With its swirls, twirls and brilliant bursts of color, few DIY projects are as free-spirited and fun as tie-dying. Sure, its popularity does seem to rise and wane every few decades. But there’s no denying that this crafty and kaleidoscopic hobby has been having a major moment over the past few years.
Instagram and TokTok are awash with rainbow-colored t-shirts, sweatsuits, socks, hoodies, scrunchies, and about any other item of clothing, you can think of. And the most beautiful part of it all? Anyone can do it!
Whether you want to give plain old white a colorful injection or bring new life to an older piece of clothing in your wardrobe, all you need are a few basic items and a few tips to start tie-dying like you were born in the free-love era.
To help you get started, we’re going to go over what you’ll need, the basic process and give you some important hacks that will make your next tie-project a (literally) brilliant success.
Here’s what you need to know to get your groovy on!
The 6 Best Tie Dye Kits:
What You’ll Need
Before we jump into how to tie dye, let’s cover a few supplies you’ll need to collect. While some great tie-dye kits include many of these items (more on that later), there are still some important things you should know before you start twisting and dying.
First on the list is your fabric. Because synthetics don’t absorb dye well or at all, you’ll want to stick to natural fibers like 100% cotton, silk, wool, linen, hemp, bamboo and rayon. While you can probably get away with a t-shirt or other item that’s an 80/20 cotton blend, the colors probably won’t come out as bright as with 100% cotton.
So whenever you can, keep it natural!
The next most important thing on the list is your dye, of course. Whatever colors you choose, make sure that the dye is fiber-reactive. This type of dye reacts (duh) better with fabric and delivers brighter and longer-lasting colors.
And because it’s activated with cold water, the fiber-reactive dye also makes the process a lot easier. You dig?
To mix and apply your dye, you’re going to need squeeze bottles. Yes, you could go old school and mix up a big batch of dye in a bucket and then dip your clothing. But why sweat it?
Tye-dye may have started way back around the 5th and 6th centuries (Nope, hippies didn’t invent it!), but there’s no need to dive into your first project like you’re living in the dark ages.
So, especially if you’re a beginner, do yourself a favor and get your hands on some squeeze bottles. You can use squirt bottles if you have them, but the squeeze is much easier!
Synthrapol or Another Laundry Detergent
Oils, dirt or adhesive coatings contained in new clothes impede the absorption process when it comes to dying. That’s why you’ll want to be sure to wash your new or favorite old sweatshirt with a good detergent before you start your project.
Tie-dye pros recommend Synthrapol (which is made explicitly for dying projects) as one of their favorite brands. Whatever you choose, don’t forget to suds those duds!
Some (but not all) dyes require you to pre-soak your garment in a mixture of soda ash and water beforehand. However, many of the dyes contained in kits don’t require this step. But just to be sure, read the instructions on your dye carefully before getting started.
Rubber Gloves, an Apron and a Face Mask
If you want to avoid dying your hands and your clothes, wear some rubber gloves. Sure, the dye will wear off in a few days, but why go around looking like a DIY accident?
And in addition to wearing old clothes, you may want to go the extra step of wearing an apron. Another pro tip: wearing a face mask while mixing those powdered dyes will prevent you from inhaling the rainbow!
No two ways around it; tie-dying is a messy business. Be sure to invest in a large plastic tarp to protect your work area so you can avoid getting dye on everything around you.
Wire Rack and Shallow Pan
A wire rack and pan will allow you to elevate your garment slightly so that it’s not sitting in a puddle of dye while you’re adding different colors with your squeeze bottle.
Rubber Bands or Twine
Rubber bands are probably the easiest way to go for the tie-ing part of this process. But you can also get the job done with some strong string or twine.
Plastic Bags or Plastic Wrap
While you’re waiting for your garment to absorb the dye, you’ll need to keep it moist and a bit warm. Be sure to have some zip lock bags or plastic wrap on hand for this part!
The Basic Step By Step Process
Once your supplies are gathered, you can jump into your colorful adventure. Here’s a breakdown of the entire process step by step:
1: Prep Your Work Space
Protect your work surface with a plastic tarp and make sure you have some paper towels and old rags on hand for any spills. If your situation allows for it, tie-dying outdoors is ideal. A plastic tarp makes cleaning up much easier once you are finished.
2: Prep Your Garments
As mentioned, you’ll need to wash both new and old garments before applying the dye. (And if your dye requires it, you may have to soak them in a solution of soda ash, as mentioned.) But because the dye is applied while the fabric is damp, there’s no need to toss your items in the dryer.
After going through the spin cycle in your washer, your items should be damp but not soaking wet, which is what you want for the best dye absorption. If you don’t have a washer at home, you can always ring your items out by hand; just make sure they are pre-washed. A tie-dying buddy can definitely help with this part!
3: Prep Your Dyes
Mix your dyes. If you have a tie-dye kit, the dyes often come in their own squeeze bottle, and all you have to do is add water. But if you do have to add the dye powder yourself, be sure to wear a mask while preparing your bottles.
Pro tip: Wear gloves through every step of the dyeing process to prevent tie-dye hands!
4: Now Fold and Tie Your Garment
Here is where the process starts to get creative. There are tons of ways to scrunch, crumple, twist and fold your garment, which will result in different patterns. We’ll go over some specific techniques later in this article.
Whichever way you choose, be sure to secure your garment well with rubber bands, clamps or twine before adding your dyes.
5: Apply Your Dyes
Now it’s time to paint the rainbow! While you want to let your creativity flow, do keep a few things in mind about color placement. Colors that are next to each other will bleed into each other a bit and create a new tone where they meet.
For example: blue and red make purple, yellow and red make orange, blue and green make turquoise, etc. However, if you mix two complementary colors together (such as yellow and purple, blue and orange or red and green), the combination can result in a yucky brown.
So you may want to review your color wheel before you get started!
6: Allow the Dye to Set
Now is where you have to exercise your patience. First, place your garments in a plastic ziplock bag or plastic wrap to keep them moist. Now leave them alone so that the fabric can absorb the dye well.
The longer you leave your items, the brighter the dye colors will come out. You’ll want to wait at least 8 hours but can even leave them overnight or up to 24 hours if you like.
7: Rinse and Wash Your Garments
Before unfolding your garment, rinse it with cold water before removing the rubber bands or twine. Now you can unveil your design! Yay!
But the work of rinsing isn’t quite over. Once all of the rubber bands have been removed, continue to rinse and wring out your work of art in cold water until the water runs clear.
Once it does, throw it in the washing machine on a hot water or warm water cycle alone (or with similar colors). If you wash too many garments with different colors together, they can turn a little muddy. Hot water will help the dyes set.
You’ll also want to wash your tie-dyed garments separately from your other clothes for the next couple of cycles to ensure that any residual or excess dye doesn’t stain other pieces in your wardrobe.
Tie-Dye Scrunching Techniques
There are tons of different patterns you can achieve depending on the way you fold your garment. Here are a few popular tie-dye designs with short video tutorials so that you really get the idea.
The Spiral Pattern
This is a totally classic bullseye tie-dye technique that everyone should know.
The Heart Pattern
Who doesn’t love a heart? Here’s how to put one on your t-shirt.
The Stripe Pattern
For something extra groovy, check out this colorful technique.
Circles, Kitty Cats and More
This next video covers six different techniques in under five minutes, including circle patterns and some surprising things you can do with a potato!
A Few Alternative Techniques
Though tie-dying is often done on light-colored garments, reverse dying has come into vogue lately. To achieve this look, you start with a black or dark-colored shirt and use bleach in place of dye.
Here’s a super quick video that will give you the idea and inspire your dark side – in a good way!
Thirsty for even more ideas? Then you may want to try ice dyeing your garments. In this case, you’ll start with a light-colored piece of clothing. Next, scrunch it and secure it with rubber bands. But instead of using liquid dye, you simply place powdered dye and ice cubes on top of your garment.
The ice will then melt and create a truly unique pattern! Check out the following on this very cool process.
Our Favorite Kits
Hopefully, you’re now bursting with ideas and ready to jump into your first tie-dye project. To make things even simpler for you, we’ve put together a shortlist of our favorite kits.
If you’re planning a tie-dye project for a birthday party or family event, this kit from Tulip includes enough supplies for 90 projects! There’s no need to pre-soak your garments in soda ash with these non-toxic dyes. All you have to do is add water and you’re ready to go.
And as a nice plus, it also includes step by step instructions for 8 different patterns to help you get started. Far out!
If you’re not planning a project for a large group, the dependable Tulip brand also offers a kit with just 5 colors. There are various versions of this kit with different color patterns to choose from and the dyes can also be mixed to create new ones.
Also included are gloves, rubber bands and a handy how-to guide.
Another go-to brand for tie-dye projects is Jacquard. This basic kit includes pre-measured red, blue and yellow dyes that you can also combine to make different colors. However, you will have to pre-soak your garments with the included soda ash dye fixer.
Also included in this kit are gloves, rubber bands and instructions and a DVD for various folding techniques (content which they also have on YouTube).
If you want to try your hand at ice dying, check out this kit from Anna Joyce. It comes in 6 different color combinations and also includes step-by-step instructions and the soda ash that you’ll need to pre-soak your garments.
Maybe painting a neon rainbow isn’t your style. In that case, you may like these environmentally friendly mud dyes that deliver more muted tones. Made from sustainable materials, they’re easy on the environment and have UV protection so they won’t fade in the sun.
You can choose from twelve different hues that you simply mix with tap water. However, you will need to pre-soak your garments with a color fixer that doesn’t come included with the dye.
If you want to tie-dye like the professionals you will want to grab the Jacquard Procion MX Bundle Fiber Reactive Dye bundle. This pack comes with soda ash, squeeze bottles, gloves, rubbers bands and scoops. The colors are picked at random, so this pack is a little bit different than your typical bundles, but the colors are sure to impress.
These procion MX dyes will give you big bold and vibrant colors for your tie-dye projects.
Tie-Dye Will Never Die
With tons of patterns to choose from, tie-dying allows you to create a one-of-a-kind garment that you and you alone will have. And as you expand your horizons after tie-dye shirts, you can try it on other items like cloth sneakers, tote bags, curtains, bedding and more for your next tie-dye party. Once you have all the tie-dye supplies and dye sets, you might become addicted!
So get out there and express your inner wild child. Because it never hurts to make the world a more colorful and happier place with new tie-dye patterns! Which is probably why the tie-dye wave is still riding high.
You might also be interested in: The 14 Best Fabric Glues [For Every Level Of Crafter]
Our Favorite Tie-Dye Kits:
- Tulip One-Step Ultimate Summer Bundle
- Tulip One-Step 5 Color Tie-Dye Kit
- Jacquard Tie Dye Kit
- Anna Joyce Ice Tie-Dye Kit
- Japanese Bengala Mud Dye
- Jacquard Procion MX Bundle Fiber Reactive Dye