How to Tie Dye {Tutorial}

posted in: DIY | 16

I’ve loved tie dye forever…I tried it a few times as a teen with rather dismal results then gave up on the idea for years. I didn’t like the faded, blended colors. I didn’t like that my shirts looked “home dyed”. Well, I’ve been doing it successfully for several years now and have finally prepared a tutorial…

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First and most important, buy the right kind of dye! Do not go to your local craft store and buy a “tie dye kit”. Chances are it will have some cheap anemic looking dyes. I always use Procion MX dye by Jaquard. It can be purchased from Amazon, Dick Blick Art Supplies or for those locals, Dakota Art. These dyes are offered in six bajillion and two different colors. Or something like that.

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Next, mix the dye. I usually do this the night before because it takes a bit of time. There are directions on the container of dye. Each container yields about two full squeeze bottles of dye for me- enough for several sessions. I have been using these same bottles (purchased from Dick Blick) for several years. The squeeze bottles help you keep the colors just where you want them…this helps to give your items a more “professional” look.

Prepare your work area. Lay out newspaper, then cover with plastic…have plenty of napkins or paper towels on hand to soak up drips.

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Soak your items to be dyed. Some dyes call for the items to be soaked in a “soda ash” mixture to help the colors “bond” to the fiber. And since tie dye is all about peace, love and rainbows, we want our fibers and dye to bond, now don’t we? It’s not scientific or anything, but I’m pretty sure playing Beatles music and wearing flowers in your hair while dying also produces more vibrant colors. Even if you’re not using soda ash, soaking the shirts in water makes it easier to fold them.

I collect white shirts and onsies all year long. If one gets stained, or they come in a bag of hand-me-downs, I keep them for future tie dye sessions. If a shirts is stained, I just make sure to cover the stain thoroughly with a dark colored dye.

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Next comes the folding and “tying”. This is when you decide what type of patten you are going to have on your shirt. Do you want spirals? Stripes? Vertical, horizontal or diagonal stripes? There is really no limit to the patterns you can come up with…If you want horizontal stripes, you do vertical folds and if you want vertical stripes do horizontal folds. Here is a great link to some diagrams on how to fold. Paula Burch’s site has a ton of resources on how to tie dye, but I found her site a bit hard to navigate (hence my own tutorial) but if you have questions, by all means head over there.

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Next, you apply the rubber bands. This is what is going to seperate your colors. If you do the bands nice and tight, you will have while between the colors. I personally like that look, but some prefer to do the bands looser and allow the colors to overlap. 

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Now apply the dye!  Wearing gloves is not optional! Otherwise your hands will be tie dyed for days. Please don’t ask me how I know…just take my word for it. Choose one color at a time. Gently separate the folds of fabric and apply dye generously. 

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Choose your color placement carefully. For obvious reasons, you don’t want orange and purple next to each other…use plenty of napkins to soak up the extra dye. You want to be generous in your application, but not have puddles running together under your shirt.

Leave your shirts overnight. In the morning rinse and rinse and rinse and rinse and rinse and rinse in cold water until your hands are chapped and bleeding. Well, maybe not quite, but pretty close. All the directions I’ve read say “rinse until water runs clear”. I have yet to see the water actually run clear, but you can get pretty close with a little (or a lot) of determination. As you are rinsing undo the rubber bands. Wash in your washing machine one cycle on cold (no soap), one cycle however you regularly wash, then dry and you’re good to go. Since the dye and your fibers have become bonded your colors shouldn’t fade over time but stay a bright, vibrant signal to all that you too are sorry you missed out on Woodstock. 

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16 Responses

  1. I have been waiting for this tutorial! I think you covered all of the questions that I had so thank you, and it was a great tutorial.

  2. Awesome! As far as tutorials go, good…but I’d like to see a picture of the finished shirt you did here. 🙂

  3. I thought it was a great tutorial, but a picture if the finished shirt would make it even better!

  4. Amber- point taken. Im waiting for my 5D to come back from being repaired, then Ill try to get some photos up!

  5. Melissa

    I see others already mentioned that you should have a picture of the final product in your tutorials.
    I’m not sure it is obvious why orange and purple shouldn’t be next to each other.

  6. Barbara

    How do you fold for spirals?

  7. If you can tie dye with your Baker’s Dozen, I can do it with five…right? And I think this will be a great hands-on history project with consumable supplies for our next school year.

  8. I use the Procion dyes from Dharma trading Company. As a bonus, the Dharma catalog has lots of great info about dyeing.

  9. The shirts I made at your hosue several years ago still look great, and they are worn quite frequently, so I can attest to the fact that your methods work well!

  10. Thanks for sharing! I’ve been wondering, and when I looked in some books they looked much more complicated. 🙂

  11. A little more about what folding technique gives you which pattern. Why does horizontal bandind give you vertical stripes? Great info about quality products.

  12. Great tutorial. Have you ever heard anything about soaking the shirt in vinegar water to set the dye and prevent running and fading? I’ve done it on store bought clothes. Didn’t know if it would work for the tie dye as well. I enjoy your blog and photography.

  13. Excellent tutorial. I have thought about doing this before. I may actually give it a try now. 🙂

  14. Shalome

    Great tutorial. I used to teach a class on the 1970’s at a local Boys and Girls club and I taught the kids to tie die. I haven’t done much with my kids yet. I think my paranoia of dyed children and ruined furniture makes me want to do it outside.
    Have you ever done any batik or that sun/UV activated dye? I really want to try out the UV dye. You coat the item in this liquid and lay it out in the sun with items on it (I would use fern fronds) and the area that is covered remains white and everything else changes color.

  15. Shalome

    I remembered the name of the aforementioned dying technique; Cyanotype. Basically you are making a blueprint on fabric. It looks really cool.

  16. […] know she was using indigo and madder. Dharma Trading also has a great variety in dye for Tie-Dying (I posted a tutorial here) though I buy my dyes from Amazon Prime for the free […]

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