Tie Dye Techniques and Instructions

Tie dye is a great way to make old things new again and once you learn the basic tie dye techniques and instructions, you can start updating unloved t-shirts, jersey knits and even bed linens. You will be a hit with your hiking club. There are several knotting patterns and dye methods you can use to create custom designs, but the best way to determine how to control color and create designs is to experiment.

Choosing the Right Fabrics
You probably already know you can tie dye a t-shirt, but did you know that any object made from 100% natural fibers will take the dye? Canvas and linen respond to tie dye just as well as your beloved t-shirts. Try to avoid dyeing blends like rayon. It may take the dye, but you results will be mixed.

Generally, you'll want to choose light-colored fabrics unless you're dyeing with bleach or have chosen dyes formulated to work with bright- or dark-colored fabrics. If you're starting with an item that's colored, take that into account when you're choosing your dye colors.

If you're starting with a yellow shirt and use blue dye, the result is green, not blue over yellow. When you're just beginning to learn how to tie dye, work with items of clothing you already own that are destined for donation or to be cut up into cleaning rags. There's always an element of surprise when you're working with dyes, and you don't want any early failed experiments to ruin items you intend to keep and wear.

Choose Your Dyes Wisely
There are many tye dye methods, and thus, there are many different kinds of tie dye supplies you can use. Look for dyes that are labeled cold-water dyes. The colors are more vibrant and you won't need to add heat to activate the dye. Of course you can use regular dyes in more muted colors or you can experiment with bleach to tie dye black and other dark-colored fabrics.

Make your dye choices well in advance of dyeing day, making sure you balance the color gradations. If you choose two dark dyes like purple and forest green for example, anywhere the dyes meet will come out brown. Beginners would do best to choose no more than three colors, each one lighter than the next or purchase only primary colors (red, yellow and blue) which you can mix to make other colors you may want to use.

Tie Dye Supplies
Tie dyeing is best done in an area, like the garage or laundry room, where you can reasonably make a mess and won't feel badly if the dye stains any surfaces it comes into contact with. In other words: don't tie dye in rooms that are carpeted or near any furniture. Regardless of where you do your dying, use a painter's tarp to catch any dye that spills or splatters.

A basic tie dye supply list includes:

  • The item(s) to be dyed
  • Water
  • Buckets
  • Soda Ash
  • Squeeze bottles
  • Rubber Bands
  • Gloves

Soda ash helps prepare the items you're dyeing to capture and retain the dye color. Use the squeeze bottles for easy dye application. Rubber bands are essential to help keep twists and knots in the fabric from coming undone which will compromise your design. Gloves will protect your hand from the dye during the dyeing and rinsing process.

Pattern Techniques
With tie dyeing, you don't just dip the fabric into the dye and call it a day. The way you knot and twist the fabric as well as apply the rubber bands is what determines the pattern that results.

Common tie dye patterns include starbursts and spirals, but with some practice you can produce thick stripes and even hearts. The best way to learn is with hands-on practice. The more you dye, the more you'll understand what knots, twists and rubber band positions produce which images.

Once you're familiar with the art of tie dyeing, you can move into advanced techniques like batik dyeing, which involves using wax to coat areas of the fabric you don't want to dye.  

The Dyeing Process: Squeeze Bottle Dyeing
Knot your fabric first, then follow the manufacturer's instructions to prepare the dye before using. Most dyes need to be mixed with hot water and salt before application. When the dye is ready, fill your squeeze bottles with the colors you want to use.

Use the bottles to apply the dye to each section of the fabric you want to dye. Once you've applied the dye, wring the shirts to release excess dye, keeping the rubber bands and knots in place. Then, place the item into a sealable bag to dry overnight. Once the item is dry, rinse it with warm water (this is where your bucket comes in handy if you don't have a large, stainless steel sink), then rinse it again, this time with cool water. Remove the bands during the second rinsing.

When you're satisfied that all excess dye has been removed, allow the shirt to dry, ideally in a cool place, for at least a day before washing or wearing.


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