How to Tie-dye


When I am not changing diapers or handing out snacks, or teaching reading or math to my little ones, I like to tie dye.  And then I take said tie dye garments to craft shows and markets, and sell them. Tie dyeing can be a fun activity for anyone to do…whether you feel like creating a shirt for yourself, or you want to incorporate it into a homeschool or birthday party craft.  Today I am going to tell you how I tie dye.

How to Tie Dye:

The first thing you want to do is find something to tie dye.  Go to the thrift store, or your local clothing store, or check your closet.  You want to make sure it is cotton.  100% cotton is the best, but as long as it is around 90% cotton, you will most likely be happy with your results.  Not all material will take dyes, so this part is really important.

Once you pick out your item, you want to wash and dry it.  This is especially important if it is new, as you want to make sure it won’t shrink after you dye it.

Next, you want to soak it in soda ash. Without the soda ash, your dye will not adhere properly to your clothing.  Depending on the dye you use, this step may be included in the actual dyes.  Just follow the instructions on your kit.  I use commercial procion mx dyes that I order from Maiwa. If you are based in the US, the most popular store for commercial type dyes is Dharma Trading. These dyes create brighter and longer lasting tie dyes, and these do not include the soda ash in the dyes, so you need to do that as a separate step.  But the kits you buy in Walmart or Michael’s can be a great alternative if you just want to do a few for fun, and many of those kits have the soda ash right in the dye mix.  If it isn’t included in the dye kit you purchased, you can purchase this online, or in pool stores.  However, instead of soda ash, you can actually use washing soda, which I am told is basically the same thing.  That’s what I use because I can find it in my local Home Hardware, or No Frills.  You will find it in the laundry aisle if the store sells it.  Surprisingly, I could not find it in Walmart.

I use about a cup of washing soda to a litre of warm water.

Also, this is personal preference, but I like to “tie” my clothing before I soak it.  Some people tie it up with elastics before the soak, some after.  The reason I started doing it before it was wet was basically convenience with my kids needing me constantly. 🙂  I just found it easier to tie it up while it was dry instead of working with a bunch of wet clothing on my floor.  There are so many different techniques out there.  The most common one is the spiral.  Very easy to do.  Just lay your shirt (or whatever you are dyeing) on the floor, grab the middle of the shirt, and twist in a spiral until it looks like a nice, round cake. Then secure it with a few elastics.  Here is a link to a youtube video on the basic spiral.  Because I soak the clothing after I fold it, I don’t spray it with water.  In the video they are also doing tub dyeing, which I have no experience with, so I can’t help you there! 🙂  I prefer squirt bottles.  But if you want to see how to have a visual to see how to fold the spiral, click here.

You can literally put the elastics anywhere and do any design though.  That’s the beauty of tie dye. 😉

Most kits will tell you to soak the garment in the soda ash for about 20-30 minutes.  I actually soak mine overnight if I have the time.  This helps the dye come out brighter.

Once you are done soaking your clothing, put it in the washing machine on the spin cycle to get the excess water out of it.  DO NOT RINSE IT!!! This is really, really important.  If you rinse out the soda ash, your tie dye will not turn out.  Make sure you only have your washing machine spinning the clothing, not adding water.

You can actually tie dye the clothing wet or dry.  I prefer wet because I feel the dye goes farther.  I’ve heard that dyeing dry often gives crisper lines and more definition.  Again, personal preference.  I do feel that more people prefer to dye their clothing damp.  You want it to be damp, and not soaked.

Make sure your dye area is set up.  I put a cooling rack over a bin or bucket and dye it on there.  If it is warm enough outside, I do my dyeing outside to minimize spillage. 😉  I’ve accidentally dyed a lot of things in my house…clothes, the floor, sinks, etc….

Don’t forget to put your gloves on!  This is one of those, “do as I say, not as I do” moments.  I have had strange looks so many times while out only to look down at my hands and realize I look like a smurf.  Or a blueberry.  Or like I am seriously suffering from jaundice.  Plus, it just isn’t good for you, and people have developed allergies from handling too much dye with their barehands.  So, please, wear the gloves. 😉  Also, if you are mixing powdered dyes it is recommended you wear a mask too.  Once they are mixed they are fine, but the powder is toxic.

Make sure your dye is mixed according to the instructions on the package.  And then, just squeeze the dye onto the clothing any way you want!  There is no wrong way to do this!  However, it is a good idea to keep the colour wheel in mind, because sometimes colours that are placed next to eachother will give a muddy look.  Using the colour wheel helps you figure out what colours interact well with eachother.

This is the classic spiral

Once you feel satisfied with how much dye you have squirted on (and, really pour that dye on there….more is usually better….) let it sit on the rack for about 10 minutes or so to drip a bit.  Then, get a plastic bag, and carefully place the clothing into the bag.  Tie the bag up so it is sealed, and let it sit and “cure” for 24 hours.

Try to think about anything else for those 24 hours.  If you are like me, you will try and decide if you can get away with less than 24 hours.  When you start thinking like that, go clean your bathroom or something. Dye your hair.  Organize your underwear drawer.  Distract yourself.  Trust me, it will be worth the wait.

After 24 hours, the moment you have waited for has come!  Run your clothing under cold water to rinse it out while you take the elastics off.  When I was learning to tie dye, I read countless articles about rinsing it until the water runs clear.  Well, i tried…but then my hands got cold…and I got impatient.  So I basically let it rinse for a bit, then throw it in the washing machine.  I wash my batches of tie dye for 2-3 washes.  1 or 2 cold water cycles, and a hot water cycle.  The darker the colours, the more I wash it.  Also, I use commercial dyes.  If I was using the non-commercial kits, I may not wash it as many times.  But when I started tie dyeing I didn’t wash them enough times and I turned a customer’s son into the colour mauve.  True story. I figured it probably was not good for business if you start dyeing your customers’ skin.  So, wash your tie dye!

After the wash, throw it in the dryer or hang it on the line….however you would normally dry it.

And there you have it!  You have just created your own little piece of art that you can wear anywhere!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *