Basic guide

tie-dye guide

This guide serves as a collection of all the information I’ve gathered so far about the art of tie-dyeing.


Table of Contents

We’ll be using a plain cotton shirt.
It is the most common

Now fabric can be anything you want.
A shirt is the most common, followed by tapestries.

There is a difference between dyeing 1 layer pieces of fabric and dyeing a shirt which is 2 layers of fabric.

Clothing which is made from multiple pieces of fabric.

Clothing is very diverse

You can make tie-dye to embellish clothing.
You can use it to decorate (make tapestries to decorate your home)

The process of tie-dye is to apply a pattern to a fabric.

Pattern is the shape, size, appearance, result of tie-dye.

The pattern is the result of the tie-dye.

The appearance of the piece after its been 1) Tied and 2) dyed.

For example, a shirt on which you can see colors in the shape of a spiral is said to adorn a ”spiral” pattern.

Patterns often take the name of the closest ressembling thing to what the actual pattern looks like, but not always.

The process of tie-dyeing is to impart a pattern on a piece of fabric.

What are we trying to accomplish really? We want to color let’s say a shirt. Imagine that the shirt is already tie-dyed. The way the dye sets on the shirt is called the tie-dye pattern.

The pattern is composed of and not limited to : colors; their use, dispersion, hue, colorfulness.
Also the physical aspect, as in the shape or shapes, the repetition of colors, the main features,

We call them patterns because they can be recorded and repeated with the exact same steps as the original pattern.

We recommend everyone takes notes of every tie-dye creation. Video is even better.

Help us build the most comprehensive guide on tie-dye patterns.

Pattern is the result of a whole process called tie-dye.

The process of tie-dyeing can be resumed in this way :

A) Preparation

B) Tying

C) Dyeing

D) Finition

The process of tie-dye as a whole can be divided into multiple steps and operations:

A) Process

1) Preparation

Preparing your work space and the supplies you’ll be using.

Preparation of the fabric itself (Inspecting, washing, drying, SOAKING(?))

The preparation of the dyes (Choosing what colors + how to make those colors by mixing)

Preparing any other materials or tools you’ll be using.
(Gloves, pipette, setup a work surface/environment)


Fiber-reactive dyes

Cotton shirt

Washing soda



Fabric is made of a collection of interlaced fibers.

The most useful fabrics for us are made out of natural fibers.

Cotton is the most common and affordable natural fiber.

Most of our work will be done using cotton fabric.

Fabric can come in all shapes and sizes.

Fabric varies in size and composition.


Get your Procion dye ready

Washing soda

Get your soda ready


2) Tying

The way you can fold, bind, restrain, pleat, crumple, etcetcetc the fabric.

There’s a near-infinite number of ways to fold a piece of fabric.
If you think about the complexity, the number of individual strands of fibers. And all the randomness and chaos.

There are a number of recorded folds; spiral, pleat,

There’s also a variety of factors to consider while tying.

The humidity of the fabric. (A slightly damp fabric you can fold quite easily, it stick to itself and the added weight helps it stay in place. A dry fabric is very difficult to fold.)

Wether you do it by hand or with tools.

Different techniques have a variety of interesting effects and results.

Folding serves multiple different purposes. It resists the dye. Taut, compressed fabric does not accept

The tying is mainly folding with optional binding by using elastic bands, string, or sinew. Compressing can be accomplished any number of ways. You can use accessories to change the capacity of the fabric to accept the dye. You can compress with forms or you can temporarily encompass the fibers in wax to prevent dye from reaching specific parts of the piece.

You can tightly wrap the fabric around a pole.

It guide the dye along its creases and pleats. As gravity pulls the dye down, it can slide against the ridges. Especially true for liquid and ice-dyeing.

3) Dyeing


The type of dye we use is fiber-reactive dyes.
It is a recent invention, became commercially available in the 1950’s.

The biggest advantages of this all-star dye.

It can dye even at room temperatures, it colors permanently, it is safe to use.

Dye itself : drop of a certain size. Can drip or splash or irrigate.

Can let the dye diffuse through the fibers.

Can obstruct the diffusion.

Can guide the diffusion.

Add additives to the dyed water by way of alginate or other viscosity enhancers.

Entire books could be written talking about wether to let the dye create the pattern by itself or wether we should guide the dye and thus the pattern.

Might be ever more ways to dye than to tie. lmao

The way you make the dye interact with the fabric. The actual coloring of the piece. It refers to the way you apply the dye, for example with a bottle. The quantity of dye, its colors, its penetration and coverage.

There are multiple different ways to dye a piece. You can drip. Experts will often use bottles with very small opening to better control the spread of the dye and create sharper patterns.

Talking about the spread of the dye, you can use a variety of techniques to resist the spreading of the dye. You can use source techniques that control the fluid itself. By adding alginate thickener you can create a more viscous fluid.

You can also create resistance in the fabric. By wetting an area of the fabric you can prevent much of the dye from penetrating.

This gives rise to specialized techniques such as ”supersoaking”

The combination of the tying and the dyeing if what creates a pattern.

Tie-dye is as much coloring the fabric as it is resisting the coloring of the fabric.

For the dye to react with the fabric and color it there is an interesting reaction that occurs.
Some amount of dye will react instantaneously with the fabric when in the presence of a suitable environment.
A suitable environment for the dye to react is when it is combined with water and washing soda. In this environment, a dye molecule will attach to a natural fiber molecule.

This is a reaction that happens at a microscopic scale. The more reactions there are, the more the fibers are getting colored.

Letting the piece ”batch” for a few hours is recommended. The temperature also plays a role in the reaction rate.


4) Finishing

Finishing the piece is when you cleanse it with fresh water, to stop the dye’s reaction and remove any remaining active dye.

When you deem the piece to have batched long enough and consider it ripe.

The best method we found so far is to simply dunk the fabric in fresh water. Once you have the fabric underwater, you can open it up and gently wash it.

This is often the most exciting part as you open your creation and the patterns reveal themselves tentatively.

You want to prevent back-staining as much as possible.

Submerging the piece is a great way to deactivate the reaction by quickly changing the basicity of the solution. Cold fresh water functions really well as it removes both conditions for the reaction : it removes the basicity and the heat.

You can also rinse it under running water with minimal risk for back-staining.

Rinsing is an important part of the process because its not over until there’s no active dye remaining on the piece.

Some tie-dye pieces require more rinsing than others.
You usually do multiple baths with successively warmer water. The water should be clearing up after each bath.

You can now contemplate your creation. Keep in mind that the colors look darker when wet and the final result will vary after the fabric dries.

All it needs now is a final washing in the washing machine and a drying.
After having done the rinsing appropriately you can wash the piece like any other garment.


Pattern is composed of :

1) The folding of the fabric

Called folding for the many ways you Because the main way to shape the is folding the fabric on itself or creating small folds.

These small folds are called “pleats”.

Many of the basic tie-dye patterns use pleats in their process.

Pleats can be in all shapes or sizes. They vary in their dimensions, position

Is any shaping of the fabric with the intention to dye the resist

The way you shape the fabric makes all the difference. Where you start your folding and where you end it impacts the whole piece.

You can either fold to make pleats and creases to disturb the dye placement. Additionally you can fold the fabric in half to create mirroring effects.

2) The dyeing of the fabric

Difference between tie-dye and painting

Painting is typically on a two dimensional canvas

While tie-dye operates in three dimensions

Fourth dimension of dyeing : Time


The multi pattern is the way how you can place more than one distinct pattern on a given piece of fabric.

An example of this would be a shirt sporting two distinct spirals.

Now you could say that this makes for a new pattern ”double spiral” or that the resulting pattern is a combination of two distinct patterns.

Alternative dyeing technques

Tie-dye presupposes that we bind the fabric after having folded it.
You typically dye using squirt bottles but there are so many more ways to make the dye permeate the fabric.

The main alternative is Ice-dyeing which can be accomplished by placing the powdered dye along with washing soda on the fabric.
You then place ice cubes on the piece. The ice is allowed to melt slowly during the course of a few hours.

Doing this results in wildly different patterns from simply dyeing with liquid dye. One of the reason being the slow penetration of the dye mixture in the pores of the fabric. The other has to do with the cold temperature which makes the reaction happen much slower.

We have a dispersion of almost non-reactive dye. Then, as the dye returns to normal temperature, it begins reacting where it is now lodged.

Additional info

Water hardness

Purer the water = more consistent
Most obvious with hard water

Fabric construction

Different fabric weave = different result

The business of tie-dye

People can make a living by practicing tie-dyeing.

Labeling and storage.

Pattern rating

For rating patterns you also include:
The technique, relative difficulty, originality, relative beauty, impressiveness, execution.

Pastel colors

Achieve pastel colors by using less concentrated dyes.

Creates soft colors that are very high in demand.

Colors and color mixing

The art of mixing specific colors and get the results you want

Reverse tie-dye

Bleach dyeing


Tie-dye with ice-dye