Tie Dye Tips and Techniques


Tie-dyed T-shirts are groovy, man, groovy. But tie-dyeing wasn't invented by hippies in the 1960s. The technique is based on an ancient Japanese method called Shibori, a resist-dye technique where areas are tied to block the flow of dye. Whether you are tie-dyeing T-shirts, silk scarves, onsies or bedspreads, the technique is the same.


  • Natural materials make the best choice for tie-dyeing, including cotton, ramie, silk and protein fibers like wool. If you are starting with T-shirts, choose 100 percent cotton for a more consistent color, as man-made fibers like acrylic and polyester take dye differently than cotton. You can also use tie-dyeing techniques to dye yarn or roving. You won't get specific patterns as with fabric, but blocking the flow of dye to parts of the yarn or roving does create interesting effects.

Dye Choices

  • For the best results, match the kind of dye to the material. For example, use acid dyes on protein fibers like wool and silk, but use fiber reactive dyes on cellulose fibers like cotton or linen. You can also use natural dyes, such as onion skins, but the natural dye require a mordant to bind the dye to the fabric, and different mordants produce different colors.

Stay Safe and Clean

  • Make sure to use eye protection and a mask when mixing dye or using caustic materials like soda ash. Work outside if possible or cover your dyeing area with newspapers, as the process is messy. Wear gloves when dyeing to keep your hands clean too. After soaking the material in dye, thoroughly rinse the fabric in cold water to set the dye, followed by warm water until it runs clear. Then wash in a machine; this helps to keep the colors bright.

Choosing Colors

  • You can create your own colors by mixing dyes, but remember that the more colors you add, the greater the chance that you'll end up with brown. If you are just starting, try using primary and secondary colors only. If you want to dye the material a solid color first, complete that entire dyeing cycle before the tie-dye process.

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