Techniques

Tie-dye techniques | How to fold and dye a shirt

If you’re like me, you’ve probably been wondering how to make all the beautiful tie-dye patterns that have been floating around. We see more and more tie-dye shirts, each one better than the next. The question we have is how can you fold the shirt to make all the nice tie-dye designs that are floating around?

Here we will explore the basic folding techniques, there are many of them, but they all use the same basic principles. All the folding techniques involve manipulating the shirt by moving the fabric and the fibers. There are easy tie-dye folding techniques like the classic spiral, and there are some advanced folding techniques that require a good deal of perseverance. Luckily, no matter how hard the design, anyone can accomplish it with a bit of patience.

We will begin by covering the most common and easiest techniques for beginners to learn with. Do not be afraid to scroll further if you feel adventurous, go ahead and try the advanced techniques if you wish. Nobody’s tie-dye path is the same and you may find that you have a particular talent of affinity and that your favorite designs are easy for you.

You may find that prefer following each folding technique one by one, or you can choose to skip ahead and come back for the others later. You don’t have to like any particular technique, and you may very well have an all-time favorite fold that you always come back to. What we found is that we gained a lot of knowledge by trying every design we could find, and we strongly suggest that you try every folding technique at least once to find the ones that work best for you.

 

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.

The most basic form of folding, if you can call it that. This can be the easiest for you to start with, as it is very forgiving. You can make many patterns from this technique that looks so simple.

There is a lot more to be learned from the crumple than just a technique where you bunch up the fabric randomly. You can in fact dictate quite precisely the way the small pleats will form and can make very detailed and intricate work.

Probably the most familiar technique of them all. This is a traditional tie-dye design that never gets old. The spiral is a shape that can be found in nature, and is very pleasing to the eye. Read this tutorial to discover how to make this organic and natural structure.

There have recently been some major improvements in the spiral technique that gave birth to the pleated spiral.

Made by creating a series of controlled folds, pleating is a basic technique that will teach you a lot about the way folds form in the fabric. A series of long, unbroken pleats that usually span the width of the whole shirt, you can easily modify the way the pleats look by adjusting where you start your pleat and in what orientation you will pleat the shirt.

This tutorial shows you how to make diagonal pleats, wedges (often called V pattern), and many more pleating designs.

The geode technique can help you create all sorts of ring shapes. Like the name indicates, you can make designs that resemble geodes, but you can also make anything from small polka dots to large concentric circles.

You can vary the number of rings, their size and their shape. Using the geode technique is very simple; loop a length of cord around a bundle of fabric. The tight binding will leave an uncolored area under the cord. For the best results, try using specialized cordage in the form of artificial sinew which let’s you make extremely tight knots.

The most advanced version of the geode is the kenney style, which can feature hundreds of individual rings on a single piece of fabric.

Shapes

This technique let’s you make any number of simple shapes and symbols. You might be surprised that a single technique can make this many different designs, but they all share the same principle. With this tutorial you will be able to make your own designs and you will learn the most popular symbols.

The most common shapes people make in tie-dye include the heart, leaf, mushroom, peace sign, and yin yang. First fold the shirt in half, then trace out half of the shape you want to make, then pleat along the line.

Mandala

The mandala is a very versatile technique that uses multiple folding to achieve symmetry. There are many ways to fold and dye a mandala and each one will give you a different result. You can make simple designs, just like you can make a psychedelic looking piece.

You can vary the number of times you fold the shirt on itself to change the how many symmetric faces the result will have. You should absolutely check out this technique and practice it a lot.

Immersion

This is more of a dyeing technique as opposed to a folding technique. For immersion dyeing you essentially soak a shirt in a dye bath. There are a few different ways to use a dye bath, from soaking multiple shirts at once to soaking only a small part of a shirt. You can use your dye bath in all sorts of ways, dipping and dyeing as you go. Ideal for dyeing a whole shirt uniformly in a solid color, you can manipulate the results by adjusting multiple parameters.

Ice

The process of ice-dyeing is very similar to tie-dye, except for the way you actually dye the fabric. You can practice ice-dyeing by first folding and binding a shirt, and then using ice cubes as your vehicle for the dye instead of water from a bottle. This technique calls for you to place the dye powders on top of the shirt, putting ice on top of that, and then letting the ice melt slowly. It will create a washed look because it melts slowly and the cold temperature lowers the speed at which the dye colors the fibers.

Incline

Sometimes used in conjunction with ice-dyeing, where the melting ice will slowly flow along the slanted fabric to create interesting effects. Another, more extreme version of the incline is called “hang dyeing” which puts the shirt in a vertical position. Both of these techniques use gravity to their advantage to guide the dye down the slope.

Mudding

Usually used with ice-dyeing, but can also be practiced with liquid dye. It uses the same steps as normal tie-dye with a single exception. Instead of placing the folded shirt on a grid which elevates it away from the excess dye, you will place it directly in the bottom of your container. Letting the shirt bathe in the pool of dye will give it a rich variety of colors mixes.

Reverse-dyeing is the act of using a product to remove color from a piece of fabric while using the same folding tie-dye techniques.

The process is a bit different because instead of dyes and soda we need to use a bleaching agent. Bleach is a common choice, but there are far better products on the market.

This makes it possible to “dye in reverse” by creating areas of light colors in a black surrounding. This technique has a lot of potential especially if you consider that it is possible to redye a bleached area with new colors.

Painting

You can paint fabric either by using any number of paints, purpose-built fabric paints or, even better, by making your own paint with dyes. While you can use any paints, they will leave a rigid relief on top of the fabric. Using a paste made of dye powder and thickening agents will provide you with the same precision as paint, while maintaining the same coloring characteristics as dye, which does not leave a relief or rigidity in the fabric. 

Not a technique for dyeing per say, but a way to create a barrier to the dye. With batik you can create negative images by purposefully shielding areas of the fabric with the use of melted wax. If you don’t have wax handy, you can make do with a number of other materials such as glue. After you’re done dyeing the shirt you can remove the wax to reveal the fabric underneath that stayed uncolored.

Shibori

This is a whole collection of ways to tie and bind fabric to create interesting shapes. You will learn how to make different designs by wrapping the fabric around poles and different objects. You will also be able to compress fabric between blocks of wood to leave a white imprint. There are many things to learn from this set of ancient techniques.

Hot water irrigation

This technique uses the manual placing of dye powder over the shirt before precisely running hot water over it by the use of a pump connected to a container of heated water. The effect of having extremely concentrated dye along with having the high temperature of the water makes it so the dye reacts immediately with the fibers and produces saturated and bright colors.

Stitching

One of the most time-consuming and intensive way to create resistance in a piece of fabric. Stitching gives you unmatched accuracy, but requires great involvement. Like the name suggests, use a needle and thread to section off portions of the fabric or to pull it together. Master this technique and nothing will be able to stop your creativity, you will open up many possibilities.

Stencil

Using a piece of material into which shapes have been cut to allow the shape to be drawn or painted. You can use the same stencil repeatedly with great speed and accuracy. The stencils are often made from card, plastic or wood, they can be cheaply made and can be reused many times. This is a great way to print a design on a shirt.

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.