Back in the ’60s, when tie-dye shirts made their debut in America, they were a sign of rebellion. At that time the hippie movement was in its infancy, and sporting a tie-dye made it obvious that you were not a supporter of the status quo.
These days, rocking a tie-dye doesn’t quite make someone instantly stand out from the crowd anymore. However, it’s still entirely possible to make some tie-dye shirts so amazing that everyone is talking about them.
We all know it’s not easy, but you can make a name for yourself — who hasn’t heard of Phillip Brown?
In its simplest form, tie-dyeing can be pretty easy to do. However, we all see stuff at every show and we say, “whoa.” Looking at those pieces makes you wonder if there are things their creator knows about tie-dyeing that you don’t.
Here’s what I found:
There are no grand secrets.
The only difference between their stuff and what you can pull off is time, practice, creativity, and knowledge of the subject.
Take Your Tie-Dye Shirts To The Next Level
Obviously, since the process of tie-dyeing is pretty intense and takes quite a bit of time, you’re going to want to do it right the first time around. The purpose of this guide is to help you save that time and get it right going in. That starts with a working knowledge of all things tie-dye, so let’s get started.
Did you know?
The art of tie-dye began in Japan in the 8th century.
Tie-dyeing grew to mainstream popularity in America when the hippies popped onto the scene in the sixties. Back then, the company that makes Rit dye had fallen on hard times. So, they hired a guy in marketing for Hellman’s mayonnaise at the time named Don Price.
Where are the hippies?
Don took packs of Rit dye and toured around Greenwich village and other hippie hot-spots.
Finally, he found a couple named Will and Eileen Richardson. The Richardsons went to work and created some tie-dye pieces that Don then took around to famous fashion designers like Halston.
Well, as soon as those designers picked it up it was on.
Everyone from Janice Joplin to the Grateful Dead started wearing and selling tie-dye shirts. Don Price himself realized he was onto something and had hundreds of them made to sell at Woodstock.
Items You Need Before You Begin Tie-Dyeing
Now that you have an understanding of where it all began let’s get into what you need to make tie-dye shirts of your own.
First, you will need some supplies.
Don’t worry; we talk extensively below about nearly everything on this list:
- Soda Ash
- Big Pots Or Tubs For The Dye
- Rubber Gloves
- Dust Mask
- Something To Tie Your Fabric (Rubber Bands, Zip-Ties, String)
- Spray Bottle (Optional)
- Squirt Bottles
- Gallon-Sized Ziploc Bags
Fabric matters when you are making tie-dye shirts
The fabric you choose for your tie-dye shirts is incredibly essential. The best materials are natural fabrics that are hydrophilic, which means they absorb water and dye incredibly well.
Keep in mind, though, while experts recommend using 100 percent cotton, those could shrink a little bit.
Good fabrics for tie-dyeing
Fabrics you should avoid
- Synthetic Fabric
Beware of cotton blends
Most shirts on the market these days are not 100 percent cotton. You will find shirts that are a blend of cotton and one of those synthetic fabrics we told you to avoid.
Those fabrics are okay when there isn’t much of them in there.
All you have to do is pay attention to the percentages.
If that tag says something like, “90% cotton and 10% lycra,” that one is okay.
However, if you’re looking at something that’s more like a 50/50 split, you might want to select a different shirt.
Buying shirts in bulk
If the goal is to make as many shirts as possible, you’re going to want to buy them in bulk.
You probably know that when you’re buying something wholesale, the more you buy, the cheaper they get. For example, we found a spot that sells Gilden t-shirts, even some already prepared for dye, for $3 to $6 a piece.
Just remember to keep those fabric blend percentages in mind when you’re choosing the shirts you want to dye. As we said, we found some already prepared for dye, though those tend to be more expensive than the others.
Either way, you’re going to want to prepare your shirts in soda ash before you dye them.
Save money on shirts by preparing them for the dye yourself.
How To Tie Your Shirts
You shouldn’t talk about tie-dye shirts without talking about what to use to tie your fabric. You can use things like rubber bands and string.
However, since we are talking about taking things to the next level, let’s think outside the box.
You could also the following ties for added depth or thickness to your lines:
- Zip Ties
- Different Sizes Of Rubber Bands
- String In Different Widths
Let’s Talk About Dye
Probably the most important decision you’re going to make is what kind of dye you want to use. You are going to want to use something that’s bright and doesn’t wear off after a few washes — otherwise known as colorfast.
Most tie-dyeing projects, you will use the dye in a squirt bottle instead of submerging the entire shirt into a pot. However, mixing up the dye is the same whether you are going to dunk the fabric or not.
Since most tie-dyers use plastic squirt bottles, they prefer a dye that works without heat like Procion MX.
First up we have hands-down the most popular dye used by tie-dye artists right now: Procion MX. This type of dye is a fiber-reactive “cold-water” dye.
That’s not all:
Procion MX changes the very color of the fabric instead of just the color on the surface.
That process ensures that the resulting colors are the most permanent out of every type of dye out there right now. To make shirts out of this dye, in addition to the Procion MX, you will also need soda ash (baking soda) and salt. The process for using this type of dye isn’t all that complicated.
Typically, all it takes to dye one pound of dry fabric is 2/3 of an ounce of dye. Follow the instructions below:
- Dissolve dye in one pot (4 ounces of warm water with 2 to 8 teaspoons of dye, how much dye you need will be written on the jar)
- Make a pot of salt water separately using 1 cup of salt for each gallon of water
- Add 4 ounces of salt water to the dye mixture
- Dissolve 1 cup soda ash for 1 gallon of water soda ash in another pot (you may need a little heat to dissolve your salt and soda ash)
- Mix them together
- Put the wet fabric in the dye pot and let it soak for 6 minutes
- Add in soda ash solution to activate dye
The longer you leave your shirts in this type of dye, the deeper the color will become.
Keep in mind:
If you let the dye solution sit around for more than a couple of hours, it becomes deactivated and will only stain instead of dye.
You can purchase the Procion MX type of dye from Amazon.
You can save money on soda ash if you buy it from a pool supply store instead of your dye supplier.
Next, if you must use fabrics aside from cottons like nylon, acrylic, or wool, you may want to consider using an acid dye. This type of dye changes the color of the fabric through ionic interactions using negative charges.
You need extra science for those complicated fabrics.
You will find that working with an Acid dye is more complicated than using a Procion MX.
Instead of soda ash and salt, though, you need vinegar for this one.
As it turns out:
You also need heat.
Though, mixing it up and dyeing the fabric is the same as the other types of dyes, even though the ingredients are different. Learn how to do it in the video below:
While it’s more complicated than Procion MX, Acid dye also has a few more ways you can process the material. You can certainly use the stovetop, washing machine and a thicker version of the dye to paint with an Acid dye.
You can find Acid dye at Amazon.
For most tie-dyers, this type of dye is only preferable if you’re using fabrics that don’t like Procion MX.
Third, we can’t talk about dye without mentioning union dyes like Rit.
Please keep in mind that this type of dye is not nearly as colorfast as the other two. It’s also much more readily available, though (you can get it at the grocery store), and generally cheaper.
So, if you’re in a hurry, Rit might be for you.
Like the other dyes, you want to follow the instructions on the packet concerning measurements of each ingredient. For Union dyes, you will need heat, salt, and sometimes vinegar for fabrics like nylon, silk, or wool.
Check out the video below:
As you can see in the video, mixing the dye isn’t all that different from the other types.
Additionally, you can get this fixative from Rit that will help improve colorfastness.
Bleach And Other Methods To Tie-Dye Shirts
Of course, besides the main types of dye, there are a few other methods out there for creating brilliant tie-dye shirts.
Here are a few more ideas for you.
Reverse tie-dye using bleach
- Mix equal parts of water and bleach
- Get a colored shirt
- Tie it as you would with any other method
- Spray it or dunk it into a solution of bleach water
Choosing The Awesome Colors For Your Tie-Dye Shirts
The desired colors for most people that sport tie-dye shirts are, well, all of them.
However, as a tie-dye artist, it will benefit you greatly to understand color theory a little bit before you get started.
It goes like this:
There are primary colors and secondary colors.
When you’re using dye, the primary colors are:
- Lemon Yellow
You can then mix those primary colors to get secondary colors.
Secondary colors include things like:
To help you along at home, you can get one of these color wheels.
Using a wheel, you can determine not only which colors to mix to achieve your desired results, but also which colors complement each other to help your designs stand out.
How To Prepare Your Fabric For The Dye
Even brand new shirts come with oils and other things that could react poorly with the dye. So, as we mentioned previously, you will get the best results if you prepare the shirt first — it’s called scouring.
To do this, you will need some more of that soda ash we talked about as well as a little detergent and a pot for the stove large enough to fit your projects.
Another term for soda ash is washing soda.
Make sure that whatever detergent you choose is free from fabric softener or other added extras.
For each gallon of water in the pot, add two to three teaspoons of washing soda and one to two teaspoons of detergent.
Mix everything in the giant pan and add your fabric.
Even a few minutes in that bath is helpful.
However, for the best results allow the fabric to simmer for up to four hours. After it’s all done, you just rinse the cloth, squeeze out the excess water, and you can throw it right into the dye from there.
Learn The Basic Tie-Dye Patterns
Finally, let’s start to talk about how to create patterns on shirts using different methods to tie them up. We have designs for you that range from beginner to professional level.
There are thousands of different ways to create stunning tie-dye shirts. The whole idea is to show you these techniques so that you can add your own flair and style to them.
First, we have a familiar method called the swirl or the twirl. Follow the directions below:
- Lay the shirt flat
- Pinch the center between the armpits
- Swirl your hand to make the shirt roll on itself
- Add rubber bands to hold its shape (it should look like a pizza when you are finished)
Check it out in the video:
As you can see, she used the wedges created by the rubber bands as guides to where she put the dye. It’s entirely up to you, though.
Once you have it tied up, experiment with the dye in different areas to see what effects it has on the final product.
Second, let’s learn about stripes. For this technique, you can have the stripes go horizontal or vertical, it’s entirely up to you.
- You lay the shirt down flat
- Start on one side and fold it over and under like an accordion (Or, you can just gather it up randomly and scrunch it together if you want)
- Place your ties and down the shirt wherever you want them
Watch the video below to learn how:
You can certainly use your creativity and imagination to experiment with line thickness, color, and how you fold the fabric.
Finally, we round out this section with what might be the easiest technique so far: the crumple.
- Crumple the shirt
- You can dye it like that or put some ties on there if you want
- Experiment with color and add as many or as few as you want
Check out the video below:
Again, you can make this project your own depending on color selection and how you crumple the shirt itself. This is a great background pattern if you want to do this first then add something a little more detailed in a second run.
Let’s Take Things Up A Notch
In this next section, we will take things up a notch. For each technique, since they will be more complicated, we included a video to keep things as simple as possible.
First, we have a creepy sounding technique called the spider.
- Fold your shirt in half from side-to-side (one sleeve to another)
- Use the same disc method as you did for the twist
- Tie around the outside, or circumference, of the fabric
Watch the video below:
As you see in the video, you get the spider effect with a dark dye squirted carefully in some of the folds of fabric.
Once you learn this next guitar technique, you can use it to create tie-dye shirts with any shape you can come up with. For this one, there are a couple of different ways you can get this effect.
To do the method he used in the video you need the following:
Watch the video below:
There are also some written instructions, at Craftdrawer.com. For those instructions, you will need a needle and thread instead of the skewer.
- Sew a basting stitch through the line you drew with the washable marker
- Pull the ends of the strings, and it scrunches up like magic
Now that you know this particular technique, the only limit to the designs you can do this way is your own imagination.
Let’s Take Things All The Way
Once you master the following eye-popping designs, you’ll be well on your way to turning heads with your work.
Remember we learned that the art of tie-dyeing started in Japan in the eighth century. Back then, it was called Shibori.
Check out a few of the Shibori tying methods in the video below:
A lot of these tying patterns are incredibly intense.
However, with a little practice, we have no doubt you can start pumping out some tie-dye shirts using the Shibori technique that will have everyone bugging you saying, “where did you get that tie-dye, man?”
This technique is not quite tie-dye, but fits perfectly with tie-dye designs. Instead of using folds in the fabric for resistance, for batik, you will use wax. In the video, she uses beeswax.
You can get the wax as well as the tools at local craft stores or on Amazon or other crafty online retailers.
Check out how she does it in the video below:
Batik is an incredibly cost-effective way to make your designs stand out from everyone else’s.
You can even create layers and layers of color this way when you boil off one coat of wax and start over. There are additional written instructions at Dharma Trading Company that we love.
Finally, we will round out this guide with a design everyone loves on their tie-dye shirts: the starflower. In the video, you will see he uses a tapestry at first. However, he also shows you how to do a shirt at the end.
Check out the video below:
You can also use a similar technique to create one of those cool mandala designs, too. They have great instructions at eHow.com.
Now You Know, And It’s Time To Go Pro
Whether you’re selling these on a lot to get to the next show, giving them to your friends, or you have a steady booth during festival season, there’s always room for improvement.
Now that you know all those handy techniques, it’s time to take your craft to a whole other level. We know one thing for sure, we are looking forward to the next festival season and can’t wait to see what you have learned.