Learn how to tie dye. Tie dye was a popular fabric trend in the ’60s, a symbol of free expression and the happy, hippie era. The technique of tie dye makes a comeback every so often and it never looses its symbolic free-spirited, individuality through tie dye’s unique designs.
Learning how to tie dye is a little messy, but really fun and something the whole family may enjoy. The end result is never right or wrong. The process, once you have the right materials, is not difficult at all. So follow these directions to begin a tie dye project.
How to Tie Dye | Supplies
What do you need to Tie Dye?
- WORKSPACE – Indoor or outdoor space to set up the dyes – be prepared for some mess!
- DYE – Commercial dye colors are best. For smaller quantities consider purchasing tie dye kits which have several colors in smaller quantities. Most kits come with applicator bottles.
- FABRIC – Fabric or a clothing item to dye. Must be 100% cotton or natural fibers such as silk for the best results. You can experiment with fabric blends, but do try them out first as they may not take the dye as well. Most dye packets will make enough color to do several articles so it is best to find a few articles to dye together. You could use the same colors but create different patterns on each article of clothing.
- BUCKETS – Buckets or plastic containers to hold enough dye to dip the articles. Plan on having one bucket for each color you decide to mix.
- WATER – Hose or sink to rinse items in cold water. Don’t use plastic sinks as they may stain with the dye. Stainless steel sinks are best.
- STIRRERS – Wooden spoon or dowel rods to stir fabrics. It will stain from the dye so use something disposable.
- BANDS – Rubber bands or twine to tie the fabric. I prefer rubber bands as the dye does not penetrate it, leaving nice white bands in your final product.
- GLOVES – Rubber gloves to stop your hands from getting stained.
- MARBLES – Marbles are a great object to wrap into the fabric and tie.
- TOOLS – Scissors and metal tongs.
How to Tie Dye
Step 1: Preparation
WORKSPACE – Get the area you have chosen ready for a messy event. Cover tables with plastic and if you feel it is necessary, the floor as well. Working outside gives you more freedom especially if you decide to make this a family affair.
DYE – Prepare the dye mixture according to the instructions on the packet. Use one of your buckets or containers to mix and contain the dye for future use with the fabric.
FABRIC – Prepare your fabric. Pre-wash new fabric to remove starch and sizing. All new clothing items should be prewashed in case they have starch or chemicals that may prevent the dye from penetrating. Using fabrics or garments you plan to upcycle will not require a pre-wash process.
TEST – Test your dye on a scrap of fabric to check for color intensity.
Step 2: Tie the Fabric
When your area is prepared and your tools are ready for use you are ready to start to create a tie dye pattern. There are several methods available and color combinations. It is best to start simple and be happy with the outcome.
Choose a tying method. Rubber bands work well or tying with twine. The idea with tie-dye is the tied up parts with bands or string will not absorb the dye. This technique creates the patterns and swirls associated with tie dye.
See further down this article for different tying techniques you can use.
Rubbing some candle wax on the twine will make it extra resistant to the dye.
Step 3: Immerse in Dye
When you have tied the fabric get ready to swirl it in the bucket of dye. Pick it up with the tongs to check the color.
If you are not happy with the intensity of the color continue to leave the fabric in the dye for longer. Check the instructions on the packet of dye for times and amounts of water.
Greater control of where your color is applied can be obtained by putting dye in plastic applicator bottles and just squeezing dye where you need it. You could also put different colors in bowls and paint the dye on where you want it.
Step 4: Rinse
When you are satisfied with the color, remove the item from the bucket of dye and rinse in cold water. Rinse by hose or by swirling in a bucket of cold water.
Step 5: Repeat for New Colors
If you plan on different colors repeat the dying process with other colors. Using different colors requires careful planning because of colors changing when they are dyed together.
If you unwrap and re-tie the dyed fabric before dying the next color then the white parts take on the new color while the first color changes according to a color mixing chart.
Step 6: Dry
Finally, wrap the dyed fabric while wet into a plastic bag to allow the colors to set. Check the instructions on the commercial dye for time allocation for this.
When you are satisfied the colors are set, wash the dyed fabric item and dry and iron ready to make up your fabric.
Tie Dye Patterns
Suggestions and ideas for ways to tie the fabric and create interesting patterns.
There are many different ways to tie the fabric to get the effect of the tie dyed look. You can create the effect by either random tying or aim for a more controlled look with some suggested patterns.
There will never be two tie dyed patterns exactly the same because this art form does not stick to a solid pattern design.
Try these on a scrap first to get used to the design before committing them to your fabric.
Just scrunch the fabric up into a ball and wrap the rubber bands around to tie up the folds in a random scrunched effect.
The blue and pink in the photos below can be created by immersing in one color of dye. For a multicolor effect, use squeeze bottles to randomly put different colors on the fabric.
Use marbles as an item to be the insert object to create a tie dye pattern. Push a marble under the fabric and fold the fabric over the marble. Twist the fabric slightly to encase the marble and then tie up the folds with elastic bands or twine. Leave spaces in-between to allow different amounts of dye to penetrate the fabric.
Fold the fabric like a fan. Make the folds as narrow or wide as you like. Then put rubber bands over the folds at different intervals. Tying twine will also give the tie dye effect and the tighter the twine is tied the less dye seeps into the folds and the more white or plain spaces are evident.
Fold the fabric or the item of clothing in half and insert a marble to tie into a double layer of the fabric. Tie in exactly the same way, but the two pieces of the fabric will be together. Dye in the normal way and when you open up your fabric there should be two ‘mirror’ images on the fabric. In tie dye there will never be exactly two images the same, but there will be a definite similarity.
To create the rainbow spiral you need to use your wooden spoon handle or dowel stick to turn the fabric into a spiral.
Start by laying the fabric flat and placing the stick into the center of the fabric. Then twist the stick round and round to form a circle of fabric. It will look like a pie shape.
When the circle is complete remove it gently from the table and put the elastic bands round to secure the spiral. When the spiral is secure the dye process can begin.
Imagine your colors are going to be in thirds or quarters around the pie/circle of the spiral. Use yellow, turquoise and red for your basic colors. Add other rainbow colors if you wish.
Paint the dye on to be more controlled with your colors. Use a sponge applicator for easy painting of the dye. Rinse and open out to see your beautiful rainbow tie dye.
First, draw a heart shape on your fabric. For perfectly symmetrical hearts fold the fabric in half.
Using a large running stitch (up and down), stitch around the heart and then pull the stitches really tight so the heart gathers up. Put a rubber band on top of the stitching.
A lot of tutorials just say to gather up the fabric in a heart shape but I think using the running stitch to gather it all up gives a more accurate shape. When your fabric is dry you can remove the stitching.
Tie Dye Upcycle Ideas
Here are some suggestions of interesting items to ‘upcycle’ with Tie Dye:
- T-shirts, especially white ones.
- Headbands and hair scrunches
- Bags, fabric tote bags
- Caftans and beach wraps
- Aprons and oven gloves….in fact, anything you fancy needs a bit of zing and zest!
How to Wash a Tie Dye Shirt and Stop it Fading
The important thing to remember with tie dye articles is that they should be washed on their own. If you throw them in the washing machine with other colors or whites, then you will probably have some dye transfer and ruin some of your clothing.
There are some things you can do however to minimize the amount of dye that comes out of your new tie dye shirt.
- Don’t wash your shirt until the dye has been drying for at least 24 hours.
- For the first wash, use a bucket of warm water and add half a bottle of white vinegar. This helps stop the dye bleeding.
How to Tie Dye | In Conclusion
So take yourself back to an era when it was ‘hippy’ to be free-spirited and dress ‘happy’ in tie dye. The individual look of the 60’s that has made a return to the catwalks over and over again in the years since.