Tie dying a shirt (Easy step by step tutorials)

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Tie-Dyed clothes have a special charm – they are all cheerful, colorful, and captivating.

When you are feeling low, take a white t-shirt or a light colored one and start tie dyeing – I can bet that you will feel a lot less stressful and may even feel elated when you see the results (depending on what you did with it). You may try it once – or many times.

tie dye t shirts

Tie-Dyeing a t-shirt involves the same process as tie-dyeing any fabric. You can check out these posts on tie-dye if you are a novice: How to tie and dye fabric- 6 methods used

All the tie dye designs start with the basic crumpling, scrunching, folding, twisting and tying of the fabric into different shapes and then dyeing. Each person has his own way of manipulating the fabric. Other than this, the strength of the tying, the number of minutes the dyeing is done, the type of string used for tying, how many time you wound the string around the fabric, the time you kept for curing etc can alter the design and colour of your final tie-dyed t-shirt – which is what makes tie and dye unique. It is different everytime you do it, depending on how you do it.

Here are the basic ways to do tie-dye on a t-shirt and my favourite designs.

tie and dye

How to Tie-dye T-shirts

Step 1. Prepare your supplies

First and foremost select the best type of t-shirt for your tie and dye adventure.

No synthetic t-shirts – they are alright if you are not particular about the vividness of the color. But if you want true colors choose natural fabrics. 100% cotton is best. But it is ok with a small percentage of synthetic fibers like polyester. Say a 90% cotton 10% polyester t-shirt.

Wash the new t-shirt in hot water and detergent to remove all sizing, and other finishes. Do not dry the t-shirt. Squeeze out the extra water and dry it till it is still slightly damp.

If you are using an old t-shirt, wet it. It is better to dye a damp t-shirt

You will need a plastic basin or a stainless steel container to dye. I used 1 litre yogurt container for this and one t-shirt fits very well inside. You also need a wood spatula to stir the dye (again, that which you will never use for food), strings, scissors, fine salt and a pair of gloves, a place to keep the t-shirt flat to dry. And ofcourse the dye.

And if you are not dip dyeing, you will need squirt bottles. But this post is about dip dyeing. You can follow the same steps for the application dyeing.

Related post : Different types of Fabric dyes. 

Step 2. Prepare the dye bath

For fixing colors, many recommend using salt water to prepare the dye bath – you can add 1 glass of fine salt in 1.5 to 2 liters of very hot tap water. You can also use a pre-dip method – ie dip t-shirt in salt water before dyeing. 

If you are dyeing t shirts made of natural fiber fabrics like cotton, linen, and rayon using Salt in the dyeing process can set colors; But for tshirts made of Nylon use Vinegar.

Follow the instructions in your dye packet ( or their website) on how to make the dye solution. My dye packets instructs to use hot water to dissolve the dye.

Step 3. Do the tying

If you want to know some very basic ways to create tie dye designs you can check out this post :  10 easy to do tie and dye designs .

I love an ombre effect on T-shirts. The Omber design results in a gradation of colours from light to dark. 

You can achieve this look by dyeing the fabric in steps.

Prepare the dye solution to full strength of the colour – test on scrap to see if the color is what you want.

Divide the t-shirt into sections . I have tied a string loosely around where I want the gradation to start. This will result in some designs also on the fabric. If you do not want the designs, but just want the gradation, skip the tying. Just decide where you want the gradation to start and go from there.

Step 4. Dyeing

Suneffect t-shirt design

tie dye t-shirts

The sun-effect t-shirt can be made by pinching the t-shirt by the middle.

tie dyeing for tshirts

Twist it nicely.

how to tiedye a tshirt

Start tying in sections along this twist, maintaining the twist. The twisting will give a blurred effect to the undyed areas. Do not skimp on tying. If you slack on tying thoroughly the colors will seep through and your undyed areas will not be vividly white. The dye will get through.

If you want a blurred effect tie the ties a little loosely. Dye as usual.

Ombre effect

In this case, you will be dyeing the t-shirt in stages. First the bottom is dyed in a strong dye solution and then in a less stronger dilute solution. I have tied the shirt along the bottom edge loosely which resulted in subtle patterns on the fabric.

Dip the bottom edge of your t-shirt, till the mark, in your dye solution for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, for the next step, dilute the dye solution you have with more lukewarm water added to it.

After the 15 minutes is up, (put a timer for this) dye the next section for the next 15 minutes.

Then dilute the dye solution again. Dye the next section. The last portion have to be dyed with a very diluted dye solution. 

This will result in the omber effect.

Rainbow Designs

If you want designs on your t-shirt, you will have to first decide on where you want the design to be centered. And then fold, scrunch, twist the fabric so that the design will appear where you want it to be.

The circular swirls with rainbow colors seems to be the most popular design.

To achieve this look, you have to swirl the t-shirt from the middle and then tie it up in a bundle; pour dye solutions in the 7 rainbow colors in squirt bottles. Tie the fabric into a roll and squirt the colors on top.

Step 4. Curing

You can use a microwave to fix the colors thoroughly and fastly – Keep the dyed fabric inside a microwave safe container (not used to cook food, ever)
for 5 minutes. Let the T-shirt sit in the dye bath for 15 more minutes, without removing the container from the microwave.

Squeeze out the dye. Do not remove the ties at this point

Lay the t-shirt (still tied up) on a plastic surface or a scrap fabric piece.

If you have not used the microwave technique, Let it cure overnight or for 24 hours.

Step 5. Washing

After the curing is done, wash it with the ties still intact. When excess dye has washed out, remove the ties. Now wash again. Wait till almost all loose dye has washed out. Now wash in detergent and then dry.

Related posts : 20 different types of t-shirts ; 15 Different ways to decorate and customize t-shirts. ; Cutting t-shirt to different designs : 10 ideas ; Refashion old t-shirts


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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
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