Best Alternatives For Rubber Bands (Why Sinew Is Better)

Pile of rubber bands overlaid with a crossed out symbol.

Rubber bands are a common supply in the world of tie-dye. Every guide  recommends using them and they even come standard in tie-dye kits. In this post we’ll explore why that is the case. We’ll also see if there are any worthy replacements for them and we’ll even consider if we need them at all.

Rubber bands are used as part of the tie-dye process. They are the most common way to bind a shirt after folding it. What you might not know is that there are other viable options such as string and waxed thread. Kite string is the replacement of choice for intermediate tie-dye artists. String gives you more control over the tightness of the bond. Experts are known to use waxed thread in some of their designs. Waxed thread has the added benefit of making very strong and tight bonds able to stop the penetration of dye.

Do you Need to Tie the Fabric?

You may be surprised to know that in fact you do not need to tie the shirt if you do not want to. It is very possible to create a beautiful tie-dye design without binding it. You can simply fold the shirt in any way you like and then dye it right then and there. There are reasons why we prefer to tie the shirt and why it is part of the recommended tie-dye process.

Not tying the shirt is quicker since it saves you a whole step,
but there are disadvantages when doing this. When the folded shirt is left by itself and is not tied, the fabric has a tendency to become loose over time. Looseness between the pleats and fold will affect the final result. The reason we want to tie the shirt is so that is stays intact exactly in the shape you want it to.

Advantages of Using Rubber Bands

As part of the standard tie-dye process you are to fold, then tie a shirt. Tying the shirt involves placing rubber bands around it to help it keep its shape. After folding the shirt, grab a rubber band and, using both hands, stretch it around the folded shirt. Continue adding rubber bands until the shirt is able to keep it’s shape, The goal is to be able to lift up the shirt without disturbing the folding. It generally takes three to ten rubber bands depending on the folding technique used and your personal preference.

Rubber bands are both cheap and versatile. They are the perfect binding tool for beginners. Rubber bands are easy to use and don’t require tools or prior knowledge. With all these advantages it’s no wonder that they are so common. Including them in tie-dye kits makes sense because they are so useful for such little cost.

Disadvantages of Rubber Bands

We just explored the many uses of rubber bands, but what about it’s disadvantages? There are reasons why you should get more than just rubber bands to tie your projects. The first, and biggest disadvantage to them is that you can’t easily control their tightness. Rubber bands will, by nature, contract after being stretched. This characteristic creates pressures on the folded shirt which can mess up its pleats and folds.

Rubber bands can be inconsistent and are not useful for all purposes. Some designs require very tight bonding which rubber bands are not able to produce. They also are disposable, their stretchiness will decline over time and they have a tendency to break. Using strings, on the other hand, let’s you control how tight, or loose, the shirt is. This let’s the folded shirt keep it’s shape better.

Best Alternatives to Rubber Bands for Binding

There’s better options than rubber bands when you need to tie your shirts with control and precision. Rubber bands are great for doing things quickly but that’s about it. They don’t work well in a number of situations, for this you need a more appropriate material. Strings are the perfect solution to all these problems. They take more time to set up, but easily make up for it with the added control they provide.

Kite string is the most common alternative to rubber bands for tie-dye. This type of string is cheap and can be bought at most craft stores. Just about any kind of string can work, but kite string in particular is both cheap and strong. Another, more advanced option is to use waxed thread. Commonly sold under the name of artificial sinew, this material is a flat thread with a waxy surface. Sinew is a lot stronger than regular kite string and let’s you make tighter knots but is also more expensive.

How to Use Kite String

You can use just about any kind of string, kite string being the most common alternative to rubber bands. It’s made out of twisted nylon twine and you can find it at just about any craft store. You can get a roll of kite string that you then cut in to pieces. Generally, you want to use a single length of string that you loop around the shirt multiple times.

Once the shirt is neatly folded, start placing one end of your string over the top of the shirt. Start looping the string around the top and bottom of the shirt, sliding the string under the shirt when needed. You can tie a shirt any way you can imagine. The string let’s you control the shirt much more easily and let’s you tie much more challenging folds. It is definitely a valuable tool that simplifies the process of tying.

String is ideal to use as it’s let’s you put as much or as little force on the shirt as you need. You can decide to surround the folded shirt very gently or you can decide to tie it strongly. We recommend this product for intermediate tie-dyers and also for beginners who want to have the freedom of tying the shirt exactly how they want.

How to Use Artificial Sinew

Waxed thread is another step above kite string. Where the string finds its limits, sinew is still plenty capable. Waxed thread has the advantage of being able to handle much more force, letting you tie extremely tightly. The tighter the binding, the more it can prevent dye penetration.

Since it’s flat and waxy, sinew can be pulled more tightly around fabric. The main use of sinew is in designs where you want to leave stripes of undyed fabric. Sinew handles this beautifully by compressing the fibers and creating resistance. String is limited by the friction it experiences when each strand is sliding past each other. Sinew overcomes this problem with it’s waxy surface. While it’s more expensive than the other options, sinew is the ultimate in terms of capabilities.

Sinew is a bit harder to find than kite string, but you can still find it in some craft stores as well as on the internet. It also comes in a roll. You should definitely try to reuse your sinew as it can become costly. It’s coating is also waterproof, helping you repeal water where you want to leave the fabric white. Designs that often require sinew are the geode and the mandala.