Tag Archives: self expression

Never Say Dye, Said Miss RIT

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1920s RIT box thanks to Doris Blackburn/ Karen Blackburn Chenier

I have often wondered where I get my love of wearing dark colours day in and day out.  Did it all stem back to the tender age of 12? On a shopping trip to Granby, Quebec I once met a woman reciting poetry on the street. She was thin, cool, and wore nothing but black. Smoking a long slim cigarette, she blew perfect circles into the air and looked like she didn’t have a care in the world. I immediately assumed at that young age that one did not have to think if you wore the colour black.

But the more I thought about it, I realized my Grandmother never wore colour much either except to Rebekah Lodge meetings. Those box-shaped handmade white dresses she wore didn’t have that much shape to them, but she always added some sort of lace trim–which didn’t help much. But, most days she wore as many shades of blue as she could think of. Her friends must have wondered how she managed all those shades of dark blue she came up with– but I knew how she did it.

Dresses in those days were always “freshened up” according to Grammy and RIT  Dye encouraged creative homemakers like herself to give their dingy clothes new life for just a couple of quarters a box. The ‘catch-all’ drawers in her white bureau situated in the heart of her kitchen contained dozens of boxes of the product. Some days before she bought her washer; a pot of dye would be boiling on top of her woodstove along with lunch.  My grandfather’s eyes would be in a panic when he saw one of her dresses stewing away hoping she would not reuse that pot again for food preparation.

Most garments made out of rayon and crepe were not washed as a whole in those days, and only ‘spot cleaned’ as necessary to preserve the shape and colours. Spot cleaning was huge in my Grandmother’s world–and I always seemed to be her test subject before I went back to school after a lunch that included gravy.

Even though she wore Mitchum’s deodorant, dye ran easily, especially with the dark colours that she wore. Those Kelinart’s underarm dress shields with the plastic linings were worn to reduce those ghastly yellow underarm stains–but they never seemed to work. I know a few vintage dresses I have seen in a friends closet that have not been washed in a  lifetime– but not Grammy’s. The vast majority of the time after spot cleaning they always went back into the pot for a new shade of dark blue. Immediately the rubber gloves went on and a brick went into the pot to weigh the garment down.

I never saw my Grandmother wear pants and her life was a long and sordid tale of  boiling pots, washing machines, and dry-cleaners for her dresses. Life always needed a splash of colour she said, and even when RIT Dye was no longer popular with homemakers Grammy still continued.

In the 1960s  fashion designers began featuring tie-dyed clothing. Tie-dye became the look of a whole generation, saving the RIT Dye brand from extinction. I, being a young thriving fashionista, began tye dying with the best of them under the guided hand of my smiling grandmother. Live fast and dye pretty might not have been in her phrase dictionary, but it was in mine. Grammy made me realize having the control to dye your clothes and change your look was a part of self-expression and has always been the purpose of life for me. I realize now that  self expression was for her too as long as she had a box of RIT.

 

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Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place and The Tales of Almonte