If someone were to ask me which question I get the most often, it would not be that. No, it would be:
"I love your shoes! Did you buy them like that, or did you buy two pairs and mix them up?"
I've gradually become much faster at answering this question by interjecting after "I love your shoes!" with "yes, I dyed them different colours." I still haven't managed to figure out a way of avoiding the follow-up question, which is most often:
"But how did you get the white bits to stay white?"
It may seem like they do the same thing, but paint and dye work completely differently. It is somewhat magical that you can submerge your shoes in a bath full of vivid red and have one material fully and permanently absorb a colour, while the other remains exactly the same.
The next question most people ask is:
This takes a bit longer to answer. The simple answer is that white shoes don't stay white for me. Some people don't rock-climb, commute to work on a bike, go hiking, and go out partying, all in the same shoe. But I do, and that's how the above pair were destroyed in less than eight months, despite hand-sewn reinforcement. However, the astute might notice that my shoes are different colours, and the answer to that "why" question means I must explain a complex group icebreaker game I once played on Summit.
Shoe Snake (for lack of a better name)
This game is best played with 20+ people. The larger the group, the better. Also, all participants must be wearing shoes but it's best played inside.
- Everyone in the group stands in a circle and takes one shoe off. All these shoes are hurled pathetically into a pile in the middle of the congregation and scrambled by the game leader like scrabble tiles while the circle spins around holding hands facing outwards.
- Each and every muppet runs in simultaneously and apprehends a single item of footwear, brandishing it towards the sky.
- The race is on! From here, the lopsided crew must seek out the owner/wearer of the matching shoe and join in train behind them, one hand on their shoulder, one hand like lady Liberty emblazoning their shoe-torch upon the sky.
- Their eyes are now a common resource pool on the hunt for the still-soul-mate-less shoe being held by the shoe-owner they just found. The trains expand and writhe like snakes on their hunt for a match made in China, or maybe Bangladesh.
- The Circle becomes whole once again... unless I'm playing.
You see, on the day I first played ShoeSnake™ I happened to also embark from home with a green shoe on one foot and a red shoe on the other. Ordinarily, this may have been a fling, but on this particular day, ShoeSnake™ struck me with its lightning fangs, leaving the Circle incomplete and extraordinarily confused.
Even more astonishing than this unplanned strike of serendipity, the feedback I received was that this could not possibly have been unplanned. So, to prove that I was not in kahootz with the game's organising body, I've been forced to live my life as a walking circus amusement, constantly looking over my shoulder in case the ShoeSnake tribunal shouldst unholster its mighty gavel.
When these first shoes were nearing their life's end, for a while I searched for replacements that could be purchased in multiple colours, but the escalating costs of Adidas proved prohibitive and I had to resort to other means. Thus I started dying. Wait. Dyeing.
So maybe your shoes are soulless. Maybe they're dirty. Maybe they're just not matching your red velveteen lounge-suit. Whatever your reason, dyeing is fun, easy, and most people can do it.
I use Volley high-tops because they're incredibly comfortable once you discard the supplied inner soul and replace it with a quality inner. My inner soles have lasted me five pairs of sneakers, despite the instructions stating that you should jettison them every six months. The material your shoes are made out of will affect the dye you can use and how your job will work. Go for shoes made from cotton or canvas (which is also cotton). You might want to wash the shoes before you die them, as often canvas shoes can have a mild wax or coating that would prevent even dyeing. Not with Volleys though.
My best results have been using Procion/fibre-reactive dyes with this quick method. I got mine from KraftKolour in Thomastown. You can also use Rit Dyes from Spotlight/Lincraft/haberdashery stores, but the colour range is often limited, the results much more dull, the dye less colourfast (meaning your sweaty socks will change colour), they often recommend dyeing at temperature, and the packets are harder to store if you don't use all the dye.
As I mentioned before, dye is magic and shouldn't discolour rubber or its synthetic counterparts, though your mileage may vary. You can use a micro-abrasive sponge, also called a Magic Eraser, found in supermarkets to clean any excess dye from the rubber. Procion dyes won't discolour the rubber at all. I've found that using dyes cold or at room temperature will also discolour the rubber less. Also, any polyester or synthetic fabrics shouldn't discolour, but may change just slightly. The stitching on your shoes is most likely poly thread, and may even be waxed if you have super nice kicks, so contrasts super nicely and makes the dye job look seamless (haha).
- You'll need a fair hunk of salt. You can buy special salt, but 750g of cheap plain table salt gives almost indistinguishable results.
- Soda Ash (for Procion dyes).
- Kitchen detergent or odour/enzyme/brightener-free washing powder.
- A bucket about the same size as your shoes. I find a rectangular ice-cream tub works well for dyeing one shoe at a time, but here I'm using a bread container.
- Another bucket for rinsing the finished shoes in.
- Preferably a large stainless steel laundry sink with benches that won't stain and are easy to wipe down.
- Rubber gloves. ※ Don't get dye on your skin or it will discolour you for a week, and may cause severe irritation. I had a hole in my glove once and my hand was blue for ages.
- A stirring stick. This is handy so you don't have to put on gloves if you want to agitate the dyebath while you're waiting.
- Measuring spoons in standard quantities, or a good set of kitchen scales with a tared container on top.
- Take out the laces and inner soles.
- Prepare your dyebath according to the instructions that came with your dye. Most dye instructions go by weight of fabric. As shoes are about half-rubber, measure the weight of your shoes and take a third off. I've had some success pre-dissolving my dye and in jam-jars or empty peanut butter containers. It's much better than a measuring cup because you can put the lid on and shake it as long as it's a really good seal.
- Dye your shoes. If doing multiple colours, dye from lightest to darkest to make sure your darker dyes don't ruin your lighter ones.
- Rinse your shoes well. And I mean well. You don't want the dye making your white socks or pants different colours. It may seem like the colour runs for ages, but it will eventually run very close to clear.
- I generally put each shoe through a spin cycle in the washing machine to help the initial drying. Again, go from lightest to darkest, and make sure your next load isn't whites.
- Dry for about two days before wearing.
As you can see, Procion dyes can give really vivid and rich colours. Most dye varieties will also have mixing charts and variations for different looks.
I'm really enjoying my shoes so far, but there's already some chain grease from my bike on one of the pairs. I took a bunch more pictures of the shoes than I normally do, just because I loved the colours this time.
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If you have any questions or would like to see my latest projects, follow me on Instagram and Twitter @ajmrly