White is a unique color in tie-dye. There is no white dye per say, so you need to be clever when including it in your designs.
There are clever tricks you can use that will leave you with crisp, clean, white areas. Methods such as using less dye, planning dye placement, and using tight bindings.
In this post I’ll teach you how to leave areas of the shirt undyed so that you can have white areas in your tie-dye.
- How to Leave White on Your Tie-dye Shirt
- Can you bleach a shirt to get white?
- Can you Leave White in Any Pattern?
- Why You Can’t Find White Dye
How to Leave White on Your Tie-dye Shirt
Including white in your tie-dye design is simple. All you have to do is control how you dye. All areas of the shirt that doesn’t receive dye will stay white.
Start with white fabric, then tie-dye it in a way that leaves areas of the fabric without color. Undyed areas will stay white.
There are many ways to leave white in your tie-dye. Common methods include using less dye, planning your dye placement, sectioning off parts of the shirt, and using resist techniques.
Once you understand these basic principles, it becomes easy to integrate white in your designs.
1. Pour less dye on the shirt
The easiest way to leave white is to use less dye. It might sound obvious, but there is something to be said about it.
As a general rule, the less dye you use, the more white there will be in your design.
A folded shirt is really a canvas, but in three dimensions. The goal here is to only dye the surface, preventing the dye from reaching the center.
The usual way to dye is to saturate the fabric to achieve complete coloration. But in this case, we want to stop before the whole shirt is dyed.
2. Use dye only on one side
Another trick you can use is to only dye one side of the shirt. It is similar to the first point, but with a small difference.
It’s easier to leave white if you only dye one side. Cover the top of the shirt with color, then flip it over and leave it to set that way.
Some of the dye will seep into the shirt, but dyeing only one side will ensure that plenty of areas will stay white.
3. Use smaller bottles
If you’re having trouble leaving enough white space, you might need to use smaller bottles.
Use small, needle-tipped bottle to ensure that you only use the appropriate amount of dye and that you do not flood the fabric.
Smaller bottles reduce the flow of the liquid solution, giving you more control over the placement and the amount of dye used.
It lets you place colors exactly where you want them and it’s easier to stop when you need to.
4. Section off areas of the shirt
A great way to leave white in your design is to separate the shirt in sections. Each section can receive it’s own color. You can leave some sections white where you wont place dye.
When it comes time to bind the shirt, use your rubber bands in a way to create distinct sections on the shirt. Determine which sections will receive dye and which sections won’t.
Place the rubber bands so that you can clearly see the separate areas where you want to leave white. Be careful when placing your dyes so that you only put color where it’s meant to be.
5. Tightly bind the fabric
Sometimes, it’s not enough to section off the shirt. If you’re having problems with dye spreading from one area to the next, then you might need this trick.
Tightly binding the fabric can prevent dye from spreading. Using sinew, reinforce the borders of your sections to prevent dye from passing through.
Artificial sinew is a type of flat polyester thread coated in wax. This thread is waterproof and very strong. It lends itself perfectly to the task of resisting dye.
You can use sinew to further section off areas, or you can use it on it’s own. A common technique called “Geodes” calls for the sinew to be wrapped in a series of circles around the fabric.
This creates rings of white fabric where the sinew prevented the dye from penetrating the fibers.
6. Use gravity to your advantage
Further up we talked about dyeing only one side of the shirt and then flipping it over, leaving white on top.
This is an example of using gravity to your advantage. While dye spreads in all directions in the fabric due to osmosis, it also is affect by gravity.
Place the folded shirt at an angle when dyeing it. Tilting the fabric can elevated certain areas, making it more difficult for the dye to spread there.
Putting the shirt at an angle, or even lifting up certain parts of the fabric can help you achieve the white you desire in your design.
7. Waterproof the fabric with wax
A more direct way of control where color will go is to use an ancient technique known as batik.
Pour melted wax over areas of the shirt you want to waterproof. Once it hardens, the wax creates a protective layer over the fabric.
Most commonly, you will see wax used as a way to draw certain shapes into the fabric. Once removed, the wax reveals white areas where it blocked the dye from encroaching.
8: Use water to clog the fabric
A lesser known trick is to use water. Yes, you can use water to help prevent the spread of dye.
For the purpose of keeping white on your shirt, you can imagine water as being a kind of white dye. It won’t color the fabric white, but it can keep already white fabric from becoming dyed in certain circumstances.
Fill a squeeze bottle with plain cold water. Pour water in a section of the fabric you would like to keep white. Use water like you would any other dye solution and saturate the area.
Water acts as a blocker. It fills in and saturates the fibers. Once full, the fabric cannot accept more liquid. With water you can create zones that are already full and that can resist the push from neighboring dyed sections.
You can even thicken your blocking water with alginate to increase its potency.
This is not a foolproof method. You need to be conscious that dye particles can sometimes travel unexpectedly. They’ll just have a harder time doing so if the fabric is already clogged. There will still be some mixing if colors are nearby, but it can reduce its spread if used properly.
9. Plan your dye placement
Planning your dye placement can go a long way to help you keep white on your shirt. Thinking about where to put dye and where not to put it will put you ahead.
Always start with a plan in mind. Before you begin, imagine how you’d like your tie-dye shirt to look like once finished. Design your shirt with the end result in mind. Plan your folding and dyeing patterns accordingly.
If you can imagine a finished tie-dye shirt, you can plan in advance how it should be made. Don’t be afraid to sketch out on paper how you think you should place the dye to achieve a particular result.
Knowing the basic tie-dye techniques will give you all the understanding you need to be able to design and precisely plan how to fold and dye a shirt to achieve a specific result.
Planning can also take place during a dyeing session. As you dye, you can make changes to your plans and act accordingly.
One of your best tools is the ability to plan. It’s gonna take care of most of the guess work and ensure success before you even pour the first drop.
10. Clamp or compress the fabric
Clamping is a less common technique, but it can prove useful in certain scenarios. It is somewhat more involved than the other tricks because it requires the use of tools.
You can compress the fabric so that it becomes hard for the dye to penetrate it. This is the same principle used when tightly binding the fabric with sinew, but used on a larger surface area.
Compress the fabric using clamps, ropes, hemostats or other tools. Put even pressure on an area of the fabric to make it harder for the dye to penetrate.
This is the same principle as wringing out a shirt. The compression makes the fabric more compact. It reduces the distance between fibers and removes vacant space in the fabric.
Clamping is an ancient resist technique used, most famously, in the shibori schools of dyeing. It was often implemented by using square wooden blocks clamped on the top and bottom of a folded piece of fabric to create geometric designs.
Can you bleach a shirt to get white?
No, in most cases, you cannot use bleach to get white from a colored shirt. Bleach can only reduce the intensity of colors and cannot remove it entirely.
Some colors can be discharged easier than others. For example, light colors can be reduced to almost white, while dark colors will often leave a paler version of themselves.
You can get better results by discharging fabric that’s only been recently dyed. The fresher the dye job, the cleaner it can be discharged. But even then it’s hard to get white.
Other discharge agents are able to remove certain dyes better than others. But the results are not guaranteed and attaining white from a shirt that’s already colored is not possible in most cases.
What bleach is great at is stripping some of the colors in order to redye on top of it. But the best way to leave white on your shirt is to start with white fabric and keep it from getting dyed.
Can you Leave White in Any Pattern?
Yes, you can leave white in any pattern. You can leave small or large areas of white. You can have single or repetitive white patterns. You can definitely have the same variety of shapes and sizes in pattern as with any other color.
Some white patterns involve leaving large areas undyed such as half of the shirt to give great contrast to the design. Others are more subtle, only small white patches here and there, sprinkled throughout the design.
Some are bold and obvious, while others are seamlessly incorporated. Once you know the proper techniques, you can use white in your designs like any other colors.
While white is somewhat trickier, because there is no white dye per say, you can and should still use it as part of your art.
It’s a fantastic color to have in your palette as a tie-dye artist. It can add a wonderful touch to many designs and patterns.
Why You Can’t Find White Dye
The world of tie-dye is rich in colors. You can buy and mix dyes to achieve any conceivable color. But white is one that is quite different from the others.
If there is white paint, there should be white dye, right? Well, not exactly.
There is no such thing as a true white dye. Instead, try leaving some areas undyed. The white fabric will stay white when it’s not colored.
While paint is opaque, dye is translucent. You can paint over a surface and even paint over other colors, but dyes don’t work the same way.
Instead of covering other colors, dye mixes with it and combines to form a new mixture. If there was white dye, it would be completely transparent and wouldn’t have the power to affect other colors.
Also, since dyes are water soluble, we don’t need white to make light colors, we only need to add more water to dilute any color.
You might search dye suppliers looking for white dye, but you’re always bound not to find it.
Some suppliers sell dyes that have “white” in their name. In fact, these dyes are highly diluted version of standard dye colors and not truly white.
The only way to achieve a perfect white is to start with white fabric and prevent it from getting colored during the dyeing process.