Tie-dyeing is the process of using fiber-reactive dyes on a carefully folded and bonded piece of fabric to permanently modify its color.
We’ve broken down this process into eight steps for easy learning.
8 steps of tie-dyeing
4. Dye mixing
6. Dye setting
In this guide we will be using a shirt as an example as it is the most common item to tie-dye, but keep in mind that any natural fabric can work.
Please make sure to some gloves on from the first to the fifth steps. You don’t want soda ash or dye on your hands if you can help it.
1. Soak the shirt in water and soda ash
You can do this step either in the sink, in a bucket or in the washing machine, anything that get the shirt thorougly wet.
Optionally you can use washing soda in the water in a proportion of 1 cup per gallon of water (1/4 cup per liter).
Using washing soda is not necessary but it is highly recommended as it acts as a fixer that enables the dye to react more strongly and with better results.
Another reason we want shirt to be wet is that the dye works better on slightly damp fabric. It makes it so the dye can spread and become more uniform.
2. Wring the shirt out
You can do this step by hand, or more easily in the washer on the spin cycle (Tip: don’t leave it for the whole spin cycle, you need the shirt to be a bit damp but not dripping)
Experiment to see what level of dampness you prefer for your project; the dye will spread more on a wetter shirt than on a dry shirt.
Optionally you can use urea in the bottle along with water.
The urea helps the dye dissolve in the water and can give you richer colors.
A good baseline is 5 to 10 grams of dye powder for a 12oz (340ml) squirt bottle
The more dye you put in, the more the color will come out deep and vibrant, especially if you use urea in your water mix.
4. Dye mixing
This is where tie-dye patterns come into play.
The way you fold the shirt will determine in great part how the final result will be.
There no wrong way to do this step, it all depends on what you are trying to accomplish
The easiest and quickest way
While we do recommend that you follow a pattern when first learning tie-dye, we also encourage experimentation.
It’s by trying new things that we found some of our most favourite techniques.
The fun is in discovering new tricks and techniques
5. Apply the dye to the shirt
Now the fun begins!
Don’t be scared to just use the dye however you like you will be surprised by the result.
You can also follow our patterns guide to help you create an advanced design worthy of an expert, even if you’re a beginner!
6. Let the dye set
This is the hardest step.
You need to let the dye finish working its magic before you can unveil your masterpiece.
Fiber reactive dyes take a few hours to stop reacting with the fabric and to fully set in.
You can experiment in this step also.
As a rule of thumb the longer you let it set for, the better the result will be.
But anywhere from 6 hours to 24 hours works well. Letting it set overnight provides great result and won’t leave you disappointed.
7. Rinse the shirt
As part of the dyeing process, after having the dye set on the fabric, you need to rinse it to get the excess dye off.
Finally! You will get to open up your shirt and reveal the treasures hidden inside.
The goal for this step is to remove the excess dye from the shirt.
You will want to use your sink for this step as it is the easiest way.
Put your shirt under the sink
Slowly rinse off the dye until the water runs off clear.
The best way is to use cold water first then gradually use hotter water. (Don’t let the water get too hot, steaming water would be excessive)
When the water is lukewarm, you can start removing the elastics.
This step can take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes depending on how much excess dye there is.
After the shirt is sufficiently rinsed, you can wring it to remove the remaining water.
8. Wash and dry the shirt
Now for some washing instructions.
After having rinsed the shirt we like to spin it in the washing machine for a few minutes to remove the remaining dyed water from the shirt.
After this step is completed, put the shirt by itself for a wash cycle.
You should use a little bit of detergent to help remove any potential leftover dye.