A couple weeks ago I made some curtains from drop cloths for the living room.
I kicked around leaving them as plain, natural cotton panels, but I also liked the idea of a fun pattern or effect. A stamp or stencil? Fabric paint stripes? Grosgrain trim? It seemed they needed a little something to stand out from all the same-colored furniture, but I didn't want anything hokey or cheap-looking.
Eureka! Ombre curtains from two dropcloths and a few boxes of Rit dye.
I've always loved the ombre color fade look (even back in 1998 when my two favorite shirts were blue dip-dye). It's especially pretty in vivid jewel colors, which happen to include the ocean blue of the living room. And while it's trendy right now (there's even ombre hair!), it's also a timeless color technique. So I tackled a very large, very messy, but very fun bathtub dye project to give me the perfect curtains!
To take you back to the beginning, I purchased two of these 9x12 cotton duck dropcloths. Be sure to wash and press them first so you get any shrinkage out of the way and remove any finish from the fabric. They are already hemmed on all four sides, but I split them down the center and hemmed the raw edges to make two panels from each. You could sew a rod pocket in the top if you wanted to, but I just use clip rings in most rooms.
Now on to the coloring process.
All you need is regular boxed Rit dye and some salt. You will prepare your dye mix in a large pot on the stove. For each curtain panel, you will need:
-1 box of dye
-1 quart of water
-1 cup of salt
-plus an additional 2 gallons of hot water in the tub
Because I was dyeing four panels, I used four boxes of dye, four cups of salt, and a gallon of water. Bring the water to a gentle simmer, add the salt, and stir to dissolve as much as possible. Then stir in the dye and remove from the heat.
While your dye mix is simmering, fill the tub with very hot water. Use a bucket to measure so you get the correct dye strength. Since I was doing four panels, I needed eight gallons of water in the tub.
Now take your pot of dye to the tub and pour it in on top of the hot water. Your dye bath is ready!
To dye your panels, fold each pair together lengthwise and handle them as one unit (pinning together is extra reinforcement). That way the color gradient changes at the same place all the way across the window.
Now submerge the bottom third in the water, being careful to keep the tops parallel to the floor.
Swish and squeeze the fabric around to get it fully coated (I found it to be a little bit repellant, and the thickness and folding means that dry spots can hide inside). Let it soak for 15 minutes or so.
Then come back and sink them a little deeper into the dye mix, lowering the middle third of the fabric into the water. Swish and squeeze again, and leave for another 5-10 minutes.
To finish off, dip the whole curtain briefly in the dye and swish to coat. Leave it in the water only long enough to get some color on the top of the panel. Then rinse each panel thoroughly in cold water, top to bottom so the dye flows out through the darker area. Wring out as much as possible and air dry and/or machine dry (I hung mine outside for a couple hours to get the drips out, then placed in the dryer for an hour).
Oh, and handy tip: wear gloves.
Once they're dry, the color effect is very subtle. It doesn't have bands where the color changed, it just gently flows from lighter to darker tones. It is perhaps slightly more noticeable in person than in photos, but it also changes dramatically with the light.