How to Make Tie-Dye Clothes and Crafts

illustration of step-by-step instructions on how to tie dye T-shirts

The Spruce / Theresa Chiechi

Overview
  • Working Time: 60 mins
  • Skill Level: Kid-friendly
  • Estimated Cost: $15

Tie-dye is a technique of coloring fabric that involves folding, twisting, and scrunching the fabric and then tying it tightly with string or rubber bands. Then, you dip the fabric in dye. The areas that are twisted and tied will receive little to no dye. Once you remove the ties, you will find unique patterns on the fabric based on the way it was manipulated and bound.

Tie-dyeing is a quick and easy project, and it's even great for kids. However, it can be messy, so you should wear protective clothing and cover your work space with newspapers or other items for easy cleanup. You can tie-dye a wide variety of items, including articles of clothing, sheets and pillowcases, curtains, and more. Tie-dyed items can even make excellent customized gifts.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Apron/old clothes that you don’t mind accidentally getting dye on
  • Rubber gloves
  • Large pot or bucket (one per dye color) and/or squeeze bottles

Materials

  • Item to dye that's at least 60% cotton
  • Dye enhancer, such as soda ash or sodium carbonate (optional)
  • Fabric dye (in one or more colors of your choice)
  • Rubber bands or string
  • Plastic bag/plastic wrap

Instructions

  1. Prepare Your Item and Work Space

    Before you dye your item, you should wash it to ensure that the fabric is clean for best dye adherence. Then, if you wish, treat the item with a dye enhancer following manufacturer's instructions.

    Cover the area where you will be tie-dyeing, so splashes of dye don't accidentally stain anything. Put on your protective clothes.

  2. Prepare the Dye

    Prepare your dye as directed by the manufacturer. You can either mix dye directly in a large pot or bucket, or you can mix it in a plastic squeeze bottle for more targeted dye application. The instructions on your dye will typically state which method is best.

  3. Tie Your Item

    Now it's time to twist and tie your item. You can choose to tie parts of the fabric in an irregular manner or aim to form a specific pattern.

    For instance, to make a spiral pattern with the dye, lay out your fabric completely flat and find its center. Then, using a fork or your fingers, grab the center and swirl it until the fabric is rolled in a circular shape. Use your rubber bands or string to secure the fabric in this shape. The ties should meet in the middle of the fabric, forming an asterisk.

  4. Start Dyeing

    Now your item is ready for the dye. Either dip it in your dye container or apply the dye from the squeeze bottle. Aim to fully cover the fabric in dye.

    If you are using multiple colors, it's usually best to start with the lightest one. Check your manufacturer instructions for how to proceed to the next color; you might have to rinse the fabric or pause for a period of drying time.

  5. Wait and Rinse

    Follow manufacturer instructions for how you should allow the dye to set on your item. In many cases, you will have to wrap the item in a plastic bag or plastic wrap for several hours.

    Then, remove the ties from the fabric. Rinse it in warm water that you gradually turn to cool water. Stop rinsing once the water runs clear and you no longer see dye coming off any part of the fabric. Finally, hang your item to dry. Be aware it might still drip some dye, so protect the surface under where it's hanging.

    Tip

    Tie-dyed items should typically be washed in cold water. The first few times they are washed they might bleed, so wash them with like colors or alone. The exact care instructions will vary depending on which brand of dye you use.