DIY Tie Dye


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Tie dye is having a mainstream moment, and I am here for it! I have loved tie dye my whole life and have spent a bit of time creating my own tie dye items over the years. While in college, my BFF (also named Emily) and I split a few tie dye kits, and before we knew it…obsessed.

So, now that tie dye is in, I thought I’d jump back in and make some shirts for Millie. I shared about this on Instagram Stories, and you guys had so many questions and so much interest! I created a Highlight on my Instagram so you can watch my process, and I’m sharing all of my steps, favorite resources, and products here. You can shop the supplies in my brand new Amazon Storefront!

Note: tie dye is an art form that can be executed any number of ways. This is how I’ve done it over the years, but please note that there are many experts out there who may offer different advice. Experiment! Have fun!

For the shirts that I’m showing in these photos, I was aiming for a washed out, light look with lots of white showing. I dramatically cut the concentration of my dyes and curing time, however, everything still turned out quite vibrant. They look super cool, but not exactly like I was envisioning. Just an example of how you can play around and try new things with the supplies you already have!

For smaller, one-time projects…

If you’re only dying a handful of items and are fairly certain you’re not jumping on the tie dye train for the long run, then a Jacquard Tie Dye Kit is a great route. It comes with Procion MX dyes, pre-measured in squirt bottles, a packet of soda ash, rubber bands, gloves, and instructions. The larger kit does up to 15 shirts and the smaller one does five.

I’m wearing a spiral in gray (1/2 tsp Jet Black in 8 oz water) and pink (1/2 tsp Magenta in 8 oz water) on 100% cotton.

1. Select your material/shirts.

The dyes that we are discussing in this post work with natural fibers, namely, cotton. 100% cotton shirts, socks, underwear, bandanas, fabrics, etc will give you the best results. I have also dyed 60/40 and 50/50 blends and they turned out cool with a slightly washed-out, heathered feel to them. You’ll definitely want to avoid anything that’s less than 50% cotton.

2. Pre-wash shirts.

I always wash my fabric material before starting a tie dye project. This removes any build-up that may be on the fibers and roughs everything up for better dye absorption. I usually do a normal cycle, warm, with liquid detergent.

3. Fold and tie.

Everyone wants to focus on the colors and dye in a tie dye shirt, but the most important part of the process for a super striking tee is the folding and rubber banding. Hands down. This is the step in the process that will determine if your pretty colors actually make an impact.

Generally, I use rubber bands to secure my folds, but you can also use kite string. You can be as creative as you want here, and once you start to understand the basic mechanics behind it, you’ll probably want to create your own patterns.

Of course, there are tons of videos out there to guide you. My current favorite resource is Mr. Tie Dye on YouTube. His work is really fabulous and his videos are easy to follow. [Squiggles/Scrunch] [Spiral] [Peace Sign]

Scrunch in gray (1/2 tsp Jet Black in 8 oz water) on 100% cotton

4. Soda ash soak.

Once your shirts are folded and secured, you need to soak them in a soda ash solution. You will want to follow the directions on the package for the product you use, usually about a 30 minute soda ash soak. This step is crucial to a shirt with longevity–soda ash is the fixative that brings the dyes and the fibers together!

After the soak, squeeze as much liquid from the shirts as you can. In the past, I have dyed shirts immediately following the soda ash soak and I have also let the shirts dry a bit before applying dye. I think as long as the excess liquid has been squeezed out, you should be fine applying your dyes at any time.

5. Mix dyes.

Quality, pigmented dyes are crucial to a successful tie dye session. I have always used Procion MX dyes, which are fabric-reactive. This means that the dyes adhere to the fibers chemically, as opposed to thermally, so you do not need heat to make the system work. This makes them the best dye possible for tie dye. Procion MX dyes are available in a huge variety of colors, including a number of standardized colors that can be used to mix any of the other colors. You can get a ton of information about these dyes on Jacquard’s website [here].

If you watch my Instagram Stories, you’ll know that I’ve been experimenting a bit with the concentrations of my dyes. [This protocol] gives some suggestions for dye concentrations; 2 tsp dye in 8 oz water is a great place to start for classic, pigmented dyes. Additionally, you can use additives (urea, thickeners, etc) in your dyes, but I just use warm tap water.

I mix my dyes directly in 8 oz squirt bottles with a handmade funnel (cardstock folded up and taped!) and a measuring cup with a spout. I cap the bottles and shake to mix! At this point in my tie dye journey, I am using Procion MX in 034 Magenta, 004 Lemon Yellow, 068 Turquoise, and 150 Jet Black. You can see what mixes I used for the shirts I’m showing in this post in the photo captions.

I’m wearing a concentric circle pattern in gray (1/2 tsp Jet Black in 8 oz water) and orchid (1/4 tsp Magenta + 1/4 tsp Turquoise in 8 oz water) on 100% cotton. I’m showing a questionably executed, though recognizable, peace sign on 100% cotton!

6. Apply dyes.

Once you have washed/folded/tied/soda-ash-soaked/squeezed-out shirts and mixed dyes in squirt bottles, you are ready to apply! I usually wear gloves for this, but I always end up with my hands dirty anyways, so it’s up to you (when Benn proposed to me, I had tie dye hands…great for photos haha).

Following along with your creative intuition or any tutorials you may be watching, carefully squirt dye on to your fabric. I also stick the nozzle in between folds to make sure the entire shirt is saturated–you don’t want the middle of your shirt to be solid white, but you also don’t want your shirt turning out a solid jumble of colors that doesn’t show any of the pattern, so go for a “swampy” but not soaked saturation.

My biggest tip here is to apply dye with the shirt resting on a cooling rack (like you’d use in the kitchen). This will keep the shirt from sitting in a puddle of excess dye.

For the first in the batch I’m showing in pictures today, I knew I wanted lots of white, so I didn’t go overboard with the dye.

Pink (1/2 tsp Magenta in 8 oz water) and orchid (1/4 tsp Magenta + 1/4 tsp Turquoise in 8 oz water) spiral on a Sweet Costo 100% cotton tee

7. Cure.

Procion MX dyes need to cure on the fabric for 4-24 hours. In the past, I’ve always let them sit for the full 24 hours, but for the shirts I’m showing here today, they sat for 5 hours (and still achieved a crazy saturation!!). Just let your shirts chill! If possible, let them rest on cooling racks so they’re not sitting in puddles of excess dye.

If you’re tie dying away from home and must transport, place your shirt in a ziplock bag. However, when possible, I like my shirts to sit out (on plastic on a table or on a rack), again, so that they are not soaking in all that excess dye!

This wait time is the hardest part for me! THE SUSPENSE!!!!!

8. Cut the strings and rinse.

After the desired time has passed, carefully transport your shirts to a sink. In no particular order, you’ll want to carefully remove (or cut) your rubber bands, rinse out excess dye, and unfold the shirt to behold your work! This is an exciting moment for kids and adults, alike!! Love it!

I’m showing a scrunch pattern in pink (1/2 tsp Magenta in 8 oz water) and orange (3/8 tsp Lemon Yellow + 1/8 tsp Magenta in 8 oz water) on 100% cotton.

9. Wash. Dry. Enjoy!

Once you’ve rinsed and squeezed as much of the excess dye out that you can with your hands, toss your shirts in the washing machine. I do a normal cycle, warm, with liquid detergent. Sometimes I do two cycles if I want to really make sure everything is rinsed and clean. Finally, I put them in the dryer on my normal settings.

Then…enjoy! Wear your shirts. Cut up your shirts. Match with your babies in your shirts. Gift your shirts. Possibilities are endless♥

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