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Working With Tie-Dye

Working With Tie-Dye main article image
Posted on May 7, 2021 by Sara Douglas

Tie-dye is one of those at home crafts that is incredibly easy to get started, incredibly easy to fall in love with, and still manages to keep you on your toes!! You’ll wish you brought home a whole extra case of shirts to try ideas on!

Tie-Dye Kit: You can buy tie-dyes in many different premade kits, those are great because they generally include everything you need to get started, apart from the actual fabric you’ll be dying. You’ll want to double check what comes in yours, if you go that route, just in case you’re missing anything important (And, as always, be sure to always carefully read through and follow the instructions included with the package) :


*Rubber Bands: you can also use kite string instead

*Powdered Dye: many come premeasured in super convenient squeeze bottles that only require you to fill them with water and shake. Be sure to completely mix the dye powders before you apply them to your projects. Unmixed dye can leave harsh speckles of concentrated powder behind on the fabric.

*Soda Ash

*Squeeze Bottles: if your dye doesn’t come premeasured you’ll want to grab some of these, they make applying your colors almost effortless. They’re available almost anywhere kitchen supplies are sold, including dollar stores.

Items to be Dyed: I used a 60/40 cotton/poly blend fabric (66in by 96in) for the Rainbow Heart Tie-Dye Wall Hanging, 100% cotton t shirts using with different design styles while testing the 2 minute tie-dye kit, and a cotton blend apron for the Cotton Candy Colored big spiral apron

Plastic Table Cloth: Used to protect your work area. Newspapers and spread out garbage bags also work.

Plastic Bins: I use an 18 qt bin for pretreating with soda ash. Also, I have a few bins in various sizes that I use to hold my projects while I’m applying the tie-dye colors, they help cut down on the mess and make it much easier to deal with If I have to move a dye covered object unexpectedly.

Washable Markers: These are used to draw on your projects so you have a temporary guide you can follow when designing projects like the Rainbow Heart Wall Hanging, and the Pink and Purple Butterfly Cold-Shoulder Top. Don’t make the mistake of thinking a sharpie will work in a pinch. Any brand of inexpensive washable markers should be easy to find, and they’re available at pretty much any dollar store

A Fork: One of the best ways to achieve the perfect tie-dye spiral.  Depending on what material you’re using and on what surface you’re working, you may find that using a wooden dowel or even just your fingers work better for you. As with all things when you’re making tie-dye, experimentation is the name of the game!

Large Ziplock Bags: Or any type of plastic bags or wrap. Plastic will help keep the moisture inside your project so that the dyes don’t dry out before they’ve had the chance to cure.

Two-Minute Tie-Dye Containers: If waiting 6-24 hours to reveal your masterpiece doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time than I thoroughly suggest trying these fun little plastic boxes. They only work on items that are 100% cotton, and the whole process needs to be overseen by a (very) responsible adult to make sure no one accidentally loads any containers into your microwave that contain even a little dry cotton inside. Any dry spots can easily result in burns to your garment, or worse start an actual fire inside your home. Thankfully, as long as you follow their directions it’s fast, fun, and super easy to use. I’ll definitely be getting these containers again very soon!

Please be sure to read through the instructions completely before you begin

The best materials for dying are 100% Cotton and other natural fibers, Cotton blends work as well but the results you’ll get won’t be as vibrant. No matter which fabric you choose to work with, you’ll get the most beautiful results by properly preparing it before you apply your dyes. If you are using brand new material you’ll want to wash it first using just a small amount of detergent and nothing else (such as fabric softener) If you’re looking for pastel shades, skip this step and proceed to preparing your soda ash.

While the washing machine is working use the time to fill your plastic basin with warm water. Follow the package directions and be sure to wear gloves while you’re using soda ash (It can cause some skin irritation). Stir the powder into the warm water and continue mixing until all of it is dissolved. Once you no longer see any, set the bin aside to cool off until the wash is done. When the final spin is finished place the still damp fabric in the plastic bin and completely submerge it. Allow at least 20 minutes for your fabric to soak. This step is incredibly important because soda ash allows the dye to create a strong bond with the fibers. Room temperature dyes like the ones we’ll be using won’t be able to achieve their full strength without it. Remove the fabric from the plastic bin and use a partner or your washing machines spin cycle to wring out as much moisture as possible without actually drying it (or rinsing it either). The key when making designs with sharp outlines is to work with your fabric when it is only just barely damp, with no drips or dry spots anywhere. The fibers accept the dye better when they’re wet, but too much will thin them out and cause your designs to bleed together and can cause your colors to get muddy. If you’re working on more than one tie-dye design at a time (such as multiple shirts) you can help keep everything from drying out too much by wrapping the ones you still need to work with in plastic or a Ziplock.

Remember to always protect your work areas, as well as your clothes and skin.  Don’t be afraid to set up on the floor or outside if you don’t have sufficient space to lay out your material. Tie Dying is messy business and its best done somewhere that can be easily wiped down or rinsed away.  Place your plastic tablecloth down and be sure to secure the corners, especially If you’re making a very large project (such as this Rainbow Tie-Dye Wall Hanging). You don’t want the tablecloth slipping and sliding under the damp material while you’re trying to focus on making even sized accordion folds over and over again. You’ll want to prepare your dye just shortly before you’re ready to use it, so if you’re not already wearing gloves, you’ll want to put them back on now. Be sure to carefully follow your packaged dyes instructions for mixing the different colors. Most brands have a shelf life of 24 to 72 hours to use the dyes once they’ve been mixed with water, after that they become somewhat unpredictable. You should consider the number of objects you’ll be dying. If you think you’ll only be using a small amount of any of the colors you might want to store a portion of the powder aside to use at a later date instead of activating the entire squeeze bottle all at once.

Take your large piece of (Still just slightly damp) fabric and fold it one time, exactly in half. Lay the folded piece of fabric down, with the fold on the left hand side of your work area. To create our heart shape, we’ll be working right on the fold line so make sure you have it straight up and down and be sure both the top and bottom layers are very smooth and even all over. If you plan to create a template to trace, take your choice of paper and fold it exactly in half. Draw half of a heart right on the papers fold line. Be sure to make it large enough to fit the space you’re planning on placing it in (As in the size you would make for a large wall hanging will be much larger than one needed for a child’s t-shirt). Use your scissors to follow the half heart shape while slicing through both layers together. Start at the fold line and keep the paper folded in half while you cut. Set aside the excess paper and unfold your heart to double check that it looks symmetrical. When you’re pleased with the look of your template fold it back in half and place it at the folded edge of the fabric.  Use one hand to stabilize the paper shape while you trace the half heart using your washable marker with the other.  Don’t worry if the line bleeds a little after you draw it, just fill back any spaces with your marker so you can still follow it.  Start at the bottom point of the heart and begin making accordion folds along the line and working your way up towards the top of the shape. Keep the small pleats of fabric very even and as neat as you can as you go. The goal is to fold the half heart outline into a straight line, being sure to keep the small folds tight. Once you have the entire shape pleated use a couple rubber bands to secure the folded heart area of the fabric, you should be able to wrap a rubber band almost straight across the line made by the washable marker. Add another band every few inches until you have the entire length secured.The rounded section at the very front of the bound fabric until the pleated line is where you’ll apply the dye to create your heart shape. Use your squeeze bottle to

completely saturate that tip section until you reach the bands that mark where the edges of the heart should be. Continue to dye the different sections of the bound-up fabric shape until you’re happy with your design, then carefully roll the fabric over and add the same colors to the back side of the shape. Wrap it in plastic to contain the moisture and let it sit and then rinse and wash it according to the instructions included with your dyes.

You can create tie-dye with many different symmetrical shapes (Such as butterflies or a large 5 point star) by creating a template of half of your desired design like the one used to make the Rainbow Heart Wall Hanging and then following the same instructions by drawing the shape on the fabric (with washable markers) at the folded center. Then following the rest of the instructions on how to accordion fold the fabric following the line you drew, and continuing all the way through the dying process. I used this process to test out the Two-Minute Tie-Dye Containers for the first time and made myself a 100% cotton Butterfly Top… I’m already a pretty big fan of not having to wait 6 or more hours anymore with these things! Also, please be careful touching the plastic after its been in the microwave. It becomes fairly soft at first, and it needs a few minutes alone in the microwave, but after that its no problem to handle or move. I absolutely love the results and I’m already excited to try another one.

This design is one that almost everyone wants to attempt at least once, and it’s easy to see why! Lay flat the (still just slightly damp) item to be dyed on your work surface in front of you. Decide where you’d like the center point of your spiral to start and using the spiral tool that works best for you, either pinch a small piece of fabric into a small fold, and place the two center tines of your fork on either side of it. (or using your fingers to pinch and hold the small fold) Start twirling the fork, twisting up the item, in this case an apron, until you’ve got it twisted completely up into a tight disk shape. Use your rubber bands to secure it, first slipping one all the way around the middle of the disk of fabric, then slide another band around it from the other side, creating an x shape across the top. Add a few more bands around the disk until the whole shape has been divided into slices similar to a pizza. You’ll use the sections created by the stretched across bands as guide lines, they’ll help you created a fool proof spiral every time. Straighten out any bands that don’t intersect the others directly in the center before you start dying, that will help keep the spiral shape even as it twists outward. When you apply your colors remember not to place complementary colors too close together, they are the colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel, instead of blending together and creating another beautiful color, when complementary colors mix, they cancel each other out and the result is different shades of grey.  You can google a color wheel to use as a cheat sheet if you’re ever unsure. Once you have the first side completely saturated with dye, carefully flip the disk over and apply dye in the same pattern as you did on the top. Once you’ve finished dying, take the whole thing and cover it in plastic to contain the moisture Follow the instructions included with your particular brand to know how long you should let it cure and for directions on rinsing and washing your project.

Did you make a piece along with me? Let me know your favorite parts, show me in the comments here or at my page, (1) SaraLux | Facebook. I love seeing everyone’s unique creations, and as always, happy crafting!   

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