Tie and Dye a T-shirt

Tie-dye is a technique in which certain areas of fabric are bound or tied so as to resist color when the material is immersed in a dyebath. While the craft has been practiced in nearly every part of the world for hundreds of years, it probably began in ancient Asia and spread to Africa.

Many Americans who served in the Peace Corps in Africa during the 1960s learned tie-dye designs from the native people, and when the corpsmen returned to the United States, they taught the craft to others. Tie-dye became very popular with young people who enjoyed using the method to create one-of-a-kind shirts, pants, and other wearing apparel.

Since each design is always different and one can't predict the end result with certainty, the surprise is part of the fun. Tie-dyeing is a great way to give new life to an old or stained t-shirt, and recycling a few shirts this way will give you a head start on building your back-to-school wardrobe.

You will need:

How to:

Tie-dye patterns are determined by the kinds of ties used and the way in which they're placed on the fabric. When creating with this technique, it's important to wrap rubber bands and tie cords tightly around the material to prevent the dye from seeping. Some of the tie-dye patterns possible include the following:

StripesClick to enlarge image

Overall Patterns

Click to enlarge image Click to enlarge image Click to enlarge image

Circular Patterns

Click to enlarge image Click image to enlarge

There are many other design possibilities. Try combining patterns by overdyeing or tie-dyeing another pattern on top of an overall design. For variety, tie in objects such as stones, washers, nuts, and anything else that will resist dye and create a design. Some people even sew running stitches into the fabric, then bunch it up by pulling on the thread.

While you're tying the shirt, have an adult mix the dye according to the manufacturer's directions. After the shirt is tied, soak the fabric in lukewarm water for three to five minutes. Remove the shirt, and let the excess water drip from the garment. Have the adult place it in the simmering dyebath, and stir the material to ensure complete coverage. Leave the shirt in the bath fifteen to twenty minutes, then remove and rinse till the water runs clear. Cut the cords or remove the rubber bands, and lay the shirt on wax paper to dry. While the garment is slightly damp, iron it to set the color. To care for the shirt, wash it separately, until you're sure the excess dye has been removed.

Tips and Tricks:

All natural fibers, such as 100% cotton, work best, but a combination of cotton and polyester can be used successfully. Use the method to recycle other items of clothing, men's handkerchiefs, or pillow cases. Tie dye an old sheet, and then use the fabric as you would conventional yardage to make clothing or other items.

Experiment with a variety of tie cords. The width of the cord will determine the size of the area that will resist the dye. Other than the rubber bands suggested here, try using fishing line, twine, elastic, dental floss, wire, and plastic wrap.

Unless specified otherwise by the dye manufacturer, best results will be obtained by using water which has been heated to about 140 degrees Fahrenheit. For safety reasons, have an adult heat the water, make the dyebath, and dye the shirt for you. Use rubber gloves to protect hands from staining.

Tie and dye your shirt using two or more colors, working from the lightest color to the darkest. Starting with a white or light-colored shirt, tie the garment, rinse it, and dye it as previously instructed. Rinse till the water runs clear. Leave the cords or rubberbands on, and tie new areas. Immerse the shirt in the next dye bath, and rinse again. Continue these steps till you've used all the colors, and then remove the ties and bands.

For small items, reuse an old, ceramic electric crock pot as a dyeing vessel. However, don't use for cooking again after dyeing material, and always have an adult supervise when using the appliance.

Remember, reusing helps save landfill space and natural resources, so donate your outgrown clothing to charities, such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army. They'll see that people in need receive the items.

You can learn many more fun and interesting ways to design t-shirts by visiting the Rit Dye site.

Tie and dye designs in blue are by three of my students, Eric, Jennifer, and Max.

© 1997 Marilyn J. Brackney (updated 2018)

Volume 8 No. 1

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