Dye your boring clothes with tie-dye

Tie-dyeing is a fun up-cycling and sustainable activity you can do with your child. Rummage through your cupboard, find anything old in white and transform your plain garment into a colourful treat.

By Sherine Paul-Solomon  • 10 min read

Dye your boring clothes with tie-dye
“Fashion is what you buy, colour is what you do with it”

An age-old textile surface ornamentation technique used in India (Bandhani and Leheriya) and in Japan (Shibori), tie-dye is now used with contemporary motifs and bright colours. Rainbow swirls, bright colours, mandalas, spirals and peace signs are images most commonly associated with contemporary tie-dyeing thanks to the American hippy era of the 60’s. 

So why should you opt for this activity when there are so many options to explore? For starters, it will help you bond with your child while also teaching them some concepts about colour. It is an activity that doesn’t require too many materials and can be done in the comfort of your home. You are also teaching your child how to upcycle an old garment, and in the process, teach them how to live sustainably. Most of you can let your imaginations run wild and create clothes in a riot of colours that you can proudly flaunt.

What is tie-dye?

Dye your boring clothes with tie-dye

Tie-dyeing is the process of creating colourful patterns on a fabric by tying portions of it to protect it from the dye. Patterns form based on how you gather and tie the material together. Once tied you immerse the fabric in a dye bath. Leave your fabric to dry and once you untie it your colourful pattern is revealed, based on the tying method you have used. So, what clothes can you use for your tie-dye project? A t-shirt, shorts, dress, shirts, dupatta, stole, hat or even a small little handkerchief will work as long as it’s plain white.

Materials needed:

  • White fabric
  • Pair of gloves
  • Squeezy bottles
  • A pack of rubber bands or string
  • Large bowl or bucket
  • Plastic sheet
  • Zip lock bag 
  • White vinegar
  • Water
  • Food colouring or colour dyes

Top tip: While working with dyes or food colouring wear something old or in dark colours as the colours can get on your clothes. As if you have a tie-dye accident you can’t undo it. Darker colours work best with the bleach method.

Tie-dyeing methods

All tie-dye methods start with you laying out the fabric flat and end with you repeating the dying process by flipping your material and replicating the design at the back. There are various methods that you can opt for such as spirals, string, stripes, rainbow, nebula, galaxy, sunburst, ice dye, ombre, rosettes, shibori, bullseye and folding. 

Listed below are some of the simple methods you can start off with:


Dye your boring clothes with tie-dye

The pattern used most often is the spiral. Lay your clothing on your table, place your fingers in the center, keep twisting in a circular motion till your fabric bunches up and forms a spiral shape around the center. Use at least three strings or rubber bands to hold the shape together in a circle.


Dye your boring clothes with tie-dye

For a striped effect roll your piece of clothing from the bottom to the top. You should end up with a long tube if want to create vertical stripes. Fold it in the opposite direction for horizontal stripes. Based on the number of stripes you want, use corresponding string or rubber bands.


Dye your boring clothes with tie-dye

Probably the simplest technique is the crumple effect. In this pattern you will get a random design and the technique is as easy as it sounds. Crumple your fabric into a tight ball then use your string or rubber bands to hold the shape in place.


Dye your boring clothes with tie-dye

If you are looking for an ombre look or colour block effect opt for the pleated technique. Use the accordion fold with your fabric pleating the material first from the front and then towards the back. Keep repeating this step till the whole cloth is folded and looks like an accordion. Wrap your string or rubber bands around to hold the folds and then create a new colourful outfit.


If you don’t have dye at home and want to use something else, bleach is an option. Use the bleach and apply it in exactly the same manner as you would with dye. Once you’ve poured the bleach let it rest for 2-5 hours. Once it’s soaked, rinse your fabric, wash and dry it and voila your garment is ready.

For more detailed methods do check out the link below.

Tie Dye Folding Techniques 


Dye your boring clothes with tie-dye

Step 1: Preparing your fabric

Soak your article of clothing in water and white vinegar. Vinegar helps bind the colour to the fabric. Pour equal quantities of white vinegar and water into a large bowl or bucket based on the size of the item of clothing. You will need around 2 cups each for an adult sized shirt while half a cup each will be sufficient for a kid size shirt. Submerge your clothing completely and leave it for an hour

Step 2: Putting the ‘Tie’ in Tie Dye

When the hour is complete, wring out the excess water from the fabric, work while it is damp. Let your creativity go wild and create a pattern of your liking or you can follow some of the traditional methods of tying the fabric. Using your string or rubber bands you can create a crumpled, swirled or striped effect. Fabric manipulations before applying the dye are known as resists.

Step 3: Ready to dye

Fill your squeezy bottles halfway with water. Add the food colours (8-10 drops) of your choice into bottles. If you don’t have dyes or food colouring you can use natural ingredients like turmeric, beetroot or coffee. Depending on your style add more or less colours to your bottles. This is a step where you can involve your kids and get them to create fun patterns with colours.

Step 4: Create

Spread out your plastic sheet. Put on your gloves, with the string or rubber as guides create your own pattern with the dye. Make sure you follow the same colour at the front and back. Alternate colours evenly if you want a uniform pattern or if you prefer an abstract design, go wild.

Step 5: Dyes Develop

Take your dyed fabric along with the rubber bands and place them in a zip lock bag, leave it to dry for at least 8 hours. When the colours are looking vibrant and to your liking, remove the clothing from the bag and cut off the string or rubber bands. Use gloves for this step as well to avoid stains on your hand.

Step 6: Salt Soak

Soak your finished piece in a salt and water solution so that the dye can set. The ideal amount would be 150g salt mixed into 120 ml water. Wring out the excess colour and rinse under the tap with cold water. Do so till you see clear water.

Step 7: Dry time

Dye your boring clothes with tie-dye

Hang your new outfit to dry. Once it’s dry, slip into your new outfit and impress everyone with your own homemade creation.

Quick tips

- Commit time to folding and bundling your fabric. This step can make or break how your pattern turns out.

- The number of folds you create will equal the number of lines your get in your pattern. So, for a smaller pattern make sure your folds are narrow while for larger patterns make loose and bigger folds.

- Geometric shapes and stripes are created by creasing and folding your fabric. Twisting, crumbling and scrunching your fabric will give you more organic designs like spirals.

- Always make sure your fabric is secured very tightly with the string or rubber bands. Not only will this hold the material together, but it will also stop the dye from seeping into the folds.

- Choosing colours is a very important component of tie-dying. Keep in mind that different colours when applied close to each other will merge and create a completely new colour. Try and stick with the primary colours even if you plan on combining colours.

- Avoid mixing secondary colours like green and purple or orange and green as all you will be left with is a brown colour when you unravel your garment.

So, what are you waiting for? Go grab a white fabric and turn your simple white garment into a colourful showstopper. 

Also Read:

Fancy Dress Ideas For Kids

60 Fun Things To Do With Tweens And Teens

About the author:

Written by Sherine Paul-Solomon on August 11, 2020. 

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