20+ Tie-dye Techniques for All Skill Levels

Many beautiful tie-dye shirts have been floating around lately. Even if you’re new to the craft you can make your own. We have the instructions you need to create anything you can imagine. Combine these techniques with our 10 steps guide to tie-dyeing and you’ll be ready for any challenge.

Tie-dye is a science that is only beginning to be unraveled. Simply put, there is still a lot to discover. What we have is a collection of the most interesting techniques. We have separated them into two categories. The folding techniques and the dyeing techniques.

Folding Techniques

First there are folding techniques. We include in this category any technique that has to do with folding the fabric, tying the fabric, or both. You will find common techniques such as the crumple, spiral, pleat, mandala, and more.

These are the building blocks of any tie-dye pattern. For each technique there exists multiple variations. They all involve manipulation of the fabric in one way or another.

1. Crumple (scrunching up the fabric)

Also called scrunch and random folding. It involves roughly bunching up the fabric together. It’s allure stems from the random nature of the folds. They make the dye flow randomly in all directions and create chaos on the fabric.

  1. Start with a damp cotton shirt flat on a table
  2. Place both hands at the center of the shirt, 5 inches apart
  3. Using both hands, crumple up the fabric
  4. Move your hands outward a few inches
  5. Crumple in more fabric towards the center
  6. Continue until the whole shirt is crumpled tightly
  7. Tie the crumple-folded shirt with rubber bands

There are many variations of the crumple. Pleats can be small or large, the fabric can be bunched up loosely or tightly. You can dye a crumple in many ways. Some that work great are dyeing in random spots and dyeing in sections. Read more about it here.

2. Spiral (twisting the fabric)

Probably the most iconic tie-dye design. The spiral is loved by many and for good reason. This unique pattern is the result of a physical phenomenon. As you twist the shirt, you create a spiral of fabric, or a curve that winds around a central point. Spirals are naturally pleasing to the eye.

  1. Start with a damp cotton shirt flat on a table
  2. With your right hand, pinch the center of the shirt
  3. Twist clockwise to turn the fabric
  4. The shirt should now start forming pleats
  5. Reset your hand position and continue twisting
  6. Place the pleats around the center as they form
  7. Continue twisting and placing the fabric until fully folded
  8. Tie the spiral-folded shirt with rubber bands

Spirals are best dyed in quadrants. Imagine your spiral like a pizza that need to be cut in slices. Each slice represents a quadrant. You can have as few or as many quadrants as you like. For a basic primary spiral design you can dye in three quadrants, one for each primary color. Read more about it here.

3. Pleating (accordion folds)

One of the pillars of modern tie-dye. Pleating is also called the accordion fold. It is a way to make symmetrical repeating patterns. Pleating teaches you how to make neat and regular folds. This is a stepping stone to other techniques such as the fan fold.

  1. Start with a damp cotton shirt flat on a table
  2. With both hands 5 inches apart, pinch a section of fabric 3 inches wide.
  3. This will form your first pleat
  4. Repeat the process to form more pleats
  5. Continue pleating until the whole shirt is pleated
  6. Tie the pleated shirt with rubber bands

Pleating can be achieved in a number of ways.The most distinctive characteristics are the number and amplitude of the pleats. They are best dyed in sections. You can stagger the colors on the backside to interlace them. Read more about it here.

4. Mirror fold (fabric folded on itself)

This technique let’s you create symmetrical designs. By folding the shirt in half, you create a mirror’s image. Most often used in conjunction with other folding techniques. Can create spectacular effects when combined with spirals, fan folds, and more.

  1. Start with a damp cotton shirt flat on a table
  2. With both hands, grab the edge of the shirt
  3. Pull the edge up and over to the other edge
  4. Rest the fabric on the shirt, flattening any wrinkles
  5. Use another folding technique on top of the mirror-folded shirt
  6. Tie the folded shirt with rubber bands

You can use additional mirror folds to increase the number of symmetries. Additionally, you can fold the mirror’s edge at any angle.

5. Fan fold (pleats following a circle)

This is a variation of the basic pleat. Folding into a fan involves the same accordion folding technique. The variation is adding an angle to the pleating. You can achieve this by pleating along the arc of a circle.

  1. Start with a damp cotton shirt flat on a table
  2. Using a washable marker, draw the arc of a circle on the shirt
  3. Position your hands astride the line, each hand 2 inches from the line
  4. Pinch a section of fabric three inches wide, this will form your first pleat
  5. Reposition your hands a few inches over
  6. Pinch a section of fabric to form a second pleat
  7. Bring the second pleat to the first, straightening the line between the two
  8. Repeat the process to form more pleats
  9. Continue following and straightening the line as you pleat
  10. Tie the fan-folded shirt with rubber bands

This technique is best done with the center of your circle at an edge or corner of the shirt. Tie a string around your washable marker to help you draw a perfect arc. There are many variations to this technique. Can be used by itself or in combination. Start with a mirror fold and add the fan fold to create a complete circle.

6. Geode (crimping with string)

This folding technique is named after the brilliant irregular rings of crystal surrounding the cores of geodes. Geodes are naturally occurring rock formations containing crystal cores. The geode is accomplished by tightly fastening rings of string around the fabric.

  1. Start with a damp cotton shirt flat on a table
  2. Pinch a small amount of fabric anywhere on the shirt
  3. Pull on the fabric until it lifts off the table by a few inches
  4. Form the section of fabric into a pointed knob
  5. Using string or sinew, tie a knot around the tip of the knob
  6. Loop the string 2-3 times around the knob, forming a ring
  7. Pull the string tight to tighten the ring
  8. Move up 1-2 inches on the knob and loop the string, forming a new ring
  9. Continue making rings on the knob, tightening the rings each time
  10. Once satisfied with the number of rings, move over to a new section of fabric
  11. Form a new knob on the shirt and repeat the tying process
  12. Continue making tied knobs on the shirt until satisfied

The geode technique is best done with sinew to achieve the tightest rings. The tighter the binds, the better the result will be. This technique does very well with both earth tones and flashy colors. Read more about it here.

7. Mandala (multi-symmetry folding)

The mandala is the next step up after the mirror fold. It involves multiple lines of symmetry. Folding the fabric multiple times on itself gives you designs that look like sacred meditative symbols. You can fold a shirt in half, quarters, eights, sixteenths and possibly more.

  1. Start with a damp cotton shirt flat on a table
  2. Fold the shirt in half lengthwise, so that a sleeve is on top of the other
  3. Fold the shirt in half widthwise, so that the shirt is in quarters
  4. Fold the shirt in half again, this time diagonally
  5. Fold the shirt diagonally one last time
  6. Bind the folded shirt with string or sinew, starting at the tip
  7. Bind it diagonally to form triangular sections to create pointed shapes

This technique is best done with sinew or other strong thread. Dye the mandala in triangular sections to create shapes in your design. Take your time for the dye to go through all the layers of fabric.

8. Geometric shapes (grid folding)

This technique let’s you create simple geometric shapes on a shirt. Use the accordion fold to create repeating patterns. Both squares and triangles are possible. The only difference is the way you fold the second accordion. Fold it in a square to get squares, fold it in a triangle to get triangles.

  1. Start with a damp cotton shirt flat on a table
  2. Take a three inches wide section of the shirt and fold it in an accordion
  3. Continue folding in an accordion for the whole width of the shirt
  4. Take a three inches wide section again
  5. This time fold it in an accordion for the whole length of the shirt
  6. Bind the shirt in place with rubber bands

The secret is to dye only the edges of the folded shirt. You don’t actually need to squish the shirt between two solid objects. You can use a different color for each side or you can make them all the same color.

9. Symbol (pleats following a drawing)

Make any shape you want. It can be a heart, bear, guitar, anything. Simply draw the shape you want, then fold the shirt in the center of your design. You can then fold the shirt according to the drawing. This technique is best done with a washable marker

  1. Start with a damp cotton shirt flat on a table
  2. With a washable marker, draw a shape in the middle of the shirt
  3. Fold the shirt in half lengthwise, so the drawing is folded in half
  4. Position your hands astride the line, each hand 2 inches from the line
  5. Pinch a section of fabric two inches wide, this will form your first pleat
  6. Reposition your hands one to two inches over
  7. Pinch the fabric to form a second pleat
  8. Bring the second pleat to the first, straightening the line between the two
  9. Repeat the process to form more pleats
  10. Continue following your drawing and and straightening the line as you pleat
  11. As you pleat, place the fabric so your line becomes straight
  12. Continue until the whole shirt is folded
  13. Tie the folded shirt using rubber bands, string, or sinew

This technique works with pretty much all large drawings. Folding the shirt this way creates neat sections on the fabric. This is much easier than manually painting a shape. This technique may become too hard for small details. For those you may need to use the stitching technique.

10. Stitching (pleats held with thread)

Get your thread and needle ready. This technique is more involved than most but can also give you exceptional results. With stitching you can make extremely small and precise pleats. Useful for creating design with lots of details.

  1. Start with a damp cotton shirt flat on a table
  2. Draw a design on the shirt using a washable marker
  3. Thread upholstery thread through a needle
  4. Sew a basting stitch following your sketch through both layers of fabric
  5. Tie a knot to secure the stitch
  6. Pull on the thread to tighten it
  7. Gather and pleat the fabric along the thread
  8. Continue stitching and pulling until your whole design is folded

Once you are satisfied with the folding you can dye the shirt. The pressure from the thread creates resistance in the fabric which slows the spread of the dye. Ideal for leaving behind a precise white design.

11. Wrapping (folding around an object)

This technique involves wrapping the fabric around an object. The object can be of any shape and size. The most common use is to wrap a piece of fabric around a pole. It can also be done with  beads, rocks, or other small objects, each will leave a different imprint. Specifically for the pole wrapping technique:

  1. Start with a damp shirt flat on a table
  2. Drape the shirt over a pole diagonally
  3. Wrap the shirt tightly around the pole
  4. Bind the shirt tightly with string or sinew
  5. Scrunch the fabric together

You can then dye the folded shirt however you like. The folding process will be different for each object. It can be as simple as wrapping small stones in fabric and holding them with rubber bands.

12. Wax resist (waterproofing the fabric)

This technique is a way to waterproof fabric prior to dyeing it. Once put into place the melted wax solidifies. The wax penetrates the fabric and makes it waterproof. Can be used to leave white imprints and shapes on the fabric. Alternatively used to section off whole areas of the shirt or simply stopping the dye from spreading.

  1. Start with a shirt flat on a table. The shirt should be dry
  2. Using a washable marker, draw a design on the shirt
  3. Warm up your wax until it’s melted
  4. Using your wax tool, apply a layer of melted wax on the fabric
  5. Apply the wax according to your design
  6. Continue applying wax until you complete your design
  7. Let the wax cool down and solidify
  8. Dampen the shirt with water before dyeing

For this technique you will need beeswax and batik tools. Wax resist also works with other types of wax or pastes like soy wax and flour paste. You can dye the shirt flat or you can try folding it before dyeing.

Dyeing Techniques

A dyeing techniques is the way in which you color the fabric. The usual method is to directly apply the dye with squeeze bottles. There are many more techniques, each one with interesting variations. Each dyeing technique can be used in a number of ways.

Here you will find interesting techniques such as ice-dyeing, reverse-dyeing, and inclined dyeing. Once you have your technique selected you can place the dye however you like on the fabric. Be sure to try a few of them to see which ones work best with you.

1. Direct application (regular tie-dye)

Direct application is the regular method of applying color in tie-dye. It is the simplest way to dye. It includes dyeing with squeeze bottles, sprays, and pipettes. Squirting the dye is the most common method, but you can also drip, spray or splash it on the shirt.

  1. Start with a damp, folded shirt
  2. Measure 1 teaspoon of dye powder and add it to a bottle
  3. Add one cup of lukewarm water to the bottle
  4. Measure and add 1 teaspoon of dye activator to the bottle
  5. Screw the lid on and shake the bottle for thirty seconds
  6. Wait five minutes then shake again
  7. Apply the dye solution on the folded shirt
  8. Let the dye set for eight hours
  9. Rinse and open up the shirt under cold water
  10. Wash and dry your tie-dye shirt

Direct application of liquid dye is best done on a slightly damp shirt so the dye spreads evenly. You can place the dye in any way you like. You can make lines with it, draw in quadrants, or even dye randomly.

2. Ice-dye (tie-dye with ice)

One of the most unique and well recognized technique. Trade liquid water for ice cubes and you get ice-dyeing. As the ice melts, the water flows, creating motion in your design.

  1. Start with a damp, folded shirt
  2. Using a spoon, add a layer of dye powder on a section of the shirt
  3. Add more dye powders according to your desires
  4. Place a layer of dye activator on top of the dye powder
  5. Lay a pile of ice cubes on the shirt, covering the powder
  6. Wait for the ice to melt
  7. Let the dye set for eight hours
  8. Rinse out and open up the shirt under cold water
  9. Wash and dry your tie-dye shirt

Can be used in combination with any folding technique. Dye powder placement is entirely up to you. You can make designs you dye powder or lay it in sections. Read more about it here.

3. Reverse-dye (tie-dye with bleach)

Tie-dye, but in reverse. Instead of adding color to a white shirt we are gonna remove color from a colored shirt. Commonly done with black shirts, you can use any color of shirt. Take proper precautions such as putting on bleach-resistant mask and gloves. Only use bleach in well ventilated areas.

  1. Start with a damp, colored, folded shirt
  2. Prepare a 1:1 ratio of water and household bleach
  3. Apply the bleach solution to the shirt
  4. Let the bleach solution react for fifteen minutes until the color lightens enough
  5. Neutralize the bleach by pouring hydrogen peroxide on the shirt
  6. Rinse out and open up the shirt under cold water
  7. Stop here if you like the result or continue to dye the shirt
  8. Wring out or spin the shirt until damp
  9. Fold the shirt using any folding technique
  10. Prepare your colors
  11. Apply dye solution to the shirt
  12. Let the dye set for eight hours
  13. Rinse out and open up the shirt under cold water
  14. Wash and dry your reverse tie-dye shirt

After bleaching the shirt you can choose either to leave it as-is or to dye it with new colors. You can use reverse-dyeing in combination with any folding technique. The way you place the bleach and the dyes is entirely up to you. Read more about it here.

4. Immersion (submerged fabric)

Immersion is the oldest form of garment dyeing. It involves submerging the fabric in a dye bath and letting it soak. It can be used for making all sorts of designs. You are not limited to solid colors.

  1. Start with a damp, folded shirt
  2. Prepare a dye bath large enough for your shirt
  3. Add one teaspoon of dye powder per quart of water
  4. Mix the solution thoroughly
  5. Immerse the folded shirt in the dye solution
  6. Let the shirt soak for 15 minutes
  7. Add two teaspoons of dye activator per quart of water to the dye bath
  8. Stir the solution
  9. Let the shirt soak for one hour
  10. Rinse out and open up the shirt under cold water
  11. Wash and dry your tie-dye shirt

This technique also included dipping and partial immersion. You can use the dye bath in a number of ways. Additionally, you can vary how much you stir the solution to create unevenness in the colors. Feel free to add more than one color to the bath, you will get beautiful color variations and gradients.

5. Inclined (fabric on a slope)

Inclined dyeing uses gravity to its advantage. Place your fabric on a slope to guide the dye’s trajectory. This technique creates a very interesting sliding effect in your design. Inclined dyeing is commonly done in combination with ice-dyeing.

  1. Start with a damp, folded shirt
  2. Position the shirt so that it sits at a 15 degree incline
  3. Using a spoon, add a layer of dye powder on a section of the shirt
  4. Add more dye powders according to your desires
  5. Place a layer of dye activator on top of the dye powder
  6. Lay a pile of ice cubes on the shirt, covering the powder
  7. Wait for the ice to melt
  8. Let the dye set for eight hours
  9. Rinse out and open up the shirt under cold water
  10. Wash and dry your ice-dye shirt

You can combine incline dyeing with any folding technique. Some work exceptionally well like the fan fold. You can also use liquid dyes to color the shirt. An extreme variation of this technique is hang-dyeing in which the shirt is held vertically by a single point.

6. Low-water immersion (fabric in a shallow bath)

This is a combination of direct dyeing and immersion. Normally we would dye on a rack to elevate the shirt. This time we are gonna put the shirt in a tight container and let it soak in the dye.

  1. Start with a damp, folded shirt
  2. Place the folded shirt in a container so it touches the bottom
  3. Using squeeze bottles, dye the shirt
  4. Let the shirt soak for one hour
  5. Add two cups of warm water to the container so the shirt is submerged
  6. Let the shirt soak for one hour
  7. Remove the shirt from the container
  8. Rinse and open up the shirt under cold water
  9. Wash and dry your low-immersion tie-dye shirt

A variation of this technique is to only introduce the dye activator later. Do this by adding in two teaspoons of activator when adding the additional water.

7. Dye painting (drawing with dye paint)

Achieve peak precision with dye paint. Thicken your dyes to make a mixture similar to paint and apply it directly to your fabric canvas. First prepare you tie-dye paint mix:

  1. Measure 1 cup of warm water
  2. Add in 1.5 tsp of sodium alginate powder to the water
  3. Using a handheld blender, mix for one to two minutes
  4. Let the solution rest for one hour so it thickens up
  5. Transfer the solution to a squeeze bottle
  6. Add in 1/4 cup of urea to the bottle
  7. Add in 1/8 cup of salt to the bottle
  8. Add in 3 tsp of dye powder to the bottle
  9. Add in 1 tsp of dye activator to the bottle
  10. Screw the lid on and shake the bottle for thirty seconds
  11. Wait five minutes then shake the bottle again
  12. Apply the dye paint on a damp, folded shirt

You can then use the dye paint with a precision bottle, paintbrush, sponge, etc. Apply the paint on damp fabric and let it set like you normally would. Wait 8 hours for the dye to react then rinse and wash the shirt.

8. Irrigation (spray water on dye powder)

This techniques involves putting dye powder on the fabric before irrigating it with hot water. Hot water irrigation is often used with intermediate to advanced folding techniques. It let’s you create highly saturated colors and adds the convenience of making the dye set faster.

  1. Start with a damp, folded shirt
  2. Using a spoon, add a layer of dye powder on a section of the shirt
  3. Add more dye powders according to your desires
  4. Measure and add a cup of hot water to a bottle
  5. Add in two teaspoons of dye activator to the bottle
  6. Shake the bottle until the powder is dissolved
  7. Using the bottle, apply hot water to the shirt
  8. Continue irrigating the shirt until fully dyed
  9. Let the dye set for one hour
  10. Rinse out and open up the shirt under cold water
  11. Wash and dry your tie-dye shirt

Irrigation is most often used with hot water, but any temperature is possible. Hot water increases saturation. Using hot water also let’s you cut down on the time required for setting the dye to less than an hour.

Are there more tie-dye techniques?

The world of tie-dye is vast, but it is still young. The fact is there’s an unlimited number of ways you can fold and dye a piece of fabric. We’ve only discovered a few so far.

Some techniques are quite common and have existed for some years. Others were discovered recently and are still being figured out. There’s no doubt that there are new techniques yet to be found.

How to combine multiple techniques

It’s entirely possible to have multiple folding techniques used on the same shirt. One option is to link the techniques directly together. Let’s say for example we are folding a spiral, then stopping halfway to finish it into a crumple.

  1. Start with a damp cotton shirt flat on a table
  2. With your right hand, pinch the center of the shirt
  3. Twist clockwise to turn the fabric
  4. The shirt should now start forming pleats
  5. Reset your hand position and continue twisting
  6. Continue twisting until the shirt is halfway folded
  7. Place your hands where the fabric is yet to be folded
  8. Using both hands, crumple up the fabric towards the spiral
  9. Move your hands outward a few inches
  10. Crumple in more fabric towards the center
  11. Continue until the rest of the shirt is crumpled
  12. Bind the shirt with rubber bands

You can link any combination of techniques this way. You can also use different folding techniques on different parts of the shirt. You can make, for example, one spiral in a corner and another spiral elsewhere.

Partial design

Just like you can combine techniques, you can also make partials techniques. This means a technique that is not complete. This can be achieved by folding only a part of the shirt. Another way is to folding it completely, but only dye a portion of it.

  1. Start with a damp cotton shirt flat on a table
  2. Place both hands at the center of the shirt, 5 inches apart
  3. Using both hands, crumple up the fabric
  4. Move your hands outward a few inches
  5. Crumple in more fabric towards the center
  6. Continue until the whole shirt is crumpled tightly
  7. Tie the crumple shirt with rubber bands
  8. Prepare your colors
  9. Apply the dye solution on only half of the shirt
  10. Let the dye set for eight hours
  11. Rinse and wash the shirt

Dyeing multiple times

If that’s not enough for you, it’s also possible to dye the same shirt multiple times. Simply tie-dye a shirt, then tie-dye it again after it’s been rinsed.

  1. Start with a damp cotton shirt flat on a table
  2. Fold the shirt
  3. Dye the shirt
  4. Let the dye set for 8 hours
  5. Rinse and wring out the shirt
  6. Fold the shirt
  7. Dye the shirt
  8. Let the dye set for 8 hours
  9. Rinse and wash the shirt

There is no limit to the amount of times you can work on the same shirt. Be careful during the rinsing out stage to not stain the shirt in-between sessions. This technique is most useful for combining many difficult techniques together.