Although it can be tempting to splurge on new clothes, repurposing the ones you already have can be just as thrilling. Whether your aim is to breathe life into some old garments or embark on a hands-on art lesson with the kids, tie-dying clothing is our go-to activity this summer.
Gone are the days of the 1970s-inspired classic that resembles a rainbow swirl — in 2020, we see it as a modern and fashion-forward trend that helps revamp socks, shirts, hoodies and shirts with a pop of color or an eye-catching graphic. Nowadays, tie-dye has been transformed by acid washes and unexpected patterns.
If you find yourself stuck at home with garments that need an update or are purchasing new clothes to play with your artistic side, check out our favorite tutorials, tips, and kits below that we compiled to help you add that pigment perfectly.
In this guide on how to tie-dye shirts, we’re going to further explore:
- How to tie-dye, and everything you need
- Choosing the best dyes and kits
- Different tie-dye techniques you need to know, step-by-step
- Alternatives to store-bought dyes
How to tie-dye, and everything you need
What you need:
- Rubber Gloves – Keeps dye off your hands.
- Apron – Protect your outfit in this messy process.
- Dye – Can be a pre-made liquid or powder, or made of DIY ingredients.
- Plastic squeeze bottles – To administer dye without immersion.
- Ziploc bags – Soak your garment overnight and retain moisture.
- Wooden spoon – Disposable is best, as these will be used to stir fabrics in the dye.
- Salt – Used for dye fixative.
- Vinegar – Used for dye fixative.
- Buckets – Used to hold the dye that you’re dipping articles of clothing in.
- Tarp – Keep counters and other surfaces protected.
- White shirts or garment of choice – Stick to cotton or other natural fibers for best results, as mixed blends don’t stain well.
- Rubber bands – Used to tie the fabric for patterns.
Prep: Get your workspace ready. This is the first step, as the activity is going to involve some amount of mess. Lay your tarp on the surfaces you’ll be working on, and make sure your garments are pre-washed if they’re new, which will enhance dye absorption.
Step 1: Prep your dye. This will vary based on different recipes, and a tie-dye kit might come with specific instructions.
Step 2: Soak your garment in water and rubber band it into different sections, based on the techniques that we’ve based on below.
Step 3: Dye your garment, either immersing it in dye or using squeeze bottles. Soak it as much as possible on both sides, whether using a single color or multiple shades, applied in the sections divided by rubber bands.
Step 4: Based on the method you choose, let your shirt soak overnight (or a minimum of six hours) in a ziplock bag so it can hold onto moisture.
Step 5: Once your items have sat and soaked for several hours, it’s ready for aftercare. Create a dye fixative by mixing a gallon of clean water with 1/4 cup table salt and 1/4 cup vinegar, both of which lock color in. Preserve color further by rinsing them in ice water, and remember to air dry. When it’s laundry time, wash alone so the dye doesn’t bleed onto other clothes.
Choosing the best dyes and kits
Not everyone has the time to compile the multiple ingredients required for a color recipe. There’s no shame in going with a pre-packaged tie-dye kit. Here are the top-ranked kits that we suggest if you want to learn how to tie-dye shirts and clothing.
1. Jacquard Tie-Dye Kit
BEST OVERALL KIT
This kit has pigments that hold up well, and the ability to dye up to 15 shirts for adults. It comes with pre-measured dye, gloves, bands, squirt bottles and a dye fixer made of soda ash. It also comes with a tutorial DVD that’s helpful if you get confused with written instructions.
2. Vanstek Tie-Dye DIY Kit
BEST ALL-INCLUSIVE KIT
These non-toxic colors might not be the cheapest, but if quality and variety are what you’re looking for, Vanstek’s DIY kit is a smart choice. It includes 24 highly concentrated colors in squeeze bottles, along with plentiful rubber bands, plastic gloves, covers for your surfaces, and instructional guide.
3. ROYI DIY Tie Dye Kits
BEST KIT FOR PARTIES
Whether you’re hosting a kid’s birthday party or just hanging with friends and tackling a nostalgic DIY project, this beginner-friendly kit is perfect for groups of up to six people. Simply add water to the powder and watch the magic happen.
4. Tulip Two-Minute Tie-Dye Kit
BEST TIME-SAVING KIT
If you’re looking to do have a blast without investing too much time, consider the Tulip One-Step tie-dye kit, which speeds up the process from hours to minutes, and still ensures a vibrant result. This easy-to-use kit can only be used for 100% cotton fabrics.
Different tie-dye techniques you need to know, step-by-step
There are tons of different dye options out there, and they each give you a distinct result and style. The way in which you tie your material ultimately creates the pattern of the dye, so don’t be afraid to get creative. That being said, if your imagination is having some difficulty getting started, we’ve compiled a range of different techniques that each provide their own unique look.
Pro tip: to achieve a monochrome look, dilute the dye with some water before applying. This, when contrasting with the concentrated formula, will create lighter and darker sections of the same color.
Dip-dyed – This aesthetic can look very expensive when done with the right hues. Pour hot water into a container and add two tablespoons of salt. Then, pour in the dye, let it sit, and stir carefully. Now, mark your fabric with a safety pin where you want the dye to go up to, and immerse it into the dye slowly. For an ombre effect, immerse your garment and quickly remove half of it, so that the bottom half is left soaking and creates a darkened effect.
Shibori – For this method, you’ll need some type of tube. Non-absorbant is better, but a paper roll will work as well. Roll the shirt around the tube, and scrunch both ends of the rolled shape towards the center, securing ends with rubber bands and throughout the tube. Apply dye with your squeeze bottle as you rotate the tube, and let it set overnight in a plastic bag.
Marbled – You’ll need to add marbles to your color recipe for this technique. Push a marble beneath your fabric, and then fold the fabric over it. Twist your garment a bit so that the marble is encased, tying the folds up with rubber bands afterward. Repeat with multiple marbles, leaving space in between. Don’t want to buy a bunch of marbels? Try this cool shaving cream tutorial instead.
Crumpled – The scrunched up aesthetic is a versatile one that we’ve seen in menswear and denim jackets. First, crumple up your fabric, and wrap rubber bands around it so all the folds are randomly tied up. If you want to add multiple colors, use a squeeze bottle to randomly apply color. Otherwise, immerse your fabric in a single dye.
Spiral – Sometimes, you just want to stick to a traditional look. To make a spiral, pull your shirt from the center, twisting in one direction until you have a tightly knotted circle. Secure with rubber bands, creating as many sections as you want for different colors.
Striped – For a new take on strips, fold sleeves, or the sides of the fabric inward. Pinch it, and keep folding the shirt over. Keep the material in place by placing rubber bands on the ends. Finally, keep placing bands down the tubelike silhouette.
Alternatives to store-bought dyes
Although are lots of non-toxic dye options for purchase on the market, some of which can be made with food coloring, or using the natural color from vegetables. There are some that have vegetable dye and natural, but they might not provide as bright of a color.
If kits and food coloring are too artificial for your taste, utilize the natural method by boiling foods and spices that are already sitting in your pantry. For a golden hue, boil turmeric powder. Onions, coffee, cabbage and avocado pits are also fantastic options to create earthy and natural tones that look more adult-friendly and sophisticated.
Bleach is also useful if you want to create an acid-washed look in a short amount of time, and it only needs to be mixed with water. This process takes a fraction of the time for the dyed effect to occur (around 10 minutes) but be sure to open the windows to air things out. Consider this method with an old band tee to add a little more edge.