Tips for How to Dye Leather and Suede
A couple of years ago my sister Andrea gave me this pair of brown boots that weren’t the right size for her. They fit me perfectly, but I didn’t wear them much just because when given the choice between black and brown, I usually go for black. So I decided to dye them. I paid a visit to a local leather supply store in downtown Portland (Oregon Leather Co.) and bought the supplies to dye leather and suede, then tackled the job yesterday. It was surprisingly easy, though a little bit time-consuming.
Here are some things I learned about how to dye leather and suede:
- Ask for help from experts. If you’re buying your dye in a store, ask the staff for their recommendations. I was going to buy a different product until I described my project to a store employee and asked what she would use for the job. She showed me the dye specifically for suede and suggested a different leather dye than the one I had picked up. I was really glad that I bothered to ask for advice.
- Proper prep is key! In order for your dye to adhere correctly, you need to prepare the leather. The bottles of dye I was using recommended their brand of “de-glazer” to remove the existing leather finish and prepare it for the dye. But the lady working in the leather shop who was helping me told me I could use acetone to remove the finish, which was perfect because I have a large bottle of 100% acetone nail polish remover.
- Use the right tools and dyes for the job. For this project I used Fiebings black oil dye, which is harder to find than the regular Fiebings leather dye. The store I was buying them at had both, though, and the lady recommended the oil dye over the normal dye. Tandy Leather also has a wide assortment of leather dyes. For the suede I used Lincoln Suede Dye and Dressing. If you don’t have a local leather store, you may also be able to find leather dyes at shoe repair shops or large craft stores. Don’t try to use leather dye on suede. They behave very differently, and you probably won’t be happy with the results. Unless you want dyed hands, wear gloves (after all, leather is skin….) A wool dauber works really well for applying dye. In a couple of areas I had to use a Q-tip to apply the dye, and it definitely didn’t do the job as well as the dauber.
- Be prepared to lose contrast stitching. The contrast stitching on my boots was a light tan, and on the part that I dyed with the leather dye, the contrast stitching is now black and therefore invisible (which is fine with me). Interestingly, on the part of the boots dyed with the suede dye, the contrast stitching turned more of a light gray. Your results will depend on the exact type of dye you’re using, but it’s a safe bet that the color of any contrast stitching will be altered at least somewhat.
- Think about the hardware. If the pieces you’re dyeing have metal hardware or zippers, consider whether they’ll look good with your new color. Zipper tape (the cloth part of the zipper) may take dye, but plastic or metal teeth won’t. My boots have a brown zipper, and its teeth are still brown. It doesn’t bother me because it’s barely noticeable, but it’s something to keep in mind.
- A little goes a long way on leather, but consider your color. I did two light coats of dye to get a nice deep black and barely made a dent in my bottle of dye. But I was starting with a pretty dark color. If you’re trying to go from one extreme to another (white to black, etc.), you’re most likely going to need several light coats.
- Suede soaks up dye. In contrast to the leather dye, I had barely enough suede dye to finish my boots. I did two coats, and there are a couple of areas that are a little bit uneven. I’ll probably buy another bottle and give the suede another coat. The suede is also more stiff than it was originally, and the interior of the boots is still brown. I’m fine with both of these things, but you might want to keep them in mind.
- Test your color. If you have a specific shade in mind, make sure to test a bit in an inconspicuous spot. It may not be the color you were hoping for. My housemate wanted to dye a beige jacket navy, but what she thought was navy dye showed up as a super bright blue on the light leather. She’s going to try mixing it with black to achieve the shade she wants, but it was a good thing she tested before spreading it all over.
- Finish your leather to protect it. You removed the finish in order to add the dye, and now you need to re-finish the leather to protect it from the elements. I used Frye Leather Conditioning Cream, which is actually great stuff to have on hand to protect any of your leather shoes or boots. There’s also a spray version. For the suede, I plan to use a spray suede protector, like this one.
Have you ever dyed leather or suede? How did it turn out?
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