Tie-Dye Fun for the Whole Family

Written by Chronicle Staff. Posted in Uncategorized

Published on August 18, 2010 with No Comments

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It’s back to school time, and kids will soon be returning to their classrooms and hallways, ready with new pencils and notebooks.  While most parents are going through department store shelves looking for the hottest styles for their trendy kids for the first day of school, one classic trend making a big comeback can be found in your own backyard or garage.

While most people associate tie-dyed T-shirts with the hippies of the 1960s, it’s really coming back, and kids love the bright colors mixed together.   Tie-dyeing is fast becoming one of the coolest things to do, and it’s a great way to spend an afternoon with the whole family.

Supplies you’ll need:

Soda ash water;

Items to dye – Anything works from T-shirts to baby onesies to pillowcases and bed sheets, and even towels.  As long as the items are white and at least 60% cotton, the dye should take to the fabric well.;

Rubber bands;

Dye:  You can get spray-on dye for younger kids and simply spray-on tie-dye designs, but middle school and high school age kids usually prefer the dip-and-dye method;


Rubber gloves;

Large buckets;

Dish rack;

A long old spoon or tongs;

Plastic or garbage bags;


Salt (optional).

Wash the items that you will be dyeing in cold water, and then rubber band them in the way you’d like the dye to sit on the material while the fabric is still wet.  For the classic and popular circle pattern, lay the shirt (or other item you’re using) out flat on a table, and then lift it up from the center.   Run your hand down the shirt to gather it together, and put the first rubber band about an inch down from the top, where your hand was holding it.  Make sure the rubber band is tight.  Continue to add rubber bands about an inch to two inches apart all the way down until the item is completely tied up.

There are many other ways to tie an item for a design, or just put the rubber bands on in whatever way to come up with a funky new design.

Now, let the items sit in a bucket of soda ash water for about 20 minutes.  This acts as a fixer that helps the colors set in the fabric better and keep from running.  While waiting for the items to soak, set up your work station in your backyard, driveway or garage.  Lay out the newspaper and put buckets filled with water and the dye on top of the newspaper.  Make sure to read the label to see how much water you need with each dye and how to prepare the dye properly.  Some brands recommend using salt to make the colors more vibrant and fun, and the colors tend to turn out better when salt is added.

Take your items out of the soda ash water and dip them in the desired colors, starting with the lightest color first if you are using more than one color.  Let the colors sit in the dye for at least 10 minutes each.  Use the large spoon or tongs to get the items out of the dye water initially, and then the items can be handled with hands, as long as the person is wearing rubber gloves.

If using multiple colors on one item, let the items sit on an upside-down dish rack in between colors as you rinse the shirt, or wait for it to set, depending on the instructions of the dye bought.  Make sure to follow the instructions.  Then use the next color.   It’s best to use three or four colors maximum for T-shirts and pillowcases, but towels and bed sheets can generally take up to six colors and still look great.

After the item has been dyed completely in the desired color or colors, wrap it up tightly in a plastic bag or garbage bag, individually, for at least 24 hours.  Then rinse them out with cold water until no water runs out, and undo the rubber bands.  Wash the tie-dyed items in the washer before wear or use, and then run the washer with old towels or empty to rinse the washer of any excess dye.

After the final wash, the dye should be completely set in and should not run if washed with regular clothes.  The colors may fade over time, but it does not take much time or money to do another batch of tie-dyed items.

Tie-dyeing is a great way to have family bonding time before going back to school, and it allows kids to express their imagination and create items that will be sure to spark conversation at school, while, at the same time, creating memories that will last forever.

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