Redying shoes – Changing the colour of leather shoes

A couple of years back I gave my wife two pairs of beautiful Heschung split-tie leather shoes and a pair of Gingko boots. The boots are burgundy leather with a lighter colour canvas shank, the shoes a rather spiffy if vivid, deep pink. Over time I noticed that the boots were seeing a lot of use, but the shoes were mainly gathering dust. When questioned, my dear wife suggested the colour was a little too vivid, maybe they could be recoloured? Now, redying shoes is not something I’d really contemplated before.

Rarely one to back down from a challenge, I visited my favourite shoe shop, Skomaker Dagestad, and spoke to Morten, the resident cordwainer, cobbler and general footwear boffin, and he said “Ah, no problem at all, just use this!” and smoothly sold me a bottle of Saphir dye. Now, in cases like this where there is a certain potential for screwing up involved, I like to think carefully through the process. If I was experimenting on a pair of worn-out old shoes, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but these Heschungs are a fairly expensive and lovely pair of shoes and it would be a shame to ruin them.

Hence the shoes sat there, and the dye sat there, and I pondered for a good long while. Until the day for redying shoes felt right. This is a strange psychological phenomenon, “the right time”. There can be no end of “not right” days before it quite randomly, suddenly feels right, but one day the proposition has matured fully and that feeling arrives. Those are really good days!

The process of redying shoes:

So I started by cleaning off the shoes. I think these only had a single coat of neutral wax on them, so it didn’t require a huge effort. Saphir has their own leather cleaner, which I’d not thought to buy, but I had strong leather cleaner from a different brand, so I went with that. It was strong enough to colour the white cotton cloth with a little of the pink leather dye, so I think it did a fair job of removing any wax and dirt from the leather. For shoes that have been waxed and oiled over time with more vigour, I’d be thinking of a grease dissolving solvents such as acetone (found in nail polish remover) and isopropyl alcohol (used in rubbing alcohol). It’s important to really get into the nooks and crannies, around the eyelets and seams, as any dirt there will stop the dye from doing its job properly. Once fully cleaned, I let the shoes sit for a while to allow them to dry off properly.

One of the features of these Heschungs is the contrasting seam on the welt, and I wanted to preserve this. Hence a round of masking tape all around the welt to protect it. Depending on the colour of the dye it could also be an idea to mask the welt against miscolouration from the dye. In any case, as long as the masking tape is applied carefully, you’re making no mistake there. I did discover further on in the process that the dye really needs to get down behind the welt a bit as well, otherwise you risk a visible line of the original colour poking out from under the welt. Be warned.

One as yet undyed, the other after a first application of Saphir dye. Three applications to go!

One as yet undyed, the other after a first application of Saphir dye. Three applications to go!

The dye itself comes in a small plastic bottle and has a surprisingly fluid consistency, very much like water. It’s potent though, so it’s advised to wear gloves to avoid staining your skin. A strange little applicator is included, kind of like a small cotton ball on a wire. It does the job though, so no problem there. Carefully dipping into the bottle and applying a little at a time works best. Too much and it starts running everywhere, due to it being so fluid. I did two careful coats before letting it sit to dry, then a third later the same day, and a fourth the day after. And a little touch-up work with a thin paintbrush along the welts and where I could see the large applicator had missed.

Once I was happy that I had full coverage of burgundy dye, I finished off the job with a burgundy wax to really bring out the colour.

In summary:

Considering how long I put the job off, as it turned out redying shoes was surprisingly easy to do. As long as it’s done with a little care and the right tools, I think anyone could succeed in doing a recolour. You might even consider having a crack at it on a day that doesn’t feel absolutely right for it. I think once done once, there will be a lot less hesitation in redying a second pair. Such if the wonder of the human mind and gaining experience.

There are probably many other brands of leather dye equivalent to the one I used. It just so happened that Saphir was the brand carried at the shop I visit. I used pretty exactly half the bottle dying one pair of shoes. One bottle of dye costs around 10 UK pounds, so around 5 pounds and a little elbow grease to dye a pair of shoes. Not bad!

The final result, after 4 rounds of Saphir dye and and an application of burgundy wax. Good looking Heschungs!

The final result, after 4 rounds of Saphir dye and and an application of burgundy wax. Good looking Heschungs!

6 Comments

  • Michael Johnson 21/03/2020 at 13:13

    But is your wife wearing them now?

    Reply
    • nick 21/03/2020 at 13:16

      She’s happily wearing them in the sunshine as I type this!

      Reply
  • Paul Boileau 06/04/2020 at 08:49

    Good job. It certainly helps if the base colour is similar (but lighter) to the final colour.

    Reply
    • nick 06/04/2020 at 08:51

      Indeed, good point. I doubt it’s possible to lighten a dark shoe using this dye. Black to white would need a much more paint-like consistency

      Reply
  • Paul Boileau 06/04/2020 at 09:48

    Yes, I think you’d need some “Bespoke Addict” dye removal techniques for that to be successful…

    Reply
  • WDW 06/04/2020 at 10:36

    Thank you, and yes I’m very pleased with the result.
    The original color was a bit like… “Hey, here comes Dorothy” and I’d rather outshine my shoes – not the other way around 😉

    Reply

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