Dying for Tie-Dye

Feel like putting a little free spirit in your summer? Get on your oldest clothes, grab some buckets and rubber gloves, and head for the backyard to create beautiful tie-dye crafts.

You can use natural or artificial dyes, depending on whether you want your design to be a real eye-popper or something subtler that bespeaks being at one with nature. You can use a tie-dye kit or collect wild things from nature for earthier tones. Heck, even unsweetened Kool-Aid can be used as a dye to produce vivid color.

The idea behind this craft is simple. If you place objects (tied string, tightened rubber bands, coins, or what have you) tightly against the fabric, they will resist dye and can be used to make a pattern. Start with a light colored shirt, twist the fabric if you like a crinkled look, and wrap rubber bands tightly around the fabric. The easiest way is to make a simple two-tone shirt, but as you get more comfortable, you'll want to experiment with dyeing in multiple colors.

As you might expect, dark colors will cover up light ones, so work from lightest to darkest, and add bands around colors you want to keep as you progress. Depending on the dye you use, you may need to first pretreat the fabric or wash it with a fixative to keep the color strong for a long while. Check the directions on the dye packet for more information about prewashing and fixatives.

Believe it or not, American hippies did not invent tie-dye in the 1960s. It's an old, old craft that's used in one form or another around the world. The Shipibo and Yine tribes of the Peruvian Amazon have a resistance dyeing technique that is similar to tie-dye. In India, it's called bandhani. You can also find beautiful examples of tie-dye in Africa and China.

Tie-dye expert Paula E. Burch recommends:

  • Good tie-dye kits are available at local crafts stores, fabric stores, and sometimes at Walmart and Target though generally only in the summer.
  • RIT dye requires heat to bond to the fabric, but even then attaches only loosely. Clothing dyed with it is dull in color, fades quickly, and must be hand-washed separately in order to avoid ruining your other clothing.
  • In contrast, the dyes in a good tie-dye kit, such as the kits made by Jacquard Products, Tulip, Rainbow Rock, or Dylon, are easy to apply since they work well at room temperature, and the form permanent chemical bonds to the fiber in the fabric. The results will last years longer, and, after the first few washings, are safe to wash at any temperature, even with your white clothing.

Check our list below for helpful books and nifty tie-dye projects to try.

Tie-dye in the Library
Click on any title to go to our catalog for more information and to place a reserve.

Berry Smudges and Leaf Prints: Finding and Making Colors From Nature by Ellen B. Senisi.
In this unique craft book, children can create art with colored objects found in nature. No need to buy anything at the store, kids can find the supplies they need on a trip to the backyard, park or garden using leaves, plants, fruits, and flowers.

Contemporary Dyecraft: Over 50 Tie-dye Projects for Scarves, Dresses, T-shirts and More by Melanie Brummer
Features more than 50 resist-dyeing projects that are easy to do and yield beautiful one-of-a-kind results. Methods used are bucket-dyeing, dip dyeing and dyeing in a washing machine. The book begins with an introduction to suitable fabrics, types of dye, paints and an explanation of resist dyeing. The required equipment is largely household items that are inexpensive and readily available. From our adult collection.

Tie-dye: The How-to Book by Virginia Gleser.
Learn the secrets of tie-dying and create your own beautiful fabrics. This user-friendly book will show you how to create seven unique and beautiful designs. Clear, simple instructions, including photos of each stage of the tieing and dying, will guide you through the process. Full color photos show the stunning results possible. Includes a source listing for permanent, high quality dyes.d safety tips.

On the Web

Come Together Kids: How to Tie-Dye with Acrylic Paints
Don't have two days for a tie-dye project and want the colors to be bright? Check out these clear directions from a mom who hosted a Tie-Dye party. Includes suggestions for fun snacks to go with the party.

How Do You Tie-dye a Star or Mandala Pattern?
The author gives several ways to get a starburst effect on your fabric.