A Complete Guide To Tie-Dye Shirts

A Complete Guide To Tie-Dye Shirts

November 13, 2018

Have you noticed there’s been a resurgence in DIY and hand-making crafts? As we’re faced with the loss of individuality and quality thanks to mass production methods, it’s not unexpected that the social trend for handmade is making a comeback. So, as the world embraces craftsmanship, creativity and shared knowledge, we want to draw your attention to one craft, in particular, that’s seeing a revival – tie-dye. You see, a new generation of dyers have emerged and if you’re inclined to get a little crafty, then we want you to have the chance to be part of it.

Keen to learn more? Read on to find out about what tie-dye really is, the incredibly long and rich cultural history behind it and of course, how you can try it at home!

What is tie-dye?

If you’re familiar with tie-dye, you probably recognise it as the ‘psychedelic’ colours and effects on t-shirts that were having their hey-day in the 60’s and 70’s. And you’re right - that is the end result. But tie-dyeing also refers to the process.

According to dictionary.com, it’s “a process of hand-dyeing fabric, in which sections of the fabric are tightly bound, as with thread, to resist the dye solution, thereby producing a variegated pattern.”

In short, it involves dying some areas of fabric, while preventing the dye from reaching other areas.

A Complete Guide To Tie-Dye Shirts

The multi-faceted history of tie-dye

Tie-dying has a longer and much richer history than you might expect. In fact, tie-dye has been a craft used in many different cultures. We explore a few here:

Indian Bandhani

Bandhan is a Sanskrit word meaning “to tie.” So, stemming from this, the Indian Bandhani is the ancient art of tying and dying fabric across several stages and using several colours. Traditionally, thin cloth is folded into layers, with areas gathered and tied with cotton yarn to produce patterns like dots and waves. The fabric is then dunked into vats of coloured dye. Commonly used for saris, the Indian tie and dye method was used with cotton for more simplistic designs, right through to silk for more intricate and lustrous patterns.

Japanese Shibori

Though it originated earlier, Shibori is an indigo dying technique that became particularly popular among the poor during the Edo period of Japan (1603-1868). This term encompasses a range of techniques for “resist-dyeing”. The “resist” items used throughout the process may include thread, knots, rubber bands, wax, rocks and sticks, in order to create intricate designs on kimonos. Although there are six main Shibori techniques, Kanoko is the closest one to tie-dye as we know it today.

American Tie-Dye

So, how did tie-dye become so popular in America? Well, in the 60’s, the dye company RIT was losing its market as the younger generations were turning away from dying their own home goods. However, the export market was doing well, with RIT dye being used in Africa and India to replace natural dyes – with much greater success. So, RIT manager, Don Price decided to save the brand by introducing the tie-dye processes of other nations to the younger American generations. It was superb timing, for the hippie movement was underway. People wanted to experiment with psychedelic colours and individual clothing statements.

RIT saw some success in Greenwich Village, New York City, but struggled to expand interest any further. So, they financed two well-known Village artists to tie-dye several hundred shirts to give away at an upcoming music festival - none other than Woodstock. Because of each shirt’s unique nature, it became a symbol of individualism, anti-establishmentarianism and the ideal of peace.

 A Complete Guide To Tie-Dye Shirts

How does one tie-dye?

You’ll by now understand there are many different processes for tie-dying. But, today, we’re going to show you three of the easiest ways to achieve the effect at home. We’ll start by showing you the basic steps and materials you’ll need. At step six, you should insert the steps relevant to your chosen technique – we’ve provided you with three examples at the end: striped, crumpled and the classic spiral.

  1. Choose what to tie-dye. A t-shirt or tank is a great place to start, and natural fibres like cotton tend to absorb dye best.
  2. Wash your shirt. Depending on whether you want the definition of your pattern crisp, or the colours more blended, you can choose to dye your shirt once completely dry, or while it is still wet.
  3. Gather your materials:
    1. Plastic sheets or newspaper
    2. Plastic tub or clean laundry sink
    3. Plastic bag
    4. Latex gloves
    5. Choice of dyes – we suggest an easy one-step kit that comes with application bottles
    6. Ties of choice – rubber bands or thread for example
  4. Choose your colours making sure they complement each other. Complementary colours are those that will create a beautiful secondary colour so that you won’t end up with a brown t-shirt! Yellow and blue, will produce green, for instance. Or yellow and red will create orange if the colour runs.
  5. Cover your space and the clothes you’re wearing to protect them from the dyes. You should also wear gloves. We highly recommend tie-dying outside.
  6. Follow your chosen technique for the tying and dying process.
  7. Place your project in a plastic bag and seal, leaving overnight.
  8. Remove from the bag, placing it in a clean laundry sink or plastic tub.
  9. Undo the binding (note: a lot of dye will come cascading out of your project)
  10. Rinse thoroughly with cold water, squeezing out as much dye as possible.
  11. Rinse thoroughly with cold water again.
  12. Wash it by itself in your washing machine, on a hot cycle, with a hint of soap. (You may want to run a rinse cycle after this to clean your machine of dye residue.)
  13. Allow it to air dry.
  14. Wear your new creation with pride!

A striped effect

  1. Fold your t-shirt with accordion folds or pleats. Whether you pleat it horizontally or vertically will create stripes in different directions.
  2. Secure it with rubber bands at intervals.
  3. Apply the dye to the exposed fabric between the bands. You can alternate the colours for a more dramatic effect. The end result will show stripes of the original material where the rubber bands were placed, with everything else dyed a new colour.

The crumpled technique

  1. Scrunch the t-shirt into a mound.
  2. Bind the bunch of fabric with rubber bands.
  3. Apply dye to the visible side.
  4. Flip over and apply dye to the other side.
  5. The end result will be a marbled effect.

The classic spiral

  1. Pull from the central stomach area of the shirt and twist it in one direction.
  2. Continue to twist until the shirt is spiralled into a flattened disc shape.
  3. Wrap the entire disc with rubber bands to create six wedges of fabric – it will somewhat resemble a pie at this point.
  4. Squirt your die onto the wedges (see image for example).
  5. Turn over and repeat, to dye the back of the shirt too.

If you’re looking for more options to DIY, check out this site for alternative techniques. Or, for ready-to-go tees and tanks, check out our own WeirdMojo range here.

Written by K. Radford for WeirdMojo

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in Thoughts

The WeirdMojo Official T-Shirt Owners Manual
The WeirdMojo Official T-Shirt Owners Manual

February 18, 2019

When you purchase an automobile it comes with an owners manual, when you purchase a dishwasher it comes with an operating guide and when you purchase even the simplest of items, they now come with a little infographic type of instruction.

When you buy a t-shirt or tank top, what do you get? Nothing. 

Read More

Don't Let This T-Shirt Trend Pass you By - WeirdMojo Tees for a Fun Lifestyle
Don't Let This T-Shirt Trend Pass you By

January 19, 2019

Are you looking for a way to reinvent your wardrobe without a costly shopping spree? Upcycling your clothing could be the answer you’re looking for. By making simple modifications to your clothes, by cutting, tying, lacing (even sewing if that’s in your wheelhouse), you can breathe new life into your old clothes and give them a completely different look.

Read More

Laundry Symbols Made Simple and Caring for Graphic Tees and Tanks
Laundry Symbols Made Simple and Caring for Graphic Tees and Tanks

November 04, 2018

Before washing anything in a washing machine or drying anything in a dryer, it is a good idea to thoroughly read the labels on the clothing. Doing so can help you avoid shrinking, felted and discolored clothing.

Read More