Arts & Crafts: Tie-dye for newbies



Tie-dyeing is accomplished by folding the material into a pattern, then binding it with string or rubber bands. Dye is then applied to only parts of the material. The ties prevent the entire material from being dyed. Designs are formed by applying different colors of dyes to different sections of the wet fabric. A wet t-shirt is much easier to dye than a dry t-shirt. Once complete, the material is rinsed, and the dye is set.

Back in the 1960’s tie-dye was standard Hippie outerwear: shirts, pants, skirts, scarves, and even socks. Tie-dye has made a major 21st century comeback and tie-dyed clothing is being sold in malls across the country. Tie-dye is a process of tying and dying a piece of fabric or cloth which is made from knit or woven fabric, usually cotton; typically using bright colors. It is a modern version of traditional dyeing methods used in many cultures throughout the world.


 How To Tie-Dye:


Step 1 – Fabric


Find an old white blouse or shirt. Once you become expert you can use a new white shirt or blouse. The shirts that work best are 100% cotton. Cotton will show the vibrancy of the color. The dyes will wash right out of 100 % polyester garments, after they are unwrapped. The dyes only bond well with natural fabrics, like cotton, silk or rayon.



Step 2 – Dyes


You can buy dye kits very easily in the craft stores, which come with everything you need. They include rubber gloves, rubber bands, soda ash, urea and complete easy to follow instructions. The dyes are already in the squeeze bottle, all you have to add is warm water (not hot). Alternatives include buying single packages of dyes. These also come with the necessary urea and soda ash and instructions for mixing. However you would need to purchase some squeeze bottles separately if you don’t have any.

However, although I have used kits, I prefer to use the Procion dyes as supplied by Dharma Dye. They have a great website where you can buy all you need.   Procion dyes are the best and brightest dyes, I thoroughly recommend them. However, if you mix the dye powder yourself, always wear a mask so that you don’t inhale the powder into your lungs.


Step 3 – Soaking 


To enable the Procion dyes to bond with the shirt, you need to soak it in a solution of WARM water and soda ash for about 10 minutes. Follow the instructions given with the soda ash so that you have the right mix. Do not use water that is too hot or too cold – and add a couple of table spoons-full of common salt to the mix too!! Make sure the mixture is thoroughly dissolved before adding the shirt.

The temperature of the water should be about about the same as a baby’s bath! As the soda ash is slightly caustic you may want to wear rubber gloves at this point. The more liquid that you can squeeze out, the more dye will be able to get in! I usually spin my shirts on the spin cycle of the washing machine.


Step 4 – rainbow swirl pattern

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After you have soaked and wrung out the shirt place the shirt on a flat surface. Place it front side down, as you will then get a sharper pattern on the front of the shirt. If you want the sharper pattern on the back face it back down. Place the dowel rod, (or your finger, or a wooden clothes pin) in the center of the shirt and start turning clockwise until you have a nice flat pie shape.


Step 5 – Achieving Pie!

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This is what your shirt should look like at this stage. Do not allow the shirt to creep up the dowel rod, make it behave with the hand not turning the dowel rod! You are now ready to remove the dowel and put on the rubber bands. The trick is to place the bands, without disturbing the shirt! It can be done! However, be careful removing the dowel. You do not want to pull the shirt up in the middle – thus unachieving pie! This part of the process is the most important step of all, believe me if you do a sloppy “tie” you will achieve a sloppy and messy “dye.”


Step 6 – Join the band!

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With your lovely pie shape achieved, you can now put on the rubber bands. Slip several bands on (see the picture) then turn the shirt over and put on some more. This keeps its shape. Keep the whole thing as flat as you can. You are now ready to dye!



Step 7 – To dye for


When doing the actually dying bit, you will need to cover your working surface with plastic. Something like a plastic table cloth will work fine. You also need to wear old clothes, old shoes, etc. The dyes will stain your clothes, the floor, the walls, the ceiling, etc. So if you are not working outside please be careful. The dyes are harmless to your skin, but if you don’t wear rubber gloves you will achieve red, yellow or blue dyed hands, which won’t wash off (Wears off in a couple of days). Also be ready with the rags to mop up spills. When I mix the dyes, I make sure that the caps are on tight and I also wipe the screw top and bottle neck to avoid “capillary action”.

Hint: there is a product called Reduran which can be purchased on line which removes dye from the skin instantly, so you don’t have to suffer.


Step 8 – Actually using the dyes

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Place your shirt “pie” on a couple of thicknesses of paper towels on top of a paper plate on your plastic protected working surface. Wear rubber gloves! Just a note: When I tie-dye I usually only use three colors, fuschia red, turquoise and lemon yellow. With these three colors you can make any color you like. To make the rainbow swirl shirt, imagine that your “pie” is an actual pie chart! Working from the center of the shirt and holding the bottle low over the shirt, dye one third of the shirt lemon yellow.

Dye the second third of the shirt fuschia red and the final third, turquoise. Do not leave any white spaces showing – the “white” is hiding within the folds! If you overlap the colors at the edges of each section you will get the other rainbow colors, ie. green, purple and orange! It’s magic!

Hint: Always put yellow – (or other light colored dyes) on first. Once you “lose” or cover it up by mistake – it is changed to something else (either orange or green)and you can’t get it back.


Step 9 – Turn the pie over!


When you have finished putting the dye on the first side, turn the whole thing over. This will be easy to do, if you just flip the plate over onto another paper plate with clean paper towel all ready for you. Throw the first paper plate and towel away (clean up as you go along whenever possible) apply the dye on this second side in a similar manner.

If you are making the rainbow swirl, you need to be sure to put the three colors behind the same colors you used on the other side (i.e. red behind red, blue behind blue, etc.) If you don’t do this, you will not get a rainbow spiral, but a sort of rainbow spider pattern (which is quite nice actually!)


Step 10 – Now comes the hard part – waiting!

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After you have completed putting the dye on the shirt, pop it into a zip lock bag and seal it up tight. Put the bag in a warm place and leave it for AT LEAST 24 HOURS! The dye needs this length of time to “prove” and allow the beautiful colors to really bond with the fabric. For you desperate “have-it-nows”, you can unwrap after 8 hours. You can also leave the shirt for as long as 36 hours if you are very patient.



Step 11 – Unwrapping your masterpiece – wear rubber/latex gloves!

TIE DYE13---After you have completed putting the dye on the shirt, pop it into a zip lock bag and seal it up tight. Put the bag in a warm place and leave it for AT LEAST 24 HOURS! The dye needs this length of time to “prove” and allow the beautiful colors to really bond with the fabric. For you desperate “have-it-nows”, you can unwrap after 8 hours. You can also leave the shirt for as long as 36 hours if you are very patient.



Step 12 – Take the shirt out of the bag!


Take the shirt out of the bag! You can take the bands off first, unwrap and start running the shirt under a cold water tap, or just run under the tap for a while and then take the bands off! BEWARE, if you have never tie dyed before you will be astonished at the amount of dye that pours out as you are rinsing. The water will turn black! Fear not, this is normal. All the dye you so lovingly applied will never bond with the fabric. Enough dye will remain, well and truly bonded. Keep rinsing until the water runs clear (it may take a while!)

Hopefully, if you have done it right your pattern will be revealed in all its glory. It’s like a butterfly emerging from a chrysallis! You may now wash your shirt in the normal way in a washing machine (on its own the first time). I usually wash my shirts two or three times on their own, before I trust them with other colored clothes.


Order Jacquard starter tie-dye kit

Product Features

  • Made in the USA – Multi-lingual Instructions
  • Suitable for all ages, this kit is a super way to get started with tie dyeing!
  • Pre-measured Procion MX Dyes: red, blue, and Yellow
  • Mix Dyes to make more colors
  • Kit contains vinyl gloves, rubber bands and 1/3 LB of soda ash dye fixer