Is it better to tie-dye wet or dry?

Is it better to tie-dye wet or dry?

Hey so I was wondering about this the other day. I’m used to always soaking my shirts in water and wringing them before dyeing them. I always have dyed damp shirts. If the situation is the same for you, you may be wondering : “do I really need to tie-dye a wet shirt, or can I tie-dye with a dry shirt?”. We have tested multiple ways and the result may surprise you!

If you are used to always dyeing your shirts wet or damp, you may find surprising there are actually many ways to tie-dye and everyway is a good way! Wet, dry, damp, every combination possible is part of a tie-dye pattern. You absolutely dye a shirt wether it’s got humidity or not. The result will be very different though so continue to read to learn how exactly is the difference between tie-dyeing wet and dry.

First let’s cover the most common scenario; wen you tie-dye a slightly damp shirt. As a part of the tie-dye process, there are specific steps we follow that say to soak the shirt first in the water and then to wring it or spin it to remove the excess water. The main reason we want the shirt to be at least partially wet is that it helps you a lot when the time comes to fold and tie the shirt before dyeing it.

Why tie-dye damp shirts?

The damp shirts are the best to fold and to tie. The water in the shirt makes it so the fabric sticks and stays in place when we are trying to mold it into the shape we want them to take. Try doing a spiral fold on a dry shirt compared to folding the same technique but on a damp shirt, you will see that it is much easier with the slightly damp shirt.

First we should talk about how much easier it is to fold and tie the shirt when it’s slightly wet. It makes a world of difference and is the reason why you normally see people folding damp shirts. Another reason why we tie-dye damp shirts is because the water in the fibers will help the dye spread a little bit when dyeing. It will help the dye mix well and become more homogeneous which means that the color will be smooth, consistent and uniform.

With the dry shirt, you can try all you want, the fibers in the fabric will always try to bounce back when you compress them and fold them. When the fibers are slightly wet it makes it so the fiber weight so much that they cannot spring back everything time you try to fold them. It gives you so much more options to place the fabric. Now that answers why we normally fold the shirt when the shirt is damp, but that leaves us with other questions.

Can you tie-dye a dry shirt?

You may have heard people talking about tie-dyeing a dry shirt, or you may have wondered yourself if it was absolutely necessary to do it with a damp shirt. Maybe you even are asking more advanced questions and you are thinking about the possible advantages of having the shirt dry when tie-dyeing. There are in fact reasons why you may want to use a dry shirt and we will cover them.

You can definitely tie-dye a dry shirt without any problem. The number one reason why you could want to use a dry shirt is because the dye reacts very differently when used on a dry fabric compared to a wet fabric. When putting dye water on a dry fabric, the water will have a tendency to stay in place where it is dropped and will not spread out as much. This will make it so the colors will be very distinct and concentrated and will not mix as much.

Dyeing a dry shirt will sometimes be a challenge, as the dye water will stay on the surface of the fabric for longer and may cause the dye droplets to roll around the surface of the shirt. You normally do not want to dye droplets to roll around, you want to dye to penetrate in the fibers. The trick around this problem is to slightly mist the fabric with a spray bottle just before attempting to dye the dry shirt.

When used correctly, this technique can help you use the power of the dry shirt to prevent the dye from spreading, while also being a little bit humid to help break up and soak up the dye droplets. Use this technique to draw precise shapes and for precise dye placement. Expert tie-dye makers will sometimes use this trick to dye their shirt and make extremely cool patterns.

Those are the reasons why you can consider dyeing a dry shirt, but what about folding? The only thing to consider is that you definitely still want to fold and tie the shirt while it is damp. The way you go about when you’re done folding the shirt is that you need to then let it dry out. Just leave it aside for a few days so it is bone dry, and simply mist it a little bit with water from a spray bottle to make the surface slightly wet to help the dye penetrate.

Can the shirt be too wet?

What we found is that when you dye a very wet shirt it can make for very interesting results. For example, if the shirt is sufficiently soaked it will create an effect known as the supersoak. The water already on the shirt will prevent the dye from penetrating completely in the shirt. This effect is used when great effect in the patterns such as the Fragmented spiral and the

The thing we found is that if the shirt is too wet it has another completely different effect on the result of the tie-dye. We already know that damp shirt make for consistent and uniform color spread and will help you dye smoothly. We also know that dyeing a dry shirt will let you dye very precisely, but that it can be challenging to execute well.

The thing with supersoaked shirts is that they are also difficult to execute well, the dye is very slippery on this water-logged surface. This technique definitely is very versatile and presents amazing effects that you can use to make cool patterns.

Minimal spiral

Exploded spiral

So now that we know that the shirt cannot be too dry and it cannot be too wet, the only thing that happens is that the result will be different. Now we have seen how every degree of humidity in the shirt will have a predictable effect on the pattern that appears on the shirt.

Keep this information in mind when you create your next tie-dye piece and try every option to see which one you like the best and which technique can help you make your ultimate pattern. And remember that you cannot make a mistake in tie-dye you only make a new discovery!

About us

We are Samuel and Francis. About two years ago we bought our first tools and supplies for tie-dyeing. Ever since then we’ve been learning the skills of folding and dyeing in intricate ways. We’ve learned from our experiences on the field about what techniques works and what doesn’t. This is the site were we share everything we’ve learned.

Samuel and Francis

We are the sole owners of this site, we live in Canada where we work everyday on making tie-dye more accessible to everyone. We are always looking forward to teaching you something new.