A Tank Top Recycling… Up-cycling… Revamping


Whatever you want to call this type of project… the point is I had a white tank top which had gotten a little grubby. Originally from Everlane, which incidentally makes some of my favorite clothes, I love their “Ryan” line of Rayon shirts and tanks so much I have bought them in a bunch of different colors. They aren’t selling them anymore, which is a tragedy and made me even less inclined to toss the tank in question. Overall the shirt was structurally sound but I wore it to the Great Sand Dunes and the front had gotten strangely sand yellowed and a few other spots were discolored as well. After trying in vain to get it back to white, I decided to change the color. Most people would have (wisely) taken the easy way out on this and dyed it. I of course concocted a far more complicated plan to hand draw designs on the tank and then “paint it” with fabric dye.

I bought a Tee Juice fabric marker in black and started drawing out designs from my coloring book “In the Garden”.


I was super pleased with the fabric marker, it has great color payoff and doesn’t smudge or run like others I have tried. However, I bit off a little more than I could chew with the complexity of the drawings I started and then couldn’t back out of. I wanted an abstract collection of garden designs, which took me many sessions to finally complete. Around the half way point of completing the tank the fabric marker ran out and I had to buy a second one.


A few weekends ago the snowy weather gave me an opportunity to stay in and work on projects so I filled in the rest of tank. Here I am trying in on before drawing in the last designs, as you can see it’s super cute tucked into my pajama pants.


Here it is all finished, I kept the left side asymmetrically blank since I was also leaving the back blank.


The Tee Juice marker instructions said to heat set the ink to make it colorfast. I was a little worried at this point after all the work I put into drawing on the designs that the marker would fade or wash out completely. I used a pressing cloth and went over the whole thing on high heat with my iron.


After going over it with the pressing cloth, I was still paranoid it wasn’t set so I went over all of it again with the iron straight on the fabric. At this point I was happy with the tank, and seriously considered leaving it b&w. The designs had obscured the discoloration but I decided to continue on and try coloring it in with fabric dye mostly because the lines were a little uneven. I think if you used an embroidery hoop or maybe a less stretchy fabric you could eliminate the unevenness of free hand drawing the lines. It could also be that I started and stopped so many times but overall the designs had a sketched out quality that I didn’t like. So I pressed on with my original plan of adding fabric dye color to it.

I had been handling the shirt for weeks so first I gave it a hand washing with gentle laundry detergent to get out all of the oils. I was super impressed with the Tee Juice; it didn’t fade at all. I took out my paintbrushes and RIT dye and mixed about a tablespoon of dye into a plastic cups with hot water.


It was at this point that everything went horribly wrong. I was going for a watercolor look so running and spreading wouldn’t be a problem, but as I spread the dye onto the tank it wasn’t moving enough for an abstract color look and it wasn’t staying put enough for a colored in look. The blue was also very pastel and the red was vibrant and it looked so bad I stopped taking pictures and started freaking out. I blotted away a bunch of the pigment trying to make everything more pastel… it still looked awful.  Since controlled color wasn’t going to be an option, I decided to try wetting down the tank and splattering on the dye to make an abstract wash of color. It looked even worse. So there I was with the color sinking into the fabric, the cups of dye cooling down, dye soaked paper towels everywhere, the paintbrushes rolling around and me with no clue what to do. At this point I was literally making plans to toss out everything and never speak about it again.

I decided as a last-ditch effort to dye it all red. In full problem solving mode, I took a box cutter to the top of an old kitty litter tub, emptied the rest of the red dye packet in, dispensed enough hot water to cover the shirt and dumped it in. It didn’t look too bad, so I calmed down and started taking pictures again.


I started a timer for 30 minutes and cleaned up my insanely messy work area, occasionally stirring the dye bath. After the half hour was up I put on some gloves and started to try to rinse the excess dye out. I realized immediately that I had added WAY too much dye in the bath and it took about 30 minutes of constant clean water and wringing out to get to clear run off. Makes sense in retrospect since 1 package of powder RIT dye is enough for a pound of fabric and I was dyeing about 1/8 of that. I hung it up to dry out, and checked it constantly trying to see if the color was going to dry unevenly.


BUT after all that I don’t think it turned out bad at all, it’s nowhere near my original vision but I like it. The designs are understated and the color is even and vibrant. If I was going to do it again I would have chosen a less saturated color so the designs stood out a bit more, like a mint green.  However, I like the bright red a lot and I am glad I’m going to get another couple of years out of a favorite tank top.



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  1. melissa Padoleski says:

    I like it in red. Did you know that after you dye something, a white vinegar rinse will set the color. Same is true for dyed Easter egg’s. The little tablets for doing egg’s
    Are nothing more than food coloring.
    I have used it for tye dying in the past.

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