Monday, February 13, 2012

Dyeing Aris Allen Oxfords

This week is one of my favorite events of the year, but unfortunately I don't think Hallmark will ever make a card in honor of the Great Los Angeles Air Raid of 1942.

The Air Raid is held at Ft. Macarthur in San Pedro, and is primarily outdoors and unpaved. Last year was rainy, but we've been having a mild winter this year so I hope the weather holds through the weekend! Even if the ground isn't muddy it'll still be dirty, so I want some warm sturdy shoes to wear. Last year I wore my Aris Allen oxfords and they got nice and muddy, and last weekend I finally got around to dyeing them, which I've wanted to try for a long time.

This isn't exactly a tutorial on how to dye these shoes because I feel that this technique can be improved on, but in case some gals want to dye theirs I thought I'd document what I did. If you have any ideas how to improve this process, please comment below! And if you haven't seen it, read the Dreamstress's Shoe Dyeing Tutorial.

Dye - I chose Dylon, RIT would probably work fine
Salt - this may or may not be a good idea, see below
Gloves - get a 5 pack, I used at least 3 pairs
Brush - I chose a cheap sponge version, it worked fine
Old toothbrush - to clean shoes
White Tissue paper - stuff inside shoes while dyeing
Not shown: 
Bowl for dye (glass or stainless steel)
Spoon for mixing dye (do not use for food)
Paper towels!

Using a toothbrush or something similar, clean your shoes. Mine still had lots of mud from last year, and you need to clean off all the junk so the dye can take evenly.

I mixed up the dye according to the package instructions, but they wanted me to add salt to the dyebath water. Since I painted my shoes, I added it to the dye - which I'm not sure was a good move...

I didn't tape off any trim, but if you want to, do that now.
Stuff the shoes with tissue paper or paper towels.
Using the brush, thoroughly wet the shoes with plain water, then apply the dye. It's like watercolor painting, wet-on-wet. It spreads fast and goes on fairly evenly.

Wet shoes, after one coat. I let them dry for a while, then did a second coat.

After drying, the shoes were really splotchy! I'm not sure if it was from the dye or the salt, but it brushed away. I had already pitched the toothbrush, which was the wrong tool for the job anyway, so Chris got me a soft bristle brush from his shoe polishing kit.

 Shoe Brush.

Ahh, much better! not perfect, but good enough. They are more even-toned in real life.

Here's a warning about this project. The velvet nap seems like it's made of cotton, which is a natural fiber and dyes well with Dylon or RIT. The stitching and binding are synthetic and doesn't pick up the dye for natural fibers well, which is why you get the neat contrast. BUT!! it looks like under the cotton nap is a synthetic base, so the areas that are rubbed down through wearing don't take the dye well either.

If you really want to dye well worn shoes, I'd recommend mixing together dyes that are intended for natural and synthetic fibers. But then you'll loose the contrast stitching because that will dye too. Another option is to use a lighter shade of dye so the contrast won't be as strong.

FYI, I never wore these shoes much, maybe out dancing 5 times? That was enough to wear down the nap, I guess.

I'm still really happy with how they turned out! I like them in brown MUCH more than the off-white from before, and the contrast stitching is so cool. Most of the uneven color is on the inside of the shoes so it's not obvious, and I'm not above touching them up with a marker. :) Now I just need to find the Scotchgard and spray them down!


  1. This is amazing! I, too, love the after look MUCH more than the before. Even with uneven parts. I'm tempted to buy new and dye immediately! I'll be curious to know how the dye holds up, and if any rubs off on your heels/stockings. (I have a vintage pair that does this, and I'm starting to wonder if they were overdyed.)

    1. Yay, I'm glad you like them! I'll try to remember to post how they survive, if I forget, ask me!

  2. The shoes look great brown with the contrast - WELL DONE! Please be sure to take lots and lots of pics at the Ait Raid. We won't be there this year. Well be doing something else exciting, but we'll miss you all!

    1. Boo, I was looking forward to seeing you guys this weekend! Have fun at your event!

  3. Wow, your shoes look so good! I love the brown dye job. Air Raid sounds like so much fun, have a great time.

  4. Oh cool! I really want a pair of Aris Allen shoes (with the intention of dyeing them), so it's great to see how you did it. I've never thought of how to dye a shoe with a nap.

    And thanks for the link to my tutorial :-D

    1. FYI, the website says they run big and to order a 1/2 size up, but I think they're actually true to size. I went up a half size and they're way big! These shoes are called "Velvet", but the nap isn't very deep - more just fuzzy than directional.

  5. I like the look better too! They look much more authentic. I have 2 pairs of AA's and I rarely wear them dancing either. Funny that, I really do dance in my Keds more than anything and an original pair of 40s heels for Bal.

  6. I just bought these online and am going to dye them, too. How did you address the laces?

    1. I replaced the laces with skinny round brown ones - it was easy to find ones to match the color of my dye, but contrast could be ok too, depending on the color you use. If I remember correctly, the ones that came with the oxfords are wide flat tennis shoe style laces, and not really period for that style of shoe. Round laces are more accurate.

  7. PERFECT! Excellent idea! Thanks so much! These look just gorgeous and your project gave me the confidence to dive in headfirst on dyeing my own. Plus, the shoes are on sale right now ;)

  8. Any chance you tried the dying process again? I know you said you weren't sure the salt was a good idea. I'm just about to try this on some new shoes and I'm not sure whether to ignore the salt or not - I haven't really worked out what its role is, so whether its better with or without.


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