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Ask the Crafts Dept. : Dyeing Pearls

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hand-dyed glass pearls

Hand Dyed Glass Pearls

Amy asks:

This is a question about a project Martha did on air over a year ago.  She had dyed glass pearls and then threaded them alternately on satin ribbon to make a necklace. My question is that if I omit the ribbon and just string the dyed pearls, will the dye rub off on my skin?  I use RIT dye for tie dyeing at summer camp but I thought that since this is on a non-porous surface, it might rub off.

A little background on this segment: Martha was joined by Elle Macpherson, in season 3 of the show, in making custom pearl jewelry. Inspired by a faux-pearl and ribbon Lanvin necklace Martha owns, I designed a necklace that wouldn't be too complicated for the at-home crafter to recreate. Since the segment aired, we've also got a lot of questions about how to create colors other than those used in the segment, and I hope to also answer that here.

The glass pearls I used were coated with a luster finish that was porous enough to hold RIT dye permanently (it won't rub off on your skin, but does fade with time or extended exposure to the sun). RIT dye comes in a variety of colors which can be mixed together to get even more color variations. Color saturation can be controlled as well, depending on the length of time the pearl is in the dye bath. Basically, results are endless!

RIT dye colors

RIT Dye Colors

So my first task in preparation for this segment was calculating the perfect dye bath and timing for the pearls. I spent an entire day in front of a hot plate with a pot of almost-boiling water, stopwatch in hand, test-dyeing the pearls for different lengths of time. (I felt like I should have traded in my crafting apron for a lab coat!) I created color charts to compare my results and determine what the perfect color would be.

pearl choices

Dye Color Charts

I showed Martha the charts and she picked the gold tone she liked, and I chose a mauve color for Elle that nicely matched a silk ribbon I had purchased. You can see the results and watch the video of Martha and Elle crafting with the pearls here.

The photo below is a bracelet variation I made after the segment with mauve-dyed REAL pearls; yes, you can dye real pearls as well!

mauve pearls necklace

Happy dyeing!

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Comments (11)

  • I remember this segment. Those are just beautiful and a fantastic project. Thank you for all of the links. =D

  • What a fabulous project re-cap! Like I don't already have a thousand jewelry projects I want to try... you have to go and come up with a really great one that has to go to the top of my list. Thanks for another wonderful post!

  • [...] Kristin St. Clair of lemmemakeit posted the information on The Crafts Dept site here. [...]

  • I can understand adding color to faux pearls, but adding color to real pearls? Oh, the thought of that is painful to me. Great idea to dress up the phony ones, though.

  • Crafter Comment:

    Most colored real pearls are actually dyed... they get really expensive when they are naturally colored. You can find fresh water pearls pretty inexpensive—not as cheap as the glass pearls of course— so it can also be fun to experiment with them as well. Makes a really nice bridesmaid gift or mother's day gift, and of course a sweet birthday present!

  • I would never have guessed that you could do something like this at home -- and with ordinary RIT dyes. It's really rather amazing and the finished pearls look beautiful. The photo with all of the colors together is gorgeous.

  • [...] real pearls… how interesting is that? Here is a link where Kristin explains how she does it: Dyeing Pearls.  Apparently she gets the ribbon from here: Silk Ribbon Kristin was asking $75 for the short [...]

  • Wonderful craft! However, can you post how to mix the RIT dyes to make the other beautiful colors? In particular...gray and chocolate! Thanks!

  • saw this segment on How To channel, thought it would be great project for a group of women who get together once a month. Can you please give me a bit more infomation i.e different dye charts,where to get the pearls, etc. Hoping to hear from you soon. Regards Geta

  • I have even had good luck dyeing a string of store bought pearl, inexpensive ones. I only left them in a few seconds, like the ones Martha did.

  • I'm interested in the mix of the rit dye to make the glass pearl necklace. Especially the gray and chocolate color.

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