Expert Tips on Tie-Dyeing

By Megan Smith ; Updated August 31, 2017
Learn to Tie-Dye

Tie-dying a shirt or other article of clothing is a resist dying process that is usually created with bright colors on cotton fabric. Tie-dying became popular in the '60s, when hippies embraced it as part of their personal style, although it can be traced to as early as 500 AD in Peru, where surviving examples of tie-dye have been found.

What You Need

You can purchase most tie-dyeing supplies at your local craft store, or even at a well-stocked grocery store. You will need to purchase a pair of rubber gloves for each person who will be participating in the tie-dyeing, 2-inch wide cloth strips or thick rubber bands, large trash bags to split apart and cover the floor or ground with, a 3-gallon bucket, up to three colors of clothing dye, 2 gallons of water heated to 140 degrees F, a stainless steel spoon with a long handle, scissors, laundry detergent, a clean towel that may get dye on it, paper towels, sponges and very diluted bleach used for cleaning up your area when the dyeing is completed.

Directions for Simple Tie-dyeing

Choose which colors you would like to use on your shirt. It is possible to use many colors to tie-dye, but for best results it is recommended to only use between one and three colors per shirt. This will prevent all the colors from running together and create a muddy, nonspecific look to the shirt. Place primary colors together. For example, place red and yellow next to one another in order to make orange when the colors overlap. Place blue and red next to one another so when they overlap, they create purple. Tie rubber bands or pieces of cloth in a random pattern across the shirt. The more places the rubber band covers the shirt, the more white rings you will have on your final product. Prepare your dye bath by dissolving the dye according to the instructions on the box or bottle. Dissolve the dye in about 2 gallons of water and stir thoroughly with the stainless steel spoon. Dip separate areas of the T-shirt into the dye, depending on which color you would like to use in which area. Immediately after dipping each color, dip the shirt in a sink or bucket filled with water and a small amount of detergent. After the shirt has been dipped in the detergent, set the shirt on the clean towel to air dry. Wash the shirt in the washing machine by itself or with other dyed T-shirts the first few times you wash it.

Spiral Dyeing

Spiral dyeing is a slightly more difficult version of the dye technique listed above. When you are wrapping rubber bands or cloth around your shirt to prepare it for dyeing, start with one rubber band at the very center and continue to work your way outward. Use three colors of dye (for example, yellow, red and blue) to dip your shirt. Start by dipping the very middle of the shirt with yellow dye. Then rinse the dye out of that area of the shirt with a bucket of diluted detergent. Take the dyed area and invert part of it into the shirt, so the next time you dip it, that area will not be exposed. Dip the next, center area into the red dye, allowing it to very slightly overlap with the yellow that is exposed. This overlapped area will create an orange color, while the area that was white before will be red. Dip this area into the detergent, then invert most of the red color inside out into the shirt. Repeat the dipping process with the blue dye. When the blue and red overlap, they will make purple, and the very outside of the shirt will be a solid blue color. Dip the entire shirt into the detergent and place the shirt into a clean towel. Wash the shirt by itself in the washing machine the first few times you wash it, in order to prevent ruining your other clothes.

About the Author

Megan Smith has been a freelance writer and editor since 2006. She writes about health, fitness, travel, beauty and grooming topics for various print and Internet publications. Smith earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in writing from New York University.