Now I don’t know about you, but when I think of tie-dye, I think mess! The process I’m going to tell you about is super easy and largely mess free.
Of course, there are no guarantees.
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This is also a fun way to create your own inexpensive garments with your little ones. It’s a great way to have matching but individualized shirts for a family outing to find each other in a crowd.
I was re-introduced to Tie-Dye this spring at my son’s grade school family night. If the school thought it was a great idea to have K-6 students making Tie-Dye, it really can’t be that bad. Can it?
My son and I had so much fun creating our shirts at school that we rushed out to buy tie-dye supplies for home.
Now let’s talk about tie-dye for a minute. Of course, if you’d like to skip right to the process, click here to skip directly to the super easy directions.
What is Tie-Dye?
While most of us think of peace, love, and hippies from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Tie-dye has existed as a method of dyeing fabric for centuries. Maybe you’ve heard of Shibori? It’s a form of Japanese tie-dye that has been around since the 8th century.
Tie-dye techniques have saturated modern fashion trends off and on since the late 1960’s when it became a symbol of the time. America’s youth expressed their personal creativity with bright designs in a movement that fostered simplicity and a rebellion to the conservative lifestyle of the older generations.
How does Tie-Dye Work?
Do you understand how the process works? Let’s talk about what makes those beautiful, colorful designs.
Tie-dye can be used to create a multitude of designs including spirals and marble effects. The process is a resist technique. The folded, twisted, or pleated fabric is dipped into the dye. The folds and pleats prevent the dye from coloring certain parts of the fabric. In short, the mere manipulation or the fabric is what creates the resistance of the dye.
In modern methods, you will often find Tie-Dye methods using rubber bands to create the “resistance”. Shibori often included sewing elaborate patterns or stitching tight gathers into the fabrics before dyeing.
Other resistance methods include using a rope or string to wrap the fabric in place or wrapping the fabric around a core of rope where the areas closest to the core would remain undyed.
Although you can use fabrics other than cotton, you will want to make sure that your dye is made for synthetic fibers. In short, the synthetic fibers require an acid dye.
Knowing the basics of how the dye attaches to the fabric will allow you to create endless designs.
Rit All-Purpose Dye Liquid (2-3 colors in coordinating shades)
Rit ColorStay Dye Fixative (optional)
Gallon sized Storage bags
T-Shirt or cotton garment of your choice
The Super Easy Tie-Dye Method
For this project, I used a package of Fruit of the Loom men’s cotton T-shirts. I recommend buying the shirts a size larger than expected. Cotton fabrics tend to shrink, and you want the shirts to have a relaxed fit.
Step 1- Prepare Your Dye
Add ¼ cup Dye to 1 cup hot water in a mixing bottle. The water should ideally be 140 degrees.
Then, add ½ Tablespoon of salt and shake well.
The squirt bottles I purchased were not large enough for this amount of dye and you won’t need that much per shirt. Ideally, your bottles will have measurement lines in which case you will first add the dye to the first line and add water for the next 4 lines.
I had some graduated cups leftover from a resin project. Thus, I used 1 ounce of water and 4 ounces of dye.
Remember if you have to decrease the recipe of dye/water, you will also need to decrease the amount of salt.
I decided to make large batches of shirts. Fourteen to be exact! So, I experimented with different color blends and folding techniques.
Most of my designs used 2 separate dye colors and these produced the best results.
Step 2- Folding and Banding
Fold your shirt in your desired pattern. The circular starburst pattern is probably the most popular design and is great for a first project.
To make your starburst, you will simply lay your shirt flat on a table. Grab the shirt in the area you want to start your starburst. This will likely be the center of the shirt.
Tie a rubber band around the center.
Next, you will gather the shirt together a bit more to tie on the next rubber band.
Continue this process until you have the number of rubber bands you wish to use. More rubber bands equal more resistance in these areas. Similarly, thicker rubber bands also provide more resistance.
If you are using more than 1 color, space your rubber bands a little wider to allow the colors to blend naturally.
Step 3- Wet your fabric
Next, you will fill a large basin with water and soak the fabric. Then, lightly wring out the excess water.
Step 4- Dye your fabric
Now that your fabric is folded and prepped, add your colors by simply squirting them where you see fit. There is no right or wrong way to do this.
It was hard to attempt to photograph this step as my hands were quite busy. Remember to wear your gloves for this step!
For my shirt, I focused the primary color closest to the rubber bands. Then, saturated the middle areas with the secondary color.
If you are concerned about splatter, you can always use a dishpan from the dollar store under your material as you squirt your dye colors onto your fabric. If you squirt your fabric directly over the sink, simply wash the dye off the sink immediately.
Step 5- Bag it
Once your shirt is satisfactorily saturated with color, simply put it in a gallon-sized plastic storage bag.
Allow your shirt to sit overnight or for a minimum of 8 hours. More dye will adhere with a longer storage time.
If you choose, you can also allow your bagged shirt to sit in the sun (as heat will help set the dye).
You can also use your microwave. Simply seal your shirt in plastic wrap then set it on a paper towel inside the microwave. Heat for 1-2 minutes. Once done, remove the shirt and carefully open the plastic to allow it to cool before handling.
The bag method is key to minimizing the mess! I used to use my washing machine for the dye process which rendered it unavailable for actually washing dirty clothes while dyeing garments. Then, I’d have to wash the machine itself before laundering any waiting dirty clothing.
Step 6- Rinse and untie
Rinse the shirt in cool water until the water begins to run clear.
Rinsing is the messiest part of this process. If the dye sets for any length of time, it can stain the sink. Be sure to keep the water flowing to help eliminate dye accumulating on your sink.
Once you no longer see dye in your rinse water, remove the rubber bands. It’s much easier to just use a pair of scissors to remove the rubber bands than to try to manipulate the fabric or the rubber bands.
Make sure to check your work area for any leftover dye before proceeding to the wash.
I put my rinsed garments into new plastic storage bags to minimize any unwanted drips while going to the washing machine.
Step 7- Wash
The final step is to wash your new garment in warm water with a mild detergent, rinse, and dry. This can be done in your washing machine to ensure you have completely removed all the dyes.
You may opt to use Rit ColorStay Dye Fixative in the final rinse cycle to further help set your color and prevent future fading.
For one or two shirts, simply use your washing machine’s small load setting.
Additional Dye Tips
You can dye and subsequently wash several shirts at the same time if you are using the same color scheme. Be aware that there may be some color run over during the rinsing and washing process. I don’t recommend washing several color combinations in the same load.
Please remember to use the second storage bag once you have rinsed your garment to keep the dyes from bleeding onto each other prior to your final wash.
Creating Tie-Dye shirts can be fun but is also quite cost-effective. I purchased 7 shirts in a package for around $14 and purchased the all-purpose dye on sale for $3 each. Since I already owned rubber gloves and storage bags, the only other expense was the squirt bottles which I think were 3 for $1. Thus, I created 7 completely unique shirts for around $21!
Please remember to use the second storage bag once you have rinsed your garment to keep the dyes from bleeding onto each other.
Write your method on your storage bag so that you will know which folding methods worked the best or simply write the family members name on the bag.
If you want to totally eliminate the white from your shirts, start your washer on the hot setting for a very brief time. Although the hot water will remove more color, it will spread it to other areas of the shirt.
So that is my super easy process to create beautiful Tie-Dye T-Shirts for the whole family at an affordable cost. I’d love to see your designs!