How to Tie Dye – A Beginners Guide Skip to main content
How To Tie Dye

How to Tie Dye – A Beginners Guide

This is a comprehensive beginners guide on how to tie dye, including 8 different tie dye patterns.

BEFORE YOU TIE DYE

Before venturing into the magically colourful world of tie dye, there are a few things to remember:

1. Use 100% cotton fabric.
2. Avoid fabric that has been treated to be stain resistant.
3. Always wash your fabric with laundry detergent before dying it.
4. Make sure your fabric is wet (but free of detergent) before applying the dye.
5. Wear your gloves and don’t be tempted to take them off unless you feel like soaking your hands in bleach.

Choosing a dye

I prefer to use hand fabric dye in powder form and mix up the quantities myself. The powders work fast and they don’t require any soda ash to set. The only thing you’ll need is salt and water.

You can use premixed dyes that come in squeezy tubes, but keep in mind that these might need soda ash or be left to “marinate” for 8 to 24 hours depending on the brand. There’s nothing wrong with this – it’s all down to personal preference.

Choosing ties

To secure your patterns in place, you can use string, rubber bands or zip ties.

Rubber bands are the most common choice but sometimes you need something faster and more precise, like a zip tie. I like to use elastics, but when I am making a finicky design, like a heart, a zip tie works better because the fabric does not shift when you fasten it. (When you wrap the elastics around, the fabric can move a bit, ruining your pattern.)

String is good when you want to make thick bands of white in your pattern. You simply keep wrapping the string around until you’re happy with the width.

Remember:

Sometimes, you’ll just want the fold of the fabric to be the pattern, so the tie should just be there to hold everything in place while you soak it in dye. Using loose elastics or a thin piece of cotton thread, will help you here. (See scrunch method below)

Other times, you’ll want the tie to make the pattern, by keeping any fabric under neither it, white. (See bullseye method below)

WHAT YOU’LL NEED TO TIE DYE

What you need to tie dye

White, 100% cotton t-shirts (I used Fruit of the Loom)
Fabric dye (I used Dylon)
Rubber gloves
Salt (A lot of it. Seriously. Each packet of dye requires 250g of salt)
Rubber bands (Also a lot of them)
A stainless steel bowl or sink (One that can hold more than 7 liters of water.)
Stainless steel spoons to mix the dye
Warm water (around 40°C)
Washable fabric marker (Hemline marker)

GENERAL TIE DYE METHOD

1. Put your white t-shirts in the wash.

2. Mix the dye according to the instructions.

To use Dylon’s hand dye you’ll need 250g / 10 table spoons of salt and 6.5 liters of lukewarm water.
Place the dye and salt in a stainless-steel bowl and add 500 ml of warm water to dissolve.
Fill the stainless-steel bucket or sink with 6 liters of water, add the dye mix and stir well.

3. Take your clean, damp t-shirts out the wash and create your chosen patterns. (See below for patterns.)

4. Soak your t-shirts in the dye water for an hour, stirring regularly.

5. Rinse your t-shirts in cold water until the water runs clear.

6. Put your t-shirts in the wash again on a warm (not hot) cycle and allow to air dry, away from direct sunlight.
Wash colours separatly.

MAKING TIE DYE PATTERNS

Click on a pattern to jump to the tie dye instructions

1. Scrunch
2. Double Scrunch
3. Bullseye
4. Circles / Polka Dots
5. Diagonal Stripes
6. V shape / Triangle
7. Heart
8. Spiral

1. Scrunch

This is the simplest and probably one of my favourite methods.

Taking your wet t-shirt, open it up so that the front and back are not stuck together.
Gather and scrunch the fabric together haphazardly.

How to Scrunch

Take note that any fabric that you can see, will be dyed. Everything else hidden inside the folds, will remain white.
Lightly tie some rubber bands around the scrunched t-shirt to hold the folds in place. If you keep the bands loose, they won’t leave white lines on your shirt. If you want the lines to appear, tie the elastics tighter.

Soak in the dye and rinse, as directed above.

Black Scrunch

Colour Used: Dylon Velvet Black

Pink Scrunch

Colour used: Dylon Flamingo Pink

2. Double Scrunch

The creative possibilities of the double scrunch are endless.
You can use the same colour or multiple colours.

If you use the same colour, soak the t-shirt for 10 minutes before rinsing. The colour will be quite light. Re-scrunch the t-shirt and let it soak for an hour in the dye

 

Yellow Scrunch

Colour used: Dylon Sunflower Yellow

If you want to use two (or more) colours, you need to remember that they will mix where they overlap, and that the darker colour will always take precedence. For example, black will dye over red, but red won’t dye over black.

Camo Scrunch

Colours used: Dylon Dark Green and Dark Brown.

3. Bullseye

Apart from the spiral (see pattern instructions below), this is one of the most common tie dye techniques.

To create this dartboard pattern, lay your shirt flat, pinch and hold the middle while you lift the t-shirt up, so that the fabric drapes down.

How to make a bullseye

Start by placing a rubber band about 2cm from where you pinched the fabric.

Place the remaining rubber bands 5cm apart. The first band needs to be so close to the edge in order for the inner circle to be the same size as the outer bands. If you make the first band 5cm from the edge too, the inner circle will be 10cm big. This is fine if that is what you intended, I just like it to be uniform.

How to make a bullseye

Soak in dye and rinse as described above.

Emerald Circle

Colour used: Dylon Emerald Green

Variation
Dye each band a different colour.

4. Circles / Polka Dots

Lay your t-shirt flat and pinch random (or organised) sections with your fingers and tie them off with a rubber band. Wherever the rubber band is placed, will become the circle so take some care to position them nicely to get pretty circles, instead of wonky ones. I find pinching the fabric and placing my index finger inside the bulb before tying it, works best.

If you want to make big circles, make the bulb bigger. For smaller circles, keep the bulbs 1cm in size and use teeny tiny hair elastics.

If you don’t want the same pattern on the back, open the front and back of your t-shirt and tie the bulbs separately on each side, or on one side only.

Soak in dye and rinse as described above.

Variation
Make each bulb a different colour to create polka dots.

5. Diagonal Stripes

Place your t-shirt flat and fold from one shoulder to the opposite, bottom end.
Keep in mind that the stripes will run in the opposite direction to this main fold.
A fold from left shoulder to the bottom right corner will produce stripes running from the right shoulder to the bottom left corner.

How to make horizontal lines

Fold the t-shirt length ways into a concertina as shown below.

How to make horizontal lines

Fold this length in half and secure with rubber bands placed 5cm apart.

How to make horizontal lines

How to make horizontal lines

Soak in the dye and rinse as described above.

Navy Diagonal

Colours used: Dylon Navy Blue

Variation
You can make each band a different colour or dip one half in one colour and the other half in another. This will produce three bands of colour, for example: blue, green, blue.

6. V shape / Triangle

Place your t-shirt flat and fold it in half vertically.
Using a washable fabric marker and ruler, draw a line from the shoulders to the vertical fold. It’s up to you at which angle you would like to make this line.

How to make a triangle

Bunch up the fabric along this line.

How to make a triangle

A zip tie would be easier here but I managed with elastics. It’s really important that you keep the fabric straight on this line.
You can stop at one rubber band, or place a few more 5cm apart. I decided to do two.

How to make a triangle

How to make a triangle

Soak in dye and rinse as described above.

Green Triangle

Colour used: Dylon Olive Green (I did not mix it very well.)

Variation
Make each band a different colour.

7. Heart

Lay your t-shirt flat and fold it vertically along the middle.
Using a washable fabric marker, draw half a heart shape along the fold as pictured below.

How to make a heart

Fold the t-shirt along this line, very carefully.

Secure the pattern in place with a rubber band or zip tie.

How to make a heart

Soak in dye and rinse as described above.

Pink Heart

Colour used: Dylon Flamingo Pink

Variation
Make the heart a separate colour to the rest of the t-shirt, or add more rubber bands and make each band a different colour.

8. Spiral

Spirals are more involved than they first appear.
Most tutorials just say to pinch the middle, spin and then secure with rubber bands.

This is a really bad technique and it won’t produce a uniform spiral. It will just look like lines radiating out from the middle. The shoulders also won’t continue the spiral pattern because they have been bunched up incorrectly.

Bad Spiral

To create a uniform spiral, you need to pay close attention to the folds. The entire t-shirt must be spun to the exact same height to create a disk. If you see the outer folds becoming larger and higher than the inner folds, use your fingers to lower them, creating new folds as you go.

You want to end up with a disk like this:

How to make a spiral

You can soak this disc in one colour but spirals look much more impressive in a bunch of different colours.

Pink Spiral

Colour used: Dylon Flamingo Pink

To create a multi-coloured spiral, make sure the rubber bands are placed evenly to create equal sized slices (think of how you would slice a pizza).

It’s up to you if you want to slice it in 4, 6 or 8 pieces.

I used 8 slices and alternated between 3 colours, going clockwise in the following order: blue, purple, pink, purple, blue, purple, pink, purple. I spooned the colours over the t-shirt a few times before letting it sit and rest for an hour, and then rinsed it.

Pink, Blue and Purple Spiral

Colours used: Dylon Bahama Blue, Intense Violet and Flamingo Pink.

EMRACE YOUR MISTAKES

It goes without saying that not every attempt will work out as planned.

I tried to make vertical, orange stripes on top of a yellow scrunch dye but I made too many folds so the dye didn’t penetrate the t-shirt very well. The orange dye also bled into the exposed white areas making it look even more uneven. I love it and hate it at the same time.

Orange Fail

Colours used: Dylon Sunflower Yellow and Goldfish Orange

I messed up with a pattern in light blue, so I dyed the entire t-shirt light blue to cover it up.
Then I decided to test out a different folding technique to make a bullseye pattern and I think it actually turned out really awesome.

Blue Fail

Colours used: Dylon Bahama Blue and Navy Blue

All fabric dye was kindly supplied by Dylon UK upon request.
All t-shirts have been donated to charity.

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6 Comments

  1. Ashley @ GrowingSpangs

    I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, which recycled a lot of the ’70’s, including tie-dye! My mom just knew how to make it happen, which is funny to think about now, since she didn’t have online to remind her of anything. Anyway, I love how you gave the directions for so many variations…I’m going to pin this, because when my toddler daughter is older, it would be such a fun activity to do with her. Thanks!

  2. Pooja Krishna

    Superb post with wonderful options on the different ways to create the patterns – didn’t know how to do the V and a couple others, so thank you!

  3. Jake Ferrer

    Wow! That’s so creative and wonderful shirts! I love all of the designs. The shirts are all so cute!

  4. Nicole

    I see tye dye is back in style! I never knew how to make these shirts.

  5. Lydia

    *Lydia rummages through husbands old t-shirts to tie-dye EVERYTHING!

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