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How to Tie Dye in 7 Easy Steps

Tie dye, peaking in the 60s’ hippie era, remains timeless with various styles always in vogue. It’s great because you don’t need to spend much to join this trend – it’s simple to DIY.

By the end of this post, you’ll learn how to tie dye, including creating the perfect spiral, right at home!

How to Tie Dye

What You Need to Tie Dye

  • Workspace: Choose outdoors for less mess, or indoors with a protective cover (like a trash bag or disposable tablecloth).
  • Drying Rack and Pan: Use a baker’s/cooling rack over an 8×8 pan to catch drips and avoid fabric soaking in dye.
  • Dye: A craft store dye kit is recommended for convenience; just add water.
  • Fabric: Choose 100% natural fibers for best results; prepare multiple items for diverse designs using the same kit.
  • Rinsing Area: Have a sink or hose ready for rinsing, and clean any residual dye immediately.
  • Rubber Bands: Kits include them, but extra bands are useful for more creative designs.
  • Gloves: Provided in most kits, but essential for regular dyers to prevent stained hands.
tie dye supplies

How to Tie Dye in 7 Steps

1. Prepare

  • Workspace: Cover your table and potentially the floor with plastic for protection. Dyeing outside is easier if weather allows.
  • Dye: Fill the bottle with dye, add the required amount of water, and shake well to mix.
  • Fabric: Prewash new fabrics to remove chemicals hindering dye adherence. No need to prewash if upcycling. Choose between dyeing damp fabric for uniform colors or dry fabric for brighter, less uniform patterns.

2. Tie your fabric.

There are many different ways to tie your fabric and each way will create very different results. 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.

  • After rinsing until the water is clear, wring out your fabric and admire the pattern. The colors will slightly fade after washing and drying.
  • Remove the rubber bands, then wash the fabric either by hand or in a washing machine with regular detergent on a cold cycle.
  • Wash the fabric alone for the first 2-3 washes to avoid dye transfer to other clothes.
  • Dry as usual to set 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

Frequently Asked Questions

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.

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 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.

nebula dyed shirt finished

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!