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How to Tie Dye in 7 Easy Steps

Tie Dying may have hit its peak popularity in the hippie movement of the 60s, but I think it’s safe to say it’s never really gone out of style. Through the years, different expressions of it have been trendy, but there’s almost always some sort of tie dye that’s culturally relevant and popular.

One of the coolest things about tie-dying is that you don’t have to pay a lot of money to be a part of the trend and add something tie dyed to your wardrobe. You can easily do it at home and by the end of this post, you’ll know everything you need to do to tie dye something all on your own!

I’m going to share all of the need-to-know tips and tricks to make all sorts of designs, including that perfect tie dye spiral, at your own home.

How to Tie Dye

Tie Dye Basics

What is Tie Dye?

Tie dye is a resist-dying technique that leaves you with exciting, bold patterns made up of saturated colors. Folding, crumpling, and banding your fabric before you put dye on it leaves you with white or lighter parts where the dye didn’t reach well, hence the “resist†part of the technique.

The History of Tie Dye

The earliest mention of tie dying goes all the way back to the 6th century in India. People practiced what is called bandhani, where they would use thread to tie intricate designs into fabric before dipping it into dye. This technique is still used today!

Tie dye made its way to America in the 1920s, where it was used as an affordable way to cheaply upgrade home decor and clothing during the Great Depression.

Tie Dye became what we know it as today in the 1960s. Hippies desired to break away from the strict, uptight societal norms of the 1950s and tie dying their own clothes was an easy and fun way to express their freedom and creativity!

Tie Dye Techniques

There are several different tie dye techniques.

Traditional Tie Dye

When you think of tie dye, you’re thinking of the traditional technique. This technique typically leaves you with bright and bold colors and patterns that are reminiscent of the 1960s.

One nice thing about learning to do this technique at home is that you can change up the colors of dye, fabric, and technique you use to make almost anything you can imagine. You could use earth tones to make some subtle curtains to spice up your living room. Or you could use pastels and a baby blanket to make a unique gift nobody else will be able to give at a baby shower. Your imagination is really the limit!

The traditional technique is the technique we’ll be learning to do at home today!

Tie Dye with Bleach

This technique uses the basics of traditional tie dying (crumpling, spinning, banding, and tying) and combines it with bleach for a unique twist! Instead of starting with a white shirt and adding color, you start with a darker shirt and remove color with bleach. This is a really easy, affordable way to upgrade any old t-shirt you have in your dresser!

Ice Dye

In ice dying, you start with the same tying basics of traditional tie dying, but instead of mixing the dye with water like you would with traditional tie dying, you cover the shirt with ice and sprinkle the powdered dye over the ice. As the ice melts, the dye saturates the fabric. This technique leaves you with a really unique, more organic finished product.

What can you tie dye?

You can tie dye almost anything you can think of! The trick is going to be sticking to natural fabrics like cotton and linen and staying away from synthetic blends. Dye adheres to and sticks better on the fibers of natural fabrics.

Some unique ideas include dinner napkins, aprons, and even bedsheets! Once you learn the basic ideas of twisting, tying, and dying, you can apply it to just about anything you’d like to give your own, unique twist.

Here are some items you can get to dye once you get the basics down in this tutorial!

T-shirt

Baby Onesie

Socks

Bed Sheets

Tote Bag

We’re going to learn the basics by dying a t-shirt.

HOW TO TIE DYE

What you need to tie dye:

  • A place to work— Tie dying can be messy. If weather allows, you may want to work outside to keep accidents to a minimum. If you need to work indoors, lay down a trash bag or disposable table cloth from the dollar store over your workspace to keep it clean. No matter where you dye, make sure to have a roll of paper towels available!
  • A bakers/cooling rack and a pan at least 8×8— Dying your fabric on top of a bakers rack, with a pan beneath to catch any dye that drips, will keep your fabric from sitting in a pool of extra dye and result in a cleaner and sharper finished product.
  • Dye— You can buy individual colors to really personalize your work, but when you’re just getting started, I recommend simply picking up a kit from your local craft store. It comes with powdered dye and bottles. All you have to do is add water and you’re ready to go.
  • Fabric— Remember, the fabric needs to be 100% natural fibers in order to take dye well. Most kits come with enough dye to dye a few items, so have a few ready to go when you mix it up. You can use different colors or different tying techniques to create multiple outcomes with the same kit!
  • A place to rinse— The dye will need to be rinsed well before being completely washed out. You can use a sink or a hose outside, but if you choose to do it inside, be ready to wash the residual dye out of the sink quickly.
  • Bands— Most kits come with rubber bands already included, but it never hurts to have a few extra on hand to use if inspiration strikes and you’ve already used the ones included.
  • Gloves— Again, most kits include gloves, but if you decide you love it and branch out to dying without a kit, gloves are a must if you don’t want to walk around with dyed hands for a few days.
tie dye supplies

Steps to Tie Dye

1. Prepare

WORKSPACE– Cover the table with plastic. If you’ve got carpet, you may even want to cover the floor with another layer, just to be safe. If the weather permits, dying outside is definitely the easier option for a workspace.

DYE– Add the dye to the bottle, measure out the water needed, add it to the bottle, and shake to thoroughly mix up the dye.

FABRIC– Newly bought fabrics need to be prewashed because there are chemicals that come on them that will prevent dye from adhering as well as it would if they were washed. If you’re upcycling, there’s no need to pre-wash it again. You also need to decide if you want to dye your fabric damp or dry.

If you choose to dye it damp, it will result in more uniform colors because the dye is able to adhere to damp fabric more easily. Dying dry fabric usually results in brighter colors, but the pattern may not be as uniform

2. Tie your fabric.

There are many different ways to tie your fabric and each way will create very different results. Here is a great resource for different tying techniques. For the three shirts we’re doing in this tutorial, we’ll be using the sunburst, nebula, and diagonal line designs.

Sunburst– This will give you the quintessential tie dye look. Lay your fabric flat. Using one hand, grab the middle of the shirt into a pinch and begin spinning it around. Use your other hand to help guide it into a circular disc shape. Use your rubber bands to firmly secure it and create a pattern and sections to follow while you’re dying.

how to start tying off a starburst tie dye shirt
fully tied off Sunburst style

Nebula– This is the way to go if your young kids are helping you out! Lay your fabric flat. Scrunch, fold, and crumple it together into a disc shape. Use your rubber bands to secure it. The tighter you scrunch it, the more white/light space there will be.

tying nebula
Nebula tied

Diagonal lines– This is the most complicated of the three, but also the most unique and worth the extra effort. Lay your fabric flat. Beginning on one bottom corner, fold it up like an accordion towards the opposite shoulder. Once it’s folded all the way, use rubber bands to section it off every 1-2 inches.

folding diagonal lines
tied off diagonal lines

3. Apply the dye.

This is where it really gets fun! You get to decide where and how to apply the dye. Again, every choice you make will leave you with a different end result. It’s so fun! The applicator bottles will give you a lot of control about where the dye goes. Once you’ve dyed one side of your fabric, use a gloved hand to flip it over and repeat on the other side to make sure the dye has fully penetrated the fabric.

dying a starburst tie dyed shirt
Dying Starburst
dying nebula
Dying Nebula
dying stripes/diagonal lines
Dying Stripes/Diagonal Lines

4. Wait!

Put your dyed shirts in their own plastic bag or just cover them up where they are in plastic wrap and wait. You want to make sure they’re in a place where they won’t dry out. Most kits will say wait 6-8 hours, but you can wait even longer for deeper, bolder colors. I left mine in their bags overnight.

bagged dyed shirts

5. Remove the rubber bands and rinse in cold water.

After the time has passed, remove the fabric from the bag, remove the bands, and rinse it in cold water. You need to keep rinsing it until the water runs completely clear. Wringing it out helps get the color out quicker.

6. Regularly wash and dry your fabric.

Once your fabric is rinsing out with completely clear water, wring it out completely, hold it up, and admire the pattern you’ve made! The colors will be slightly more vibrant than they will be once washed and dried, but it will still give you a great idea of what the finished product will look like. Once the rubber bands are removed and you’ve admired your work for a minute, go ahead and wash your fabric either by hand or in a washing machine.

If using a washing machine, use regular detergent on a cold cycle. You’ll want to wash your fabric by itself for the first 2-3 times you wash as there will still be some leftover dye coming out that could ruin other clothes. Dry your fabric like normal to lock in the dye.

washing dyed shirts

7. Show off your work and repeat!

You did it! You tie dyed your very own shirt! Wear it and show off your hard work. I’d bet you had so much fun that you’re ready to do it all over again, right?

finished starburst tie dye shirt

Tie Dying FAQs

I’m too excited—do I HAVE to wash my new fabric before getting started?

Yes! This is a step you don’t want to skip. You patience and attention to detail will result in a much better final product! There’s something called “sizing” on all your new fabrics that will prevent the dye from adhering as effectively. Washing it with detergent will remove it and give you a clean slate.

What the different in dying dry fabric vs. wet fabric?

This is really going to be a matter of preference and what you want your final product to look like. Dying dry fabric is going to leave you with less uniform saturation and some more white spots. This may be a good thing to try with the nebula tying pattern as it naturally lends itself to extra white space and uneven dying! If you want a rich, vibrant, fully colored item, getting it wet before you start is going to be critical. You don’t want it dripping, so make sure to wring it out well before tying it up.

nebula dyed shirt finished

How long does my dyed fabric actually have to sit there before I can rinse it out?

The longer you leave it there, the deeper and richer the color will be. It can be rinsed out in as little as 6 hours or left to soak for as long as 24. In this tutorial, the shirts were left on the counter for 16 hours.

How do I get the dye off of my hands?

I hope you like having colored hands because it’s there for good!

KIDDING!

I do recommend wearing gloves to avoid this problem, but if dye gets on your skin, just wash it off with warm soap and water. It should be gone in a day or so with regular washing.

How do I wash the freshly tie dyed fabric for the first time?

Wash it on cold in your washing machine with your regular detergent. For the first 2-3 times you wash them, wash them on their own to avoid transferring dye to other items.

finished stripes tie dyed shirt

Now you know how to tie dye… what’s next?

I hope this tutorial has given you the confidence you need to make your own unique t-shirts to wear and love! Knowing how to tie dye opens all sorts of creative doors. Let us know in the comments, what are you going to tie dye when you’re done with your shirt? Can’t wait to hear from you!

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