This best-known version of tie dye—with its psychedelic swirls and vibrant color explosions—dates back to the 1960s, and hippies and flower children. In America, the hippie movement was about transgression, and an aspect was by turning capitalism on its head. One of the ways hippies did this? You guessed it. Making their own clothing and accessories—and creating their own tie-dye patterns, each as unique as the person dip dyeing their t-shirts.
That freedom of expression has clearly lived on, with people in every decade since putting their own spin on the trend. You can join in the fun to make your own unique tie-dyed t-shirt at home—and it’s a great activity to do with your kids. Whether you’re going for a flower child-at-a-Grateful-Dead show vibe or a nostalgic camp t-shirt mood, your tie-dye t-shirt will definitely be one of a kind, and as unique as you.
1. Gather the Supplies Needed for Tie-Dye
You’ll need a bunch of supplies, so it’s a good idea to assemble and purchase what you need ahead of time.
Before you plan to tie dye those tees with your favorite bright color swirls, take some time to gather what you’ll need for this project. Here’s a short list of what we recommend you use:
- Blank t-shirt (white or light-colored)
- Fiber-reactive dyes in different colors
- A spray bottle
- Rubber bands or string
- Plastic buckets or tubs
- Plastic bags or wrap
- Wire rack to elevate your garment off of workspace (optional)
- Laundry detergent
- A protective plastic sheet for your work area
- Rubber gloves
- Work clothes
Pro Tip: When you’re tie dyeing a cotton t-shirt, fiber-reactive dyes result in brighter and longer-lasting designs. These dyes react with your t-shirt’s fabric in cold water to create a permanent bond, so your wonderful colors won’t rinse out in the wash.
2. Choose Your Materials to Tie-Dye
Choosing the right garment is key to tie dye success. In fact, it might just be the most important part! Whether you want to tie dye a t-shirt, hoodie, tote bag or other items, we recommend choosing 100% cotton or a cotton blend. Shopping from a wholesale provider like Threadsy will ensure you can get the quantity and style of blank shirts or accessories that you need at low, wholesale prices.
Pro Tip: T-shirts and other items made from natural fibers like cotton, rayon and silk are ideal for tie dyeing. However, synthetics like polyester, nylon or Spandex don’t take the fiber-reactive dye as well. While we recommend using a 100% cotton tee, you can also use a 80/20 cotton/polyester blend, but the design might not be as vibrant. You shouldn’t use 50/50 cotton/poly blends because your tie dye effect will look washed-out.
The Best Items to Tie Dye
For the easy tie dye process described in this article, light-colored garments are a great choice. Blank white t-shirts are popular beginning tie dye projects since they are inexpensive and will take color easily. Dark color garments are ideal for more advanced tie dye techniques such as bleach dye. Here are some of our most popular blank cotton shirts for tie dyeing.
3. Prepare Your Materials and Work Area
Before you start tie dyeing your t-shirts, you’ll need to prewash your garments.
While your shirts are in the washer, gather your other supplies and cover your work area with your protective plastic sheet. Wear your work clothes and rubber gloves when you’re ready to start.
This is the right time to mix your dyes as well, according to the directions on the kit you purchased.
4. The Fun’s Starting—Fold and Tie Your T-shirt!
There are probably infinite ways to fold and tie your fabric, since these tie-dye designs range from simple to very intricate. We’ll cover the spiral look here, but feel free to experiment with other techniques to get other looks.
Place your dry t-shirt flat on your work surface. It’s important to smooth it out as much as you can so that it’s wrinkle free. You can also put your t-shirt on top of a wire rack to elevate it off your work surface.
Now it’s time to get the shirt ready for those tie-dye swirls. If you like the traditional spiral tie-dye look, pinch the t-shirt fabric in the middle of the body and turn your hand to twist the fabric into a tight spiral shape.
Secure the spiral using your rubber bands (you’ll probably need three) or your string. Then, criss-cross the rubber bands across the middle so you create three wedge shapes. (You can flip the shirt over and create another spiral if you plan to bleach both sides.)
Again, you can start with the classic spiral technique we described above, and then move into experimenting with other tie-dye patterns like the accordion, mandala, stripes, ombre or bull’s-eye looks. You can even come up with your own designs!
5. Get Ready to Apply the Dye
Now, here’s where you can get creative and experiment. You can dip your garment into individual buckets of dye. Or, you can spray the dye directly onto the t-shirts with your squeeze bottle or even a sponge. Go monochromatic with one color or use three or more colors.
Pro Tip: If you’re going to use multiple colors, applying the dye with spray bottles is the most accurate way to get the look you want. Soak the shirt liberally so you get the most vibrant effect. Turn your shirt over and spray the back as well.
6. Let the Tie-Dye Magic Begin
Now that you’ve applied your fiber-reactive dye, it’s time to let it react with your t-shirt. It’s key to keep your fabric damp and warm. (In other words, the warmer the fabric, the faster the dye will produce the tie-dye effect you want.
You can place the t-shirts in plastic bags or wrap. If it’s a sunny day, place the tees outside for at least six to eight hours. For the most vibrant effect, let the dye work its magic on your t-shirts for up to 24 hours.
7. Rinse, Wash and Wear Your T-shirt
If you want a bright, long-lasting tie-dye design, this part is vitally important. First, leave the rubber bands or strings on your t-shirt and rinse it under cold running water. Next, rinse it in lukewarm water, and remove the rubber bands and string. Keep doing this until the water runs clear.
After you thoroughly rinse the shirt, wash it alone in your washing machine. You may want to air dry your t-shirts after their first washing.
Now, it’s time to wear your happy-vibes tie-dye t-shirt!
Don’t Stop Tie Dyeing!
You can design a whole tie-dye wardrobe beyond t-shirts, including hoodies, sweatpants, sweat shorts, head-to-toe tracksuits, and even masks and socks. You’ve got unlimited options for tie-dye designs and color palettes, so get busy! Many people tie dye their own apparel, and then extend into selling custom or one-of-a-kind tie-dye designs on Etsy or their own website. So see where this tie-dyeing adventure takes you!
Find Your Next Piece to Tie-Dye from Threadsy!
When it comes to tie dye, there are tons of easy and inexpensive blank items to experiment with! In addition to t-shirts, Threadsy sells a large variety of other cotton items that are easy to tie dye at home:
- Cotton canvas tote bags
- Sweatshirts (look for an 80/20 cotton blend if 100% cotton is not available)
- Cotton twill aprons
- Cotton tank tops
- Cotton hats
Whatever you can imagine, you can probably tie dye! We’re pleased to offer wholesale pricing with no order minimums on our entire catalog, so you can access a huge variety of blank apparel at low prices. Just don’t forget: have fun with your project and share your creations with us when you finish. We love to see our customers’ creations!