If you don’t already tie-dye you’re missing out. It’s easy to do, inexpensive, and a lot of fun. Plus it’ll leave you with amazing art that you can actually wear.
Tie-dye is the most popular craft activity right now and for good reason. It’s become an essential skill to learn for any budding artist.
Here are the basics to get you started on your journey:
What is Tie-dye
Tie-dye is a collection of methods and techniques used to color and customize fabric.
As a modern form of wearable art, tie-dye is commonly practiced on t-shirts and other items of clothing.
The process consists of folding the cloth in any number of ways. It involves crumpling, twisting, pleating and binding the fabric.
The folded garment is then dyed, most often by pouring dye solution from squeeze bottles.
Folds in the fabric control the spread of dyes, resulting in unique and interesting designs.
The typical tie-dye look is made using bright, saturated colors and features wild, flashy designs.
Step 1: Pick out your tools and supplies
Get your supplies ready. Set up your work table and materials so you are ready to tie-dye. These are the supplies we’ll be using:
- Tie-dye kit – contains all the necessary supplies (bottles, dyes, soda ash, and rubber bands) you need for tie-dye.
- White t-shirt – use 100% cotton. Any cotton garment can be dyed.
- Cookie sheet & wire rack – optional, but highly recommended, it’s used to elevate the garment and contain the dye.
A tie-dye kit has everything you need, except the t-shirt. You can also buy the dyes, bottles and other assorted items separately if you want to.
Tip: you are not limited to t-shirts only. Check our page of recommended supplies where you’ll find blanks of all kinds. You’ll find hoodies, socks, joggers, canvas shoes, and more.
Step 2: Set up your work area
Protect you work surface if you’re dyeing inside. Alternatively, you can dye in the sink or bathtub if you need to.
Lay a plastic tablecloth on your kitchen table or dye the shirt over a receptacle like a cookie sheet or an aluminum tray.
Keep some paper towels or rags handy to clean up any accidental spill. Gather all your tools and supplies, we’ll get right into it.
Step 3: Wet, then wring out the shirt
A slightly damp shirt is easier to fold. The added weight of the water let’s the fabric keep it’s shape while you manipulate it.
A shirt fresh out of the washer has the perfect amount of water. You can achieve a similar result by wetting and then wringing the shirt out by hand.
Step 4: Fold the shirt using a tie-dye technique
There are many ways of folding a shirt for tie-dye, ranging from easy to advanced. Choose from our selection of 100+ tie-dye patterns.
Fold, scrunch, pleat, and twist the shirt until you are satisfied. There is no right or wrong way to do it.
For this example we use the spiral folding technique:
- Lay the shirt flat on the table. Smooth out the wrinkles.
- Pick a spot in the center of you shirt. Pinch the fabric with your fingers. Hold on to the fabric and twist clockwise.
- Let go of the fabric, reset your grip and continue twisting. The shirt will fold itself around the center. Keep the shirt flat on the surface when twisting. Continue until completely folded.
Step 5: Bind the shirt with rubber bands
Place rubber bands over the spiral, crossing at the center. This will secure the fabric so it keeps its shape.
Don’t use too many rubber bands or the spiral may fold on itself. Three or four are usually enough.
Adjust the rubber bands so they create wedge-shaped areas over the top. Once secure, place the folded spiral on a rack or other suitable surface.
Step 6: Prepare your dyes
The world is your oyster when it comes to preparing colors.
You can mix and match different dyes together in a bottle and create your own color blends.
Do you want a warm or a cool shade? Pastel or strong colors?
Put some dyes in a bottle, add some water and dye activator, and shake well. It’s as simple as that.
- Add two teaspoon of dye powder to a squeeze bottle
- Add one teaspoon of dye activator
- Fill up the bottle until 3/4 full (leave some space for shaking)
- Shake the bottle well, mixing the powder evenly
- Use lukewarm water for easier mixing
- Shake for 30 seconds to a minute until the powder is dissolved
Color intensity (imperial)
Color intensity (metric)
The more dye in the bottle, the stronger the color will be on the fabric. Keep in mind that once the dyes are mixed they will have a limited lifespan.
Dye solutions are best used within a few hours. They will go bad after 24 hours.
Consider adjusting the intensity of the colors to suit your needs. You can achieve pastel colors by diluting your mix with more water. If you want bolder colors you can easily add more dye to the mixture.
Step 7: Dye the first side of the folded shirt
Dye the shirt in sections, alternating between colors when needed.
Pour dye directly on the shirt using your squeeze bottle. Use enough dye so you saturate the area with color.
You can use as many colors as you want and place them wherever you feel like. There’s no right or wrong way to go about it.
Use more dye in areas where the fabric is bunched up or areas with larger pleats.
Be careful when placing colors next to each other, as the dyes tend to spread.
You can mix dyes directly on the shirt while dyeing to create new colors and variations.
Step 8: Flip the shirt over
You’ve dyed the first side with success, now what? At this point, the underside is still mostly white and needs some color.
Using your gloved hands or a rack, lift up the shirt and flip it over. When flipping, be careful to handle the shirt gently. Try to keep the shirt neatly folded.
Step 9: Dye the second side
With most tie-dye patterns, you will place the dye exactly like you did on the first side.
Using your squeeze bottle, pour dye over the surface of the shirt. Dye the shirt so the dyed from the topside and underside line up.
Gently apply the dye solution until you achieve adequate coverage. The underside often requires less dye and is more easily saturated.
Most often some color from the first side will seep through, helping you to locate where the dye goes.
Alternatively, you can choose a different color for the underside, or you can even leave it white.
Step 10: Let the shirt set for at least 8 hours
Fiber-reactive dyes require time to fully bond with the fabric and become permanent.
Let the shirt set for 8 hours to 24 hours. Keep the shirt in a secure area where it won’t be disturbed.
As the dye sets it continues spreading through the fabric, achieving a fuller look. If you want to learn how to set your dye faster, check out this article.
Step 11: Rinse the excess dye off
Bring your shirt to the sink. Keep the shirt folded for now.
Turn on the tap on cold. Place the shirt under the running water. Drench the shirt with the cold water. Loose dye will start to run off the shirt.
Rinse out both sides of the folded shirt.
Start removing the bindings. Pull off the rubber bands holding up the shirt. The shirt will start to loosen and open up.
Continue rinsing as you unfold the shirt. You will start seeing the fist glimpses of your design.
Turn the shirt inside out. Rinse every nook and cranny of the shirt.
Plug the sink and turn on the water to hot. Fill up your sink until the shirt is barely submerged.
Let the shirt soak in hot water for 5 minutes.
Take out the shirt and wring it out.
Change your water and do a second hot water bath.
Should you keep the rubber bands on for rinsing?
Yes, in most cases it’s perfectly fine to keep the shirt tied up when you start rinsing. As you rinse off the excess dye, slowly start opening up the shirt.
How to prevent backstaining when rinsing?
Cold water is the key to keeping the colors clean and unstained. The first rinse is the most important where you remove most of the remaining dye and soda ash from the shirt.
Step 12: Wash and dry the shirt
Run the shirt through a complete cold cycle in the washer. Use detergent as you normally would. Hang dry or tumble dry.
You can safely wash a tie-dye shirt together with other clothing. Make sure to rinse it well and wash it once by itself an you will be fine.
Step 13: Clean up your work area
Most of the time the cleaning process is pretty minimal. Tie-dye is actually less messy than many other crafts. Spills and accidents are pretty rare.
Use a rag or paper towels to wipe down your work surface. Wash your hands with warm soapy water. Finally, rinse out your bottles inside and out with lukewarm water.
Step 14: Proudly wear your tie-dye shirt!
When all is done, nothing beats the feeling of wearing your brand new tie-dye shirt. Wear it and enjoy it!
More Amazing Tie-dye Techniques
Had fun with this tie-dye tutorial? Just wait until you try these other popular tie-dye techniques.