50/50.

For the yellow shoes I bought #2005, #2006, and #2007.  Yellow is a hard color to match and you can’t trust monitors.  I am glad I did the swatches because $2007 is orange, I’m talking Halloween pumpkin orange!  (Humm … dying fabric pumpkins for Halloween?)  I tried adding 1/8 tsp of pumpkin to #2005 and got cat vomit.  #2006 is YELLOW!  #2005 by itself is very close to what I want, but I needed it slightly brigher, so I added 1/8 tsp of YELLOW! to it and it was perfect.  If you are keeping track here, I ruined one jar of #2005 when I made the cat vomit, but that beats ruining a pair of shoes!

Another word of warning – check your swatches with your fabric, jewelry, buckles, etc in natural light as well as artificial light, to make sure it looks OK.

My Swatches for the Yellow Shoes – the top middle swatch was left over from the purple experiments.

Dying The Shoes

Once the color is ready, time to go for it!  I start at the center back seam of the shoes, as this will disguise the line where the color comes together.  I dye the upper first, then the heel.  If the heel is leather, leave it plain OR use leather dye to dye it.  If you are unsure of how steady your hands are, you can use painters masking tape to seal off the heel and sole to avoid getting dye on them.  You want to dip the dauber maybe 1/3 of the way into the dye at first.  You don’t want it dripping with the stuff.

Video is not too bad for a first try!  I moved the shoes out of the frame a couple times but overall I think it is not bad for a beginner:

Once the shoes dried, they were not completely even so I ordered another pot of dye and gave them a second coat exactly the same way.

Dyed Fabric Shoes Are Not Exactly Colorfast

Or should I say, not colorfast period?  You can treat them with Scotchguard or Angelus Water and Stain Repellent, which does help.  It comes in a spray can – just take them outside and soak them good with the stuff, then let dry (VERY stinky – do not try inside the house).  But even then I would not wear them out on a rainy day.

Save your leftover dye and label it, as I have successfully spot dyed water damage that way.  I had a pair that I wore outside after it rained the previous evening and the ground was a little damp.  My heels kept sinking into the ground and at the end of the day, some color had run from the very bottom of the heels.  I touched up with leftover dye and a Q-tip – you can’t even tell it ever happened.  This even after treatment with Scotchguard!

One situation where the Scotchguard really does have an impact is if you want to glue trim on the shoes – petersham ribbon binding, gimp, or appliques.  The Scotchguard will protect the dye enough to prevent it from running around the glue.

With all of the experimenting, multiple coats, and Scotchguarding this is obviously not a project to start at midnight the evening before your event.  Leave a month or a few weeks for this process just in case you need to order more dye – it is worth the slow process of making test swatches and letting them dry for several hours (or over night) until you are very happy with the color.  Think of it as a mockup!

Dyed Early 19th Century American Duchess Shoes

One thought on “Fabric Shoe Dying Tutorial

  1. Vicki Embrey

    Thanks. I had dyed the exact same shoes with a darker blue and it ended up wicking at the seams really badly. I had to order more dye and do it again. Same problem. Ended up having to apply Rit dye over them which did the trick. I think I just got an odd pair!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *