Friday, September 18, 2009

How do you dye buttons?

'How do you dye buttons?' I've been asked, and I've been 'dyeing' to tell you! I've been practicing, having some 'wow' and 'oooh look at these' moments, turning the little critters into bright, colourful little beauties. It's quite amazing! Are you ready for a tutorial?
Use dye and hot water.
1. Dissolve some fabric dye in an old metal pot with boiling or very hot tap water. I've used as little as a teaspoon of dye to 250ml of water for a small lot. I've also used more dye and/or more water. There's no need to add salt.
2. Place the plastic buttons into the dye so they are covered. Leave them there for 10 minutes, stirring and shuffling now and again with an old spoon or kitchen implement. Keep the water simmering - hot but not boiling.
3. Remove the buttons and rinse them with warm water until the water runs clear.
4. Admire the results as you spread them out to dry! That's it!

Some hints:
I've used both Dylon and Rit brands, powder and liquid, and have been happy with all of them. Use the 'multipurpose' Dylon, as the one with 'cold' written on it only works on certain buttons. Chemists sell the little tins of Dylon. Try to negotiate a deal, because Dylon has a new line of sachets out now, and chemists are going out of the old stock. Rit comes in little boxes about the size of a jelly packet. Craft suppliers and Big W type shops also sell dye. You don't need a lot, so start small.
Use rubber gloves. Cover bench tops with a thick layer of newspaper. Chux is useful to put the buttons on to dry.
Expect the unexpected. The buttons will not all end up looking the same, as different materials absorb the dye differently. Some will be very dark, some light and some won't take at all. The same plastic materials will take the dye equally the same, but glass buttons don't dye!
You will think it's not working, but it will work. The buttons will look strange during the process. For a stronger result, increase the heat briefly, and/or give them a longer time. For less depth of colour try taking them out earlier or diluting the dye. Or try not using any extra heat at all. Try putting them back in again for more colour. Extra time and heat won't hurt, and it will give deeper colour.
Pearl buttons and beads take the dye well.
Op shops often supply
used, white shirt buttons. Reuse, recycle, repurpose and upcycle them!
Use a curtaining net type fabric as a makeshift sack when you have lots of small buttons, to save 'fishing them out.' Use the same net sack for rinsing, or use a colander.
Keep dyeing lot after lot in the same hot dye solution.
Try mixing colours. Make some pink, then add a little blue to get mauve, etc. Maybe turn some blue buttons mauve by putting them into pink dye. Or change emerald green into mint green by adding a little blue. Remember the colour wheel and be creative! White and light coloured plastic buttons work best.
You can use a microwave instead of the stove top.
The dye can be tipped down the sink. You could keep it, but I haven't bothered as it's quite cost effective in small amounts.

Let me know how you get on! You know I'm dyeing to hear from you!


  1. Thanks Liz for sharing your button dying and all the handy tips. I will put this on my "to do" list .

  2. Hey I really got your topic between buttons from here and like to see more from you. I am working with a textile company too...

    dsi r4

  3. This is an awesome help. I have been making button bouqets and until now used colours that have been easy to find. Just had a request for colours that are less common, but if ic an dye the buttons awesome

  4. Thanks for this! I do a ton of button crafts, and only just heard about dying the buttons -- I don't know why it never occurred to me before :D. I buy a lot of bulk buttons from industrial rag factories and such, and end up with a lot more whites and pearlies than colors. I've just been buying more pounds of buttons when I need more colors, and have ended up with so many whites and pearls that even sticking to mostly them with new crafts they're still over-running the craft room :P. I have some dyes that were given to me with other craft stuff, so I'm off to try this out :).

  5. Thanks. I'm new to button dyeing and looking forward to trying. I have a craft to do and didn't know how I would get so many green buttons. Now I won't have a problem!

  6. Thanks for the info :-). Do you think yellow food coloring or an egg dyeing tablet would work? Also, will transparent buttons take the color if I don't have the size I need in the pearl? Thanks so much!