For most of us, the term “tie-dye” conjures images of peace signs and spirals of saturated color, worn with pride on the shirts of hippies young and old. Tie-dyeing is an inexpensive way to turn any article of clothing or fabric into a vibrant work of wearable art that anyone can try.
The process typically consists of folding, twisting, tying, and otherwise manipulating fabric to control the application of dye into its fibers. Depending on one’s level of commitment, the results of this technique can range anywhere from the clichéd shapes and designs of post-psychedelic imagery to tasteful gradients and complex patterns that have now infiltrated the world of high fashion.
While the invention of tie-dye, as we now know, it is usually recognized as occurring somewhere in the 1960s, the technique of resist-dyeing goes back centuries into the history of places like Asia, Africa, and Indonesia. The term “resist” has to do with the method of manipulating a workable surface and the way it absorbs color.
The common method of tying a shirt or bandana with rubber bands and soaking it in a bowl of dye is only one of many possible options, the catalog of which includes using stencils or actual stitching to control the application of color.
Whether you’d like to transform an old stained shirt into a recycled gem, make a creative uniform for your softball team, or provide an activity/souvenir for your kid’s party, the possibilities of tie-dye are as endless as they are fun. This article will give you a few places to start, and hopefully inspire your own exploration of techniques.
Remember too that you can find reliable retailers online that sell quality but cheap tie dye shirts.
The right tools are necessary for any task or activity, and making tie dye shirts is no different. As with any artistic process, the last thing you want is a disruption in your creative flow. Making sure you have these things ready and easily accessible will ensure a smooth session.
A plastic covering for your work surface is ideal, in order to contain the plethora of color that is about to be thrown around. A painting tarp is a good solution for larger areas, and taped-down garbage bags make great table covers.
Find a good smock or old clothes you don’t mind getting dirty, so you’re not worried about staying clean while creating your masterpiece. Rubber gloves will keep your hands their original shade of skin tone and help to protect them from hot water at the same time.
You’ll need some buckets for your dye baths, one for every color you plan to use. Plastic will work just fine, but may stain permanently. Aim for at least three gallons of liquid for proper dipping capacity.
Rubber bands and hair ties are perfect for making temporary resist systems and will be your most vital tools in making designs. Also make sure you have scissors, a large stirring spoon, and a pair of tongs for removing your creation from its dye bath. A squirt bottle will be useful in applying color with more control than dipping your tied-up surface into a bowl.
Of course, the most important ingredient is the color! There are tons of brands of dye out there, and picking one that is compatible with the fabric you’re working with is important. Some materials absorb color differently than others, so a little research will go a long way and make sure your hard work doesn’t go to waste.
Fabrics like cotton, nylon, wool, and silk are ideal materials for absorbing and holding color. When working with cotton, you can add one cup of salt to the dye bath to enhance the color. For the other materials, add a cup of white vinegar instead. It will be a little smelly but helps to make the process gentler for these more sensitive kinds of material. Don’t forget a box of soda ash to help prepare the fabric before applying the dye to make sure your tie dye shirt doesn’t fade!
By rolling your future tie dye t shirts into a long tube, you can create rows of color with wrinkled transitions between them. This effect is great for sports jerseys or team uniforms due to its capacity for utilizing two specific colors. For vertical stripes, roll your fabric from bottom to top. For horizontal stripes, roll from left to right or vice versa.
Fasten the tube at regular intervals, making sure the spacing between rubber bands is even and balanced. The stripes will form along the orientation of these bands, so plan out their locations according to how important this is to your design.
It’s probably easiest to apply your colors with squirt bottles here, as well. This will give you a little more control in their application and help to make sure you soak the fabric all the way to the center of the tube.
A rosette pattern is characterized by a series of small, overlapping circles that can be connected through various methods of tying them off. This technique requires a little more planning and effort, but its unique effect will be worth the trouble.
Flatten out your material and use a piece of chalk to plot the points of your rosette. You may want them in a circle or a row, and drawing them will help to visualize the outcome without simply guessing.
Once you’ve got your anchor points, pinch each one with your thumb and forefinger and draw them all together. Use one hand to do the pinching and the other to gather them into a bunch, until you can see all of the chalk dots inside the grip of your hand.
Fasten your gathered rosettes with rubber bands about two inches from the topmost point where your dots are. Use more than one rubber band to make sure it stays tight, and fasten the remaining fabric at regular intervals to make the article easier to work with.
You’ll probably want to apply the dye with squirt bottles toward the end with your chalk dots to ensure the accuracy of your design, although carefully dipping them into a bucket will work as well. Soak the remaining material how you see fit.
This traditional Japanese dyeing technique involves folding, twisting, and bunching your fabric with meticulous intentionality, binding it, and typically using an indigo color. The number of patterns you can create with this method are essentially limitless, and you can find at least four places to start in this tutorial by Design Sponge.
One unique thing about this technique is the use of wood blocks as a binding structure to create geometric, tiled patterns with straight lines. Using a hard object ensures consistency in the pattern and takes all the guesswork out of the equation.
It might be a good idea to tie up your first few articles of fabric before doing anything else, just so you won’t have to work under pressure when creating the rubber band matrix for your pattern and design.
Once your surfaces are covered and your materials are within arm’s reach, mix the soda ash with warm water in a bucket. Wearing your gloves, soak your first article to be colored in the solution for 10-15 minutes. This step will help to make sure the color is absorbed efficiently and remains as bright as possible when the process is complete.
While the fabric is soaking, prepare your dye baths by filling buckets with hot water. Depending on how saturated you want the colors, begin with at least enough to cover your desired surface area (for crystalline clarity) or fill the bucket with a generous amount for softer tones.
Mix dye with the water based on your preferred results. If the color is in powder form, about ¼ cup for every cup of water should do the trick. Use twice the proportional recommendation for more saturated color, and don’t forget to add the salt or white vinegar depending on your fabric material. Stir the solution well with a spoon (preferably metal) and make sure all solids are fully dissolved before moving on.
Beginning with your darkest color (for multicolored designs), soak the tied up article of fabric into the first bucket. Hold the material in the solution or let it soak until the color looks a shade or two darker than your desired outcome. The longer you leave the fabric in the solution, the darker it will be – when the fabric dries, it will lighten up a bit. This step could last anywhere from a few minutes up to six or even eight hours, depending on the concentration of your dye solution and the desired effect.
Once you’ve completed your first round of dipping and soaking, cut the rubber bands off the article (rather than unwrapping them). Rinse the dyed fabric under warm water to remove excess pigment and help to fill in any areas that are missing color. Gradually reduce the temperature as you rinse, until the water is running cool and clear over your freshly dyed article.
Wring out the fabric gently and wrap in plastic if you’re particularly concerned about keeping as much of that saturation as possible. Otherwise, hang them up until dry and then wash with darks or alone. The first few washes of a newly dyed fabric will bleed, so be careful what you include in the same load! The quality of materials matter here – check out these tie dye shirts for sale to make sure you get the best results.
PHOTOS OF COMPLETED PROJECT
Check out these photos of completed T-shirts sent to us by Boys’ Life readers. If you have a photos of a BL Workshop project, please use the form below to send them to us.
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Tie Dye Design Techniques
- Vertical/Horizontal Stripe: Fold a piece of fabric in vertical pleats, and you’ll end up with horizontal stripes. Horizontal pleats result in vertical stripes.
- Diagonal pleats are an option for diagonal stripes.
- Bullseye: For concentric circles, grab the cloth where you want the center to be, and pull, until you’ve more or less made a long tube of garment, then apply rubber bands at intervals along the fabric.
- Classic Spiral: Lay the garment on a flat surface, smooth out all the wrinkles, then make a small pleat right across where you want the center to be. Grab the very center of that pleat with a clothespin, and begin to twist. As you twist, pleats appear farther away from the center; as these pleats get too large, split the pleats with your hands, keeping each fold the same height above the table, no more than one to two inches in height.
- Circles: Another technique is to use small rubber bands to pinch and bind fabric in several places all over the garment. This will make circles of color.
See our Color Splash Easy Tie Dye Kit for even more detailed information on tying tips!
Color Combination Fun:
- A lot of fuchsia and a little yellow make red
- Red and yellow make orange
- Yellow and turquoise make green
- A lot of turquoise plus a little fuchsia makes blue
- Turquoise plus fuchsia makes purple
Mixing the Dyes
- Always add powder dye to empty squirt or spray bottles first and then add water.Be careful when you measure out the dye. Leave the jars open as short a time as possible and use a face mask. Don’t breathe in the dye powder!
- Replace bottle cap and shake until dye is fully dissolved.
- For best results, apply dye to fabric within 30 minutes of mixing.
- To help ensure the dye stays on and help preventcolor bleeding, you can pre-soak the fabric for fifteen minutes to one hour in a solution of sodium carbonate (Soda Ash), mixed one cup per 2 gallons of water – unless you are using dyes that have the soda ash pre-mixed in.
Applying the Dye
- Before folding and tying your project, rinse or soak in warm water and wring out so the item is not dripping. Damp fabric will absorb the dye much more easily.
- Once you have your fabric folded/tied, lay the garment on a plastic protected surface. Squeeze the dye directly into the fabric, checking to make sure dye has penetrated into the folds. Squeeze the area you just applied dye to so it gets into the folds. Flip over and repeat on the other side.
- Seal the dyed fabric in a plastic bag to keep wet.
- How long should you wait? Make sure that the fabric stays wet for the reaction to take place. It should be kept in the plastic bag for 12-24 hours.
Tip: You can drop each fabric item into its own re-sealable plastic bag and label it with person’s name and time to wash out.
Washing the Tie Dyed Material
- Carefully cut any rubber bands making sure not to snip your fabric. Rinse by hand in cold water before machine washing.
- Rinse first in cold water to release excess dye from the fabric, then again in the hottest water available to remove any trace of the un-reacted dye until the water runs clear.
- Now your garment should be ready for the washing machine. Wash and dry separately for the first few washes.
Congrats, you’ve just created your first tie dye item! Share your photos with us so we can see your creations!
View all of our great tie dye products here!
Tie Dye DIY Headbands
For my DIY tie dye headbands, I picked up a basic tie-dye kit which you can find at any craft store.If you’re wondering how to tie dye a headband, this kit works perfectly. However, if you choose to buy your tie dye separately, make sure you have rubber bands, gloves, and plastic wrap (these supplies are generally included in a kit).
Like mentioned before, I used a plain white t-shirt and turned it into fabric for the DIY headbands. You could also use any light colored t-shirt you have around the house. Lastly, you will need a sewing machine and a good pair of scissors to put the DIY headbands together.
One of the most fun parts about using tie-dye is the different patterns you can make depending on how you fold and bundle your fabric (see an example here.) I love the surprise of seeing how they turn out after the colors have set! Once you have chosen your pattern, fold and bundle accordingly, apply tie-dye according to package directions, and wrap in plastic wrap to keep moist.
For the most vibrant colors, allow your DIY headbands to set for 6-8 hours. If you want to produce more pastel colors only let set for 30 minutes or so. Once the dye is set to your desired intensity, unwrap, remove rubber bands, rinse off the remaining dye, and toss t-shirt(s) alone in a hot washer with minimal soap. Dry normally and you’re done!
You have now created some one-of-a-kind fabric for some adorable DIY headbands! Here are the kinds of tie dye headbands I made with my t-shirts and the steps and tutorials I used.
Tips and Tricks for Successful DIY Tie Dye
Before you begin, I want to share a few quick tips! DIY tie dye projects are relatively easy, but there are a few things you should know:
- Wear gloves unless you want your fingers dyed for awhile. Also wear an apron or old clothing and cover any working surface. Tie dye stains most things and it’s permanent on fabric!
- Use cotton items. Some poly blends will dye, but are much more likely to fade during the wash cycle. Stick with 100% cotton.
- Tie tightly as material (like a cotton t-shirt) expands when it’s wet.
- Make sure to get dye into the folds if you want the fabric completely covered with color.
- Remember your color wheel! Select colors that are next to each other. I’m sure you remember that ed and blue make purple. Don’t choose complimentary colors; you’ll make a brown mess if you combine orange and blue (for example).
Are you ready to make a DIY headband? Try one of the three methods below!
1. Braided DIY Headband
If you can braid, you can make this tie headband! Cut your fabric into nine 1/2-inch strips, long enough to wrap around your head. Create three braids. Connect the ends of each braid individually by own running them through your sewing machine. Once each braid is connect separately, line up each braid and run through the sewing machine again, attaching them to each other. You’re done!
2. Knotted DIY Tie Headbands
Once I got the hang of this tie headbands technique, I liked it so much that I made it twice! I can’t say that I came up with the tutorial for this one though, instead, I followed the tie headbands tutorial shown here and adjusted them to fit my head.
Tie headbands are nice because you can adjust them easily on your head. I love that part!
3. Twisted DIY Headband
To make this twisted DIY tie dye headband I followed the steps shown here. This was definitely the easiest to make, and I love the way this style lends itself to really letting the tie dye patterns stand out!
Which DIY headband is your favorite? I’d love to heard in the comments!
Are you ready to see a video of these DIY headbands in action? Just watch below: