how to tie dye a shirt

How to Tie-Dye a Shirt

Any self-respecting hippie will tell you that buying a pre-made tie-dye t-shirt at a corporate store is just as bad—if not worse—than missing out on tickets when the Grateful Dead come to town. It’s the ultimate counter-culture sin. Creating the perfect tie-dye t-shirt requires a little bit of time, patience, and channeling your inner creativity to create a design that’s reflective of who you are as a person. Tie-dye shirts are a reflection of one’s own inner self and an expression of your individuality. Here’s how you create the perfect tie-dye t-shirt:

T-Shirt Selection

Before you begin, you’ll need to select the right type of t-shirt to ensure everything will look perfect. Other kinds of shirts might not work as well. As you might expect, a white t-shirt is the best color to choose. Any other color and your groovy design won’t show up at all. The material your shirt is made out of is also very important. This is why you should select a shirt that’s made out of 100% cotton as it will allow for maximum color absorption. If you try to use a t-shirt that’s made out of any other material other than 100% cotton, there’s a good chance the dye won’t stick, or the color will fade very quickly. Keep in mind that the dying process is permanent and irreversible. So, choose a shirt that you won’t regret dying later down the road. If this is your first time tie-dying a shirt, you might want to have a few t-shirts on hand, in case the first attempt doesn’t go as expected.

Things You’ll Need to Tie-Dye

Before you begin, there are a few things that you’ll need to help ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible:
  • Paper towels (at least two rolls to be on the safe side)
  • Plastic or rubber gloves
  • Rubber bands
  • Coins, strings, marbles or other small trinkets
  • Sealable plastic bags (1 gal freezer bags work great)
  • Table
  • Plastic sheets, a tarp, or large garbage bags (30 gals)
  • A plastic bucket for every color that you’ll use
  • Fabric tie-dye color kit
  • Soapy water (dish soap with no dyes or detergents works best)
  • Squirt bottle
  • Cotton t-shirt
  • Soda ash (this fixes the dye)
While you can do the tie-dye process indoors, it’s better if you find a garage or backyard. You’re working with liquids and dyes, and accidents sometimes happen. It’s better to spill a permanent bright green color on the floor of your garage than it is your living room carpet.

Step-By-Step Process for Tie-Dying A Shirt

#1. Clean The Shirt

Before you begin, wash your shirt in hot water. It will help remove any dirt, chemicals, or oils that could potentially prevent the dye from adhering to the shirt. This holds especially true if the shirt you’re using isn’t new.

#2. Setup the Dying Area

After you’ve washed and thoroughly dried the shirt, it’s now time to set up the area where you’ll be performing the dying process. Take the tarps or sheets of plastic and cover the ground area where you’ll be working. If you don’t have tarps, take a few 30gallon black plastic trash bags and cut them open so that you can lay them out flat on the ground. Now’s the time to change into some dirty or old clothes as things can get a bit messy from here on out. You’re working with permanent dye colors, and there is a good chance some splashback will occur and get on the clothes that you’re wearing. The colors won’t wash out. You can find a cheap smock at Walmart that will help keep splashback to a minimum. Have a bucket of soapy water and roll of paper towels nearby in case you need to wash your hands. It will help you quickly clean up any errant dye before it permanently stains the area.

#3. Decide on the Tie-Dye Technique/Pattern You Would Like

There are several tie-dye techniques that you can choose from. Each will create its own unique patterns and shapes. You’ll be using the rubber bands, coins, string, marbles, or any other unique trinkets to create a unique design. Before you begin, select one of the below three patterns: Bullseye Pattern – Pinch the area of the shirt where you want the center of the bullseye to be located and pull up. Take a rubber band and place it about three to four inches beneath the area that you’re pinching. Take another rubber band and add it a few inches beneath. Continue placing rubber bands until you reach the end of the shirt. The goal here is to make the shirt into the shape of a long tube. Add a different ink color to each section. Crumple Pattern – Start from the bottom of the shirt and scrunch up the fabric in a random pattern. Try to keep the overall shape flat and not balled up as the ink won’t be able to reach the inner parts. Use one ink color on one side of the shirt and then turn it over and use another color on the other side. Spiral Pattern – Twist the shirt in the middle until you have a spiral shape. The place four to five rubber bands so that there are six to eight equal pie shapes. Use a different ink color for each shape. Flip the shirt over and add the same color to each shape.

#4. Soak the Shirt in Soda Ash Mixture

Now it’s time to begin preparation for the dying process. Put on your rubber or latex gloves and soak the tied-up t-shirt in a mixture of water and soda ash for around 20 minutes prior to adding the colors. The soda ash box will have exact instructions on the correct ratio to use. It’s normally ½ cup of soda ash for every gallon of water. While the shirt is soaking in the water and soda ash mixture, start preparing the dyes. Mix them together in separate buckets and prepare them according to the instructions on the box.

#5. Begin Dying the Shirt

This is where your shirt starts to come alive. Dunk sections of your shirt in the different dye buckets. Try to avoid mixing the dye colors together as it will come out looking a brownish color. You can also use a spray bottle to apply the dye to individual sections of the shirt. If you’re looking for a shirt that has a lot of white space to it, try to avoid having the dye drip deep into the cervices when you’re tying it up. The same principle goes for a shirt where you want very little white space. Try to avoid mixing colors too much as it will eventually turn a brownish color.

#6. Finish the Process and Let Dry

Once you’re done with your masterpiece, let the remaining dye drip off of the fabric. Under no circumstances should you unwrap your shirt at this stage of the process. Keep it wrapped up and let it sit for around 8-12 hours to allow the dye to take hold and dry thoroughly. If you open it up, you risk ruining the shirt completely.

#7. Unwrap Your Masterpiece

Once the shirt is completely dried, take it to the sink and run it under warm water while you unwrap it. Behold! Your shirt is now tie-dyed.

How to Wash Your Tie-Dyed Shirts

It’s very important to know how to wash it to ensure that the colors don’t fade or ruin your other clothes. The best way to wash your new tie-dye shirt is to put it into the washing machine and use hot water with a tiny bit of soap. It would be best if you washed the shirt by itself for the first time. There’s a chance some of the colors might come off and ruin anything else in the washing machine. After you’ve washed the t-shirt a couple of times, it should be color-safe enough to wash with other colored clothes.
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