How To Tie Dye

Row of dyed fabric

Tie dyeing has been around for many years, and became very popular in the sixties with the hippie movement. Tie dyed articles feature swirls and lines of beautiful colors, sometimes at random and sometimes carefully laid out.

You can tie dye just about anything that's made of cotton or other fibers that will absorb the dye. T-shirts are most popular, but other fun things to tie dye include towels, sheets, pillowcases, aprons, tablecloths and other articles of clothing. It's a simple process, and kids love this activity. If you can, do your dyeing outdoors where spills and splashes won't do too much damage.

What You'll Need:

  • Item to be tie dyed (make sure it's clean)
  • Large buckets (one for each color of dye)
  • Fabric dye (some dyes require salt or other items - read the package label carefully to know if you'll need extra things)
  • Elastic bands or heavy string
  • Rubber gloves
  • Sticks or old wooden spoons
  • Newspaper (to cover work space)
  • Clothesline or rack and clothespins

How to Tie Dye:

  1. Lay out your item to be dyed so it lies flat. Fold or twist areas of the item, and randomly tie or secure the twists and folds with string or elastic bands. If you want your item to result in a specific pattern, look online for tie dye patterns that will show you exactly where to fold, twist, and tie your items.
  2. Cover a large area of the floor or an entire table (if working indoors) with newspaper. This will protect the floor or furniture from stains.
  3. Put on the rubber gloves to prevent stains on your hands. Mix your dyes according to package directions. You should be using very large buckets, and old ones that you don't mind getting stained. Leave enough space at the top of the bucket to allow for the water/dye mixture to rise when your garments are added.
  4. Dip your item first in hot water, then into the first color you want to use to tie dye. Move the item around in the dye with your sticks or old spoons to allow the dye to seep into the fabric at all angles. If using more than one color, you will have to either rinse the item out with hot water or allow it to dry between dips, depending on the directions for that specific brand of dye.
  5. When you're finished dyeing the item, continue following the manufacturers instructions to allow the dye to set. Some will ask you to rinse right away in cold water, while others require that you put the item in a plastic bag and allow it to sit for 24 hours. When the dye has set, remove the strings or elastic bands and hang the item to dry completely.
  6. Clean out your equipment with hot, soapy water.

That's all there is to it! Play around with different ties and folds to make interesting and unique patterns. The directions on the packets of fabric dye will also give you washing instructions for your newly dyed items - make sure to follow them closely. Fabric dye can tend to bleed a bit with the first few washings, so be careful not to put white or light-colored garments in the wash with them.


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