Tools and supplies for tie-dyeing, including soda ash, a shirt, elastic bands, dyes and dye bottles

Tie-dye supplies

What do you need for tie-dye?

A desk full of supplies used for tie-dyeing, including soda ash, a shirt, elastic bands, dyes and dye bottles

You may have been wondering what kinds of tools and materials you need to tie-dye a shirt. When we were just starting we tried a bunch of different things. We have discovered what works and what doesn’t. With this information, even if you’re a beginner you will be one step ahead. You will learn what is necessary and where is the best place to get it.

The typical instructions tell you that you should have a white shirt, dyes, soda ash, bottles, rubber bands, and water. We have tested multiple brands of each piece of equipment and we are ready to reveal our favorite picks. You will be surprised to learn how many more products exist that can help you make your tie-dye creation even better.

Modern dyers have access to all kinds of tools that greatly facilitate the process of coloring clothes. The process is now so easy, in fact, that even beginners are able to produce works of art from their home with little training. Between us we have a few years of experience with tie-dye and we certainly took the time to experiment with a multitude of different dyes, bottles, and techniques.

Dyes

Dyes may very well be the most important ingredient of the whole recipe. Without dyes your shirt will stay white. You may be wondering what exactly these dyes are and where they come from. We know that at the beginning we had many questions and few answers about this special material. Check out our list to see where to purchase dye.

To make it simple, dyes are colors that can stick to things. They are able to give color to fabric. There is a variety of dyes, some natural, some artificial, and each one has its own purpose. Our purpose in tie-dye is to give color to a fabric and make it stick forever. We also want it to be as easy as possible to use this dye, we want it so easy in fact that we can use it in our house. We also cannot forget about safety, we need dyes that are safe to use even for kids.

What we have today that is the best technology available is a dye that is synthetic and has been invented quite recently (1950s). The particularity of this dye is that it can color natural fibers efficiently even at room temperature, which is unique among dyes. This dye is made commercially in many different colors and is easy to use even for beginners with no equipment. 

What you get is a dry, colored powder. Every color of dye is slightly different in the way it’s made and the powder for each color can have different characteristics. Also, keep in mind that the dyes are affordable and will let you buy more than one dye color. The reason the dyes are easy to buy is that they are used by many large clothing manufacturers and are common on the market.

You will often see the dyes come under different names, such as fiber-reactive dyes, and cold-process dyes. The description will say that they work the best for cotton and other natural materials.

Soda ash

We need to cover soda ash in second place because it is so important. The dye is nothing if you cannot use it and this is where soda ash comes into place. The reason we use soda ash is to be able to use the dye at low temperatures. Its full name is sodium carbonate, you may know it by the name of washing soda, which is a household product.

The interesting property of soda ash is that it makes the dye solution more basic, and makes it possible for the dye to react with the fibers even at low temperatures. Without the soda you would need high temperatures to get the dye to give off its color.

When we tie-dye, the coloring of the shirt takes place when the
fibers are in contact with a solution of water with dye and soda.
There’s a number of different ways that you can use soda ash. Each way
let’s you achieve different effects on the shirt.

Traditional recipes tell you to soak the shirt in a soda ash
solution. While this definitely works, we prefer putting the soda ash
directly in the bottle with the dye. What we find works great is when
you use the same quantity of soda and dye in your bottle mix.

Blanks

When we first started, we asked ourselves : “we want to tie-dye, but what do we dye exactly, what kind of old clothing do we have and what could we get?”. We weren’t even sure how to tie-dye, let alone how to choose what to dye. Since then we have learned a lot and we are here to teach you everything we know about blanks and fabric.

The base fabric material that we dye is called a blank, it usually comes in the form of a shirt, but can also be seen as tapestries, bandanas, socks, and more! We often dye blanks that are white, they give you the perfect canvas to create your design from scratch. You can also dye fabric that’s already colored, but we recommend, especially for beginners, that you practice on white blanks.

Shirts

We recommend starting with shirts, they are fun and easy to dye. Another advantage is that you can wear them and they are easy to give as gift. Now that we know t-shirts are the most popular blank option,

We wanted to find the cheapest way to practice our tie-dye. These won’t have to be pretty or nice, we just need fabric for cheap. The dyes love the thick fabric on these shirts. It gives you more control and less spread. Many pros prefer using shirts with heavy fabric as they dye better than other shirts.

Blank white shirt

Your regular run-of-the-mill shirt with decent comfort and fit. Ideal if you plan on selling your shirts or giving them to your friends. The comfort is average, similar to what you would get in large stores. They are actually quite enjoyable to wear and they don’t break the bank.

Think about it if you want to enjoy wearing your creations. Wether for you or for your clients, when you’re serious about your brand and your business you need base shirts that reflect it. With its high comfort, this shirt will please everyone. Definitely consider if you have the budget.

Tapestries

They come in many shapes and sizes. Most often you will see them decorating the walls of a house. They area used as banners, flags, and more, you simply hang them or lay them somewhere to instantly improve the atmosphere of a room.

Tapestries are the largest pieces that tie-dye artists commonly make. Amazingly, you can pretty much tie-dye the same patterns on a tapestry as you would make on a shirt.

Bandanas

Also called handkerchief, they are a small square of fabric, usually made from cotton. They are often worn over the hair or over the face. They make formidable items for testing your techniques and your colors. We definitely recommend having a few bandanas laying around when you’re tie-dyeing

Bottles

When we first started experimenting with tie-dye, we tried everything we had within reach.

All manners of bottles and containers were filled and emptied. We dyed, tested, and experimented.

The result of our research is this list regrouping the most useful types of bottles for tie-dye.

Squeeze bottles

Your bottle is the only thing that stands between you and the shirt. It is imperative that it doesn’t dribble, it should help you and no hinder you.

A bottle for everyday use, the medium bottle should stay clean and be reliable. It is, after all, the bottle you will use the most.

Squeeze bottle

Wide-mouth
Large enough to fit a teaspoon through the neck for easy mixing of dyes. Dependable opening makes it possible to reload without a funnel and not make a mess.

Leak Resistance
Extra threading on the neck to prevent dripping. Stays clean even with rough handling. Dye without gloves and keep your fingers clean.

Graduation
Measurements on the bottle for precise mixing.

Small precision bottle

Precise bottle to use while dyeing very small work.
Slow and steady stream, flow so fine you can draw with it.

Experts use them for intricate detail work, as well as dyeing in hard to reach spots.

When you’re up for a new challenge and want to take your art to the next level and need precise dye placement.

Combined with a thickener, you will have complete control over your dye placement.

Small precision bottles

Manipulation
A good bottle needs to be agile and precise, it should let you dye in-between the fabric’s crevasses. A small size and a good hand feel are both necessary to provide maximum dexterity and manipulation.

Clean flow
Small, consistent flow is the goal here. A spout with a small opening is paramount. The dye should be able to flow easily with light pressure.

Best of all, its spout is made of a long, thin tube of  metal. It definitely blows the competition out of the water. The way it dyes so precisely and consistently is astounding.

Large capacity bottle

Bottle with a high capacity. Saves you a lot of time when dyeing big batches of shirts. Big bottles let you dye more shirts quicker.

Our first introduction to high capacity bottles was when we really started to dye large volumes of clothes.

It can take a while to dye a single shirt, let alone a dozen. We discovered that our squeeze bottles were the limiting factor of the operation.

There is a limit though, the larger it is, the more difficult it is to hold, especially for long periods of time.

Large capacity bottles

Refills
Nothing worse than running out of dye water during a craft!
Not only is it painful, it also takes up a lot of time. The less times you refill, the more you dye!

Flow
More dye gets you there faster. Not only are these bottles larger, they also have a wide spout. If normal bottles have streams, these bottles have rivers.

One of the best additions to your arsenal if you plan on selling your shirts. Essential for maximizing the profitability of your tie-dye business.

Spray bottle

Very useful when reverse-dyeing. Mist the bleach over a dark shirt.

This bottle has a thick and strong plastic construction. It is resistant to chemicals and is ideal for holding bleach.

Can also be used with a dye solution to create interesting designs.

Spray bottle

Water dispenser

Have I tried using this huge container to dye a shirt? Yes.
Did it work? Barely.

While it may not be suited for the technical aspect of dyeing, this container has a range of useful uses. It’s always handy to have a container of water nearby.

Maybe you need to quickly refill your dye bottles?

Maybe you’re thirsty and need a drink?

Maybe you can outfit it with an automatic dripping mechanism for drip-dyeing… Now that’s an idea!

Water dispenser

Tying tools

1) Elastic bands

Used as a cheap and easy-to-use material for binding.

Perfect for beginners.

2) kite string

Can be used for tying the fabric. Let’s you have more control over the tightness of the binding.

Achieves better results than elastic bands, but take longer to tie.

3) Sinew

Very strong. You can pull on it with all your strength to achieve incredibly tight bindings.

Expensive but very useful for demanding patterns such as the geodes.

4) Sinew puller

There exists a specialty tool called the sinew puller.

Also called a sinew dowel, this tool lets you better grip and better control your sinew tying.

Wind up your sinew tightly on the dowel and you’re ready for a better tying experience.

Sinew puller

Thickening agents

Alginate

Use dried algae powder to thicken your dye water.

It gives your water viscous and elastic properties. 

Guar gum

Guar gum is used for the same purpose as alginate.

Salt

Normal regular table salt is used in the making of dye paint.

Additional products that can help

Urea

Urea is a humectant. It attracts water and doesn’t let it go. It helps keep dyed fabric wet for longer. Another of its properties is that it helps dissolve more dye in the water. It also is safe to use. Mix it at the dye preparation stage. Put only half as much urea as dye.

Synthrapol

Used in tie-dye for cleaning blanks and dyed shirts.

Calsolene oil

It’s use in tie-dye is to help the dye spread more evenly in the water, it is a wetting agent that is especially important when you try to create smooth transitions and ombré effects.