Instructions for How to Tie-Dye

    by Miranda Brumbaugh

    About the Author

    Miranda Brumbaugh enjoys covering travel, social issues, foster care, environmental topics, crafting and interior decorating. She has written for various websites, including National Geographic Green Living and Dremel. Brumbaugh studied in Mexico before graduating with a Master of Science in sociology from Valdosta State University.


    Tie-dye is a method for decorating fabrics that has been around for centuries. The process became popularized during the 1970s as people began to wear clothing in bright colors and funky patterns. Tie-dye is an inexpensive way to add a personal touch to fabrics. While T-shirts are the most commonly recognized item of tie-dye, other natural fabrics, such as cotton bed sheets, bathing suits and hats, work well

    Things You'll Need

    • Light-colored natural fiber cloth
    • Dye powder
    • Sodium carbonate (washing soda)
    • Water
    • Plastic bucket
    • Long-handled spoon
    • Rubber bands
    • Rubber gloves
    • Plastic trash bags
    • Scissors
    • Squirt bottles
    • Plastic wrap

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    Pour ¾ cup of sodium carbonate per gallon of warm water in a plastic bucket. Stir with a long-handled spoon. Soak the fabric in the water for at least five minutes.

    Envision your finished design before you begin adding the rubber bands. Place a rubber band where you do not want the dye to cover the fabric, which will leave a distinct design on the fabric. Gather both layers of fabric as you dye if you want the image on both sides of the material, such as a shirt.

    Make circles by pinching small sections of the fabric and twisting a rubber band tightly where you want the circle. Make rings by starting with a circle and adding additional rubber bands below the first one, in intervals for each of the rings.

    Create a spiral by starting with the fabric spread out flat. Gather the fabric where you want the center of the spiral. Twist the fabric slowly while keeping the entire piece flat. Wrap three rubber bands around the disc crosswise to form a star shape with six sections in the fabric.

    Create a stripe design by folding the fabric like an accordion and wrapping rubber bands across the length of the fabric to create sections for dyeing.

    Make a marbled design by bunching the fabric up in a ball and wrapping rubber bands across one another at random.

    Prepare the surface before dyeing by spreading out trash bags, and put on your rubber gloves. Mix the dye powders by adding 2 to 6 tsp. per cup of warm water into each of the squirt bottles. Measure the amount of water the bottles will hold before you begin and adjust the dyes accordingly. Shake the capped bottle filled with dye and water to dissolve the powder.

    Squirt the dye onto the fabric, saturating it well. Use different color combinations, such as a single color for an entire piece or use multiple colors. Blend two colors within the same area to make a new color, such as yellow and blue for green. Add dye to all sides of the fabric.

    Leaving the rubber bands in place, wrap the wet fabric in plastic wrap. Let the material set for up to 24 hours.

    Cut away the rubber bands, and toss the single piece into a washing machine set on large load and hot water. Add a small amount of laundry detergent, and wash the fabric. Toss in the dryer immediately and dry completely. Do not set the wet fabric on anything, or the dye will stain it.

    • Save the sodium carbonate water and reuse for later tie-dyeing projects by covering with a lid.
    • Wear a face mask and gloves when working with sodium carbonate.
    • Avoid getting the powder in your eyes or splashing the dissolved liquid on your skin.

    Photo Credits

    • John Sciulli/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images