Knowing what to use for tie dyeing ensures you won't waste your hard-earned money on unnecessary materials. Unlike most DIY projects, most of the supplies you'll need aren't found in your typical arts and crafts kit. Nonetheless, they're easily accessible and reasonably priced.
What to Use for Tie Dyeing: The Two Essentials
While you need most of the items on this list, we consider the following as the essentials because there's no way you can accomplish your tie dye projects without them:
- Tie Dye Blanks
- Coloring Agents
1. Tie Dye Blanks
If you're wondering what tie dye blanks are, these items will serve as your canvas or where you'll apply the dye.
Basically, you can use any white-colored garment or fabric-made items, but the most popular are T-shirts, hoodies or sweatshirts, and socks. That said, you must consider the fabric used to manufacture your blanks. The fibers should easily bond with the dye for better color intensity.
Choose those made of 80 to 100 percent cotton or any natural fiber, such as hemp, rayon, linen, silk, ramie, and jute.
2. Tie Dye Coloring Agents
To create lovely designs when dyeing fabric, you need coloring agents. As a beginner, it's best to stick with the primary colors to ensure you combine hues that perfectly match. You can go as bold as you want once you gain more experience.
With that in mind, you have two options when it comes to what to use for tie dyeing:
- Fabric Dyes
- Food Coloring
Well, it isn't called tie dyeing without a dye. Although you can find various types of dyes, you must ensure you pick fiber-reactive dyes.
Since they're colorfast or react to the blank's fibers effectively, the resulting color is longer-lasting and brighter than common, all-purpose dyes. As such, you won't have to worry about your item fading the first time you wash your tie dye clothing.
These dyes are also easier and safer to use. Of course, fiber-reactive coloring agents also come in several varieties. You'll find one-step powder dyes that you simply dilute with warm or hot water.
However, you must note that these dyes will lose their potency an hour after dilution, so you must use them immediately. That said, they're perfect for tie-dyeing large batches of blanks.
Another powder dye option that you can use is the sodium bicarbonate-free variety. Although tie dyeing with these colorants requires another step, they can last up to a week after dilution. Just make sure you re-cap the container tightly and store it in a cool place away from the sunlight.
These products aren't just meant for your kitchen! You can also use them for your tie-dyeing projects. Just note that the color won't last as long as the specialty tie dyes.
What do you Use for Tie Dying: The Additives
Definitely, dyes can add color to your white cloth without the help of any chemicals or substances. That said, it doesn't mean you can't use other products to enhance the tie-dyeing process.
It's also important to note that not all of the listed additives below are optional, especially the fixative. You will need it if you're using a sodium carbonate-free dye.
With that out of the way, here are some common additives used in tie-dyeing:
Fixatives to Use for Tie Dye
A fixative solution is where you'll pre-soak your cloth for a particular period to help create a tighter bond between the fibers and dye.
When asking what to use for tie dyeing as a fixative, soda ash or sodium carbonate is the most recommended.
To use it, you would need to dissolve it in water. The ratio will depend on the manufacturer's instructions, but you can also dilute ¾ cup of soda ash in one gallon of warm water.
Once ready, all you need to do is submerge the fabric and let it soak for 5 to 10 minutes, remove it from the solution, and wring or twist it to remove excess solution.
An alternative to soda ash is diluted white vinegar. In a bucket or basin, mix an equal amount of water and white vinegar. Submerge the fabric and let it soak for 60 minutes, remove it from the solution, and wring or twist it to remove excess solution. While the vinegar solution is cheaper, note that its smell might not be for everyone.
More About Tie Dye
Some people use the terms mordant and fixative interchangeably, especially since all mordants are fixatives. However, there is a slight difference between the two. That's why not all fixatives are mordants.
Mordants create stronger bonds or links between the dye and the fiber, so the color will stay longer in the fabric. They can even make the dye sweatproof! For this reason, many experts recommend that you use both fixatives and mordants.
With both additives, you're assured no dye goes to waste because it will penetrate the fabric better than without any of them. They also produce even dyeing of the fabric.
- Dryer's Salt - If you plan on using a mordant, the finely powdered dyer’s salt should be your number one option because of its high solubility. It increases the attraction between the material and the dye molecules for better absorption.
- Humectant - Humectants are products that draw moisture from the air, so they slow down the curing and drying process. The result is a more vibrant, deeper shade of color.
- Urea - With so many humectants available, urea is a top recommendation because it's also an excellent dissolving agent. Not only will it ensure the dye powder dissolves completely in water, but it also prevents dye disaggregation.
- Calsolene Oil - Another excellent option when it comes to what to use for tie dyeing as a humectant is calsolene oil. Also known as turkey red or sulfated castor oil, this wetting agent breaks down the water's surface tension. It's the perfect option for tightly bound, dry fabric-made materials and using advanced tie-dye patterns or folding techniques. The best thing about it is you only need a small amount of this oil to work.
Aptly named, thickeners are additives that will change the consistency of your dye. Some DIYers prefer thicker dyes since they can control their flow better. As such, they can achieve more precise dye placement on the fabric.
- Sodium Alginate - The number choice for a thickener is sodium alginate, a kind of powder obtained from brown seaweeds that creates a sticky gel when mixed with water. One drawback is that you would need to prepare your sodium alginate solution one to two hours before you start your tie-dyeing project to allow it to thicken. Another is that you would need a handheld blender to dissolve it in water completely. That's because simple tools like a spoon or a wooden stirrer can lead to clumpy solutions.
What to Use for Tie Dyeing: Basic Tools
Now that you have the essentials and the additives, all you need are your handy tools! Some of them are already mentioned while discussing the additives and coloring agents. That said, we divided the basic tools into three categories, namely:
- Binding or Tying Tools
- Dye Applicators
- Protective Equipment
Resist, Binding, or Tying Tie Dye Tools
To create patterns, you would need tools to hold the folds together. Known as resist, binding, or tying tools, here are your options, depending on your skill level and the technique or pattern you'll use:
- Rubber Bands
- Kite String
- Craft Sticks
The most practical and common binding tool used in tie-dyeing is rubber bands. They're perfect for beginners because they're easy to use, allowing you to secure garment folds quickly.
You'll find different varieties of rubber bands, so make sure you choose the thick and large ones. They will allow you to create small to large folds without worrying about them breaking easily.
The kite string is more challenging to use and often leads to loose wraps. You must also note that it's made of a material that won't resist dye, so your tie-dye project won't have the typical white line separating the colors.
That's why it's highly recommended for those who have been tie-dyeing for a while. The best thing about this string when you have experience is that you can easily control the binding's tightness.
Perfect for tie-dye crafters or artists with advanced skills, the sinew is ideal for more complicated or complex patterns or techniques. It also has a wax coating, so your design will have thin lines between the dye colors you used.
However, to ensure you create tight and secure bindings, use it together with a sinew puller dowel.
When it comes to what use for tie dyeing using the Itajime shibori technique, large craft sticks will be your best option. They will help you create folds easily and quickly. Alternatively, you can use wooden tongue depressors.
Important Tie Dye Tools - Dye Applicators
While some techniques will allow you to pour the dye mixture directly onto your blank canvas, here are the highly recommended applicators that will make your job easier:
- Squeeze Bottles
- Paint Brushes
Also known as squirt bottles, these tie dye tools will help you apply the dye with nearly 100% precision. They also give you better control over where to apply the coloring agents.
Spray bottles that produce fine mists are great alternatives to squeeze bottles.
Paint brushes are also among the top dye applicator options for those who plan to use thick dyes. They're also perfect for those who use color block, gradient, and watercolor techniques in their tie-dye projects.
Receptacles for Tie Dye Tools
What we mean by receptacles are those that will hold the fabric, water you'll use to pre-rinse and rinse your fabric, and fixative. Here are the items you need to prepare:
- Bucket or Basin
- Zippered Plastic Bags or Ziplocs
- Plastic Baskets
Bucket or Basin
Mentioned a few times earlier, these handy bathroom or laundry items won't just be beneficial for holding water or fixative solutions. They're also great for holding coloring solutions if you plan to dip-dye or tie-dye multiple fabrics using similar colors. Read more about how to wash tie dye.
Zippered Plastic Bags or Ziplocs
You'll need these plastic-made receptacles to hold your dyed fabric during the curing or color-setting process. A cheaper alternative is plastic wrap, either a cling wrap or large plastic.
A rack similar to what you use in baking or cooking will ensure your fabric doesn't sit on excess dye. Instead, it drips in a receptacle, protected working surface, or station.
Protective Equipment for Tie Dyeing
Included in this category are items you'll use to protect yourself and your working area. Here they are:
- Workspace Covering
You need to wear gloves when mixing soda ash and other additives to protect your skin. You also need to wear rubber gloves so you don't get stains on your hands. You don't want to end up with blue, orange, purple, or yellow hands!
You probably noticed that most of the solid products you'll need for your tie-dyeing projects are in powder form. It means they're extremely fine particles, so they can easily disperse in air and be inhaled.
Hence, wearing a mask, even when working in a well-ventilated area, is advisable.
Unless you're wearing old clothes that you don't mind staining, an apron is another beneficial protective piece of equipment.
Keep your flooring, table, and other items free from stains by covering your workspace with old newspapers, drop cloths, plastic, or old plastic tablecloth.
More Tie Dye Tools - The Nice-to-Haves
While the above basic tools are considered must-haves, the following are optional when it comes to what to use for tie dyeing. Still, having them in your arsenal would make the process more convenient, especially if you're a beginner.
Some of the nice-to-have items for tie-dyeing are:
- Binder Clips, Clothespins, or Plastic Clamps
- Washable Marker
- Tape Measure
Binder Clips, Clothespins, or Plastic Clamps
You can consider these items as your extra pairs of hands. Use them to hold the fold, whether a spiral or an accordion fold, you created while one of your hands tying the string will miss holding the fabric and the other tying or binding the fold.
Not only can they make the folding process easier and faster, but they can also keep the folds in place during the dyeing and curing processes.
If you want everything to be precise and accurate, a washable marker is one of the handiest items you'll greatly benefit from. Use it to mark out the lines where you'll fold the fabric or even draw the design or pattern you want to make.
The tape measure is your marker's perfect pair! Use it if you need accurately measured folds.
A funnel will ensure you don't make a mess or waste any of the dye and additives you need to mix up and place in a squeeze bottle.
What to Use for Tie Dyeing: In Conclusion
Now that you have a comprehensive list of the tools and materials you need for your tie-dye project, it's time to go shopping! You may also purchase tie dye kits that already include the dye, the binding or tying tool, and a squeeze bottle.