How to Tie Dye a Shirt

Three Methods:Creating Different PatternsDying the ShirtTie Dying Non-Fabric Items

Tie dying is a long-practiced pastime of hippies, counter-culture members, and people who simply love colorful clothing. Now you want to do it yourself, but the question is, how? What do you tie? What do you dye? Follow the steps below to have all your questions answered.

Method 1
Creating Different Patterns

  1. Image titled Tie Dye a Shirt Step 1
    Make stripes. Lay your shirt out flat on a table. Roll it from the bottom hem to the neck, so that you end up with a long tube of shirt. Use string or rubber bands to tie loops around the shirt roll.
    • To create only a few stripes, space out the ties so that there are three or less. For many stripes, use a dozen or more ties around the shirt.
    • Rolling the shirt upwards will create vertical stripes.
    • If you are interested in creating horizontal strips, roll the shirt from left to right (or vice versa), and tie the strings along this direction.
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    Create a spiral. This is the most basic of the tie dye techniques and one of the most popular. To create a spiral on your shirt, first lay it flat on a countertop or table. Then, put your thumb and index finger in the center of the shirt. Begin moving them in a circular motion, spiraling the shirt around the center point.
    • When you have spiraled the entire shirt, use large rubber bands or strings to tie the shirt. You will need to create at least six sections, so use at least three rubber bands or strings over the shirt. It should be roughly round shaped, and have “pie slices” with the addition of the ties.
    • For a more intricate pattern, use more ties. Make sure that there is one center point at which they all cross though.
    • You can create multiple small spirals by spiraling your shirt in multiple smaller sections using the method from above.
    • If your shirt begins to form ridges, flatten them out. Your shirt should be spiraled, but it should stay flat on the table.
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    Create polka dots. Take your shirt, and pinch small sections of fabric between your fingers. Tie a piece of string around the end of the fabric. To create small dots, only leave one-half to one inch of fabric outside of the tie. Larger dots can be made by tying the fabric further down so that a larger section of fabric sticks out.
    • You can create target-shaped dots by adding more pieces of string on the ends of the pieces that have been tied. Adding more ties will create more rings.
    • Try using string that has been dipped in dye before tying it to add an extra ring of color to the outside of your dots.
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    Make rosettes. These are small floral shaped dots spread out around your shirt. To do this, pinch a small section of your shirt together. Transfer the pinched section to one hand, and then pinch another nearby section. Again, transfer this section to your opposite hand. When you have a group of pinched sections, lace them with a string or rubber band.
    • Use multiple strings to create more of a striped/spiraled pattern in your rosette. You can make as many rosettes on your shirt as you have room for.
    • Use more pinches of fabric to create a more detailed rosette. Using only a few will leave a very basic, simple rosette print.
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    Give your shirt a crumpled look. The easiest way to tie dye is to take your shirt and crumple it up however you would like. It should be very messy and rumpled, not neatly rolled or folded. Then, take as many strings and rubber bands as you would like, and wrap them all over the shirt. You can create a pattern with them, but for the most “crumpled” look don’t follow any direction.
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    Create pleats. Start at the bottom of your shirt, and fold it upwards in the accordion style. To do that, you should fold a section towards the front, and then take that section and fold it towards the back. Repeat this pattern until the entire shirt has been folded.
    • Tie the shirt in as many times as you would like. This style is similar to creating stripes, so the number of ties you add will determine the number of stripes.
    • Folding the shirt upwards will create vertical pleats. To create horizontal pleats, follow the same directions and fold the shirt from left to right (or vice versa).[1]
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    Create a lightning bolt. This is the most complicated design and requires a lot of folding. It is, however one of the most attractive. Begin by folding the shirt upwards at about chest level and then folding the section back down, creating an N-shape if viewed from the side. Do this again, but lower down. Fold a section about 2 inches (5.1 cm) from the top of the first fold upwards, and then fold it back down. Repeat this 3-5 times, until your shirt has several layered folds.
    • The layered folds will have an appearance similar to that of an old-fashioned washboard.
    • Turn the shirt diagonally and visually mark a line down the center. Accordion fold from one side to the center, and then turn the shirt and accordion fold from the other side to the center.
    • Tie the shirt in bunches once you have finished all the folding. For a more detailed lightning-bolt shape, use many strings or rubber bands. If you prefer a more basic look, use only 3-4 ties.

Method 2
Dying the Shirt

  1. Image titled Tie Dye a Shirt Step 8 preview
    Set up a work area. Tie dying, or any fabric dying, is a very messy business. To prevent unwanted dye accidents, set up a table with a plastic covering (like a plastic tablecloth or garbage bags) outside or away from any furniture or carpet.
    • Make sure that you have all your supplies gathered with you at your work area, so that you don’t have to run around with gloves on or worry about spilling anything in the process of moving things.
    • Consider using a cookie drying rack to elevate your shirt above your workstation, to give you the best access to every angle of it.
    • Be sure that you have extra paper towels or old rags handy to wipe up accidental spills.
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    Soak your shirt. Many dye packages come with a soda ash solution, which helps the dye to bond with the fabric of your shirt. Dissolve the soda ash solution into a bowl of water, and let your shirt soak for around twenty minutes.
    • If your dye did not come with soda ash, you can soak the shirt in lukewarm water. You can also choose to buy soda ash separate from your dye kit at a local craft store.
    • Do not use cold or hot water, as they will make the dyes less effective.
    • If you don’t want the dyes to spread very far on the shirt, don’t get it wet before adding the color. Dying a damp shirt helps the color to travel further, faster. So, if you want your color to be relatively isolated, dye it while it’s dry.[2]
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    Prepare your dyes. Each dye package should come with directions listing specific amounts and proportions of dye to water. If you would rather wing it or don’t have your directions, mix your different dyes in bowls of lukewarm water as you like.
    • To create colors that are more pastel or faded, use more water and less dye. To create bright, vibrant colors, use most of the dye in the package and not so much water.
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    Dye your shirt. Keep the dye in the bowls to do a layered dip tie dye, or carefully pour them into spray bottles. To do a dip dye, pick up your shirt and dunk it into the dye in different places. You can soak the whole shirt in a single color, and then dip the shirt (after ringing the initial color out) into other bowls of dye. Using a spray bottle to dye your shirt is easy; simply squirt the dye onto the desired area, layering colors if desired.
    • If you plan on layering colors, always apply your lightest ones first. Applying a light color over a dark one will only muddle them.
    • If you mix complementary colors - colors opposite each other on the color wheel - the places they meet will be a brownish hue. These include orange and blue, yellow and purple, and red and green.
    • Don’t feel obligated to dye the entire shirt. You can do a few small sections of tie dye and allow the original shirt color to show through on the rest of the area.
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    Let the dye set. Wrap the shirt up in a plastic grocery bag or saran-wrap to keep it moist. Then, set it aside for 4-6 hours so that the dye has time to react with the cloth. Placing the shirt in a warm area will help the dye to cure faster.
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    Rinse out the dye. Wearing rubber gloves, take the shirt out of the plastic bag and unwrap any string or rubber bands that you used. Then, rinse it with cold water in your sink to remove any excess dye. Be careful not to splash the water too much to avoid dying your clothes or countertops.
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    Wash your shirt. Throw your shirt into your washing machine by itself. Put the wash setting on cold water, and wait for the process to finish. If you want, you can run your wash again with an empty cycle and a bit of soap to get rid of any dye that might have transferred to the inside of the machine.
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    Dry and wear your shirt. You can toss your shirt into the dryer by itself putting the machine on the coolest setting, or simply allow the shirt to hang dry. Then, wear your new shirt around town![3]

Method 3
Tie Dying Non-Fabric Items

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    Make tie dye cupcakes. Give your favorite baked goods a colorful twist by making them tie-dyed. You can give the batter rainbow hues or create a colorful frosting for the top.
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    Make tie dye paper. This is a great opportunity to make fun paper for crafts and cards. Use the simple process of tie dying on your favorite cardstock or construction paper to create a fun colorful effect.
  3. Image titled Make Tie Dye Nails Step 5
    Try tie dying your nails. Your nails will be attracting compliments left and right with a tie dye makeover. Try one of two different methods to create a tie dyed swirl using your favorite nail polish.
  4. Image titled Tie Dye a Shirt Step 19
    Create a tie dye effect in photoshop. If you want to add a colorful tie dye to your graphic designs, learn how to create the effect in photoshop. With a few steps, you'll be on your way to adding a rainbow background to all of your handmade graphics.


  • Adding salt to your dye mixture makes the color appear more vibrant.
  • Wear rubber gloves and an apron to keep the dye from getting on your skin or clothes.
  • You can mix dye colours to make other colours.
  • Pre-wash your shirt before you soak and dye it, as any residue on it might keep the dye from reacting.
  • Avoid using synthetic fabrics in your shirt, as they will react with the dye differently than regular cotton.
  • Never use water that is boiling or very hot, as this will prevent the dye from setting properly.
  • If you are going to tie dye, always make sure you are on a clean surface and away from any furniture.
  • Whether you are using rubber or thread to tie the cloth, you must tie it very tight. This is to stop the color from spreading or seeping inside.
  • Try to use a 100% Cotton shirt, as this helps in the tie dye process. Remember to wash off any excess dye after leaving it for a day or so, to keep the colour from fading and going in the washing machine.
  • Make sure if you are a child trying to tie dye make sure there adult supervision.

Article Info

Categories: Fabric and Clothing Decoration