How to Make the Boldest & Brightest Tie Dye

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Things You'll Need

  • 100% cotton T-shirts or other garments or fabric

  • Washing machine

  • Detergent

  • Water

  • String or rubber bands

  • Bucket

  • Soda ash

  • Urea

  • Fiber-reactive dye

  • Jars

  • Dust mask

  • Funnel

  • Squeeze bottle

  • Sodium alginate

The right technique can make your tie-dye projects really bright and bold.

Tie-dyeing T-shirts and other garments is not difficult, and even children can do a good job of getting the dye on the fabric. But getting really bright, bold colors on your tie-dyed clothing can be more of a challenge. Here is a process for making your T-shirts the brightest and boldest in your neighborhood.


Step 1

Make sure you have 100% cotton fabric or garments, as cotton takes fiber-reactive dye the best. Pre-wash the item in hot water and dry it. Then fold or tie your garment/fabric in one of the many ways that tie-dye artists use. has many books and DVDs that can show you how to fold and tie your garment. A favorite for bold tie-dye is the spiral tie, where you twist the fabric from the center into a spiral and then secure it with string or rubber bands.

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Step 2

Fill the bucket with 1 gallon of warm water. Add one cup of soda ash (sodium carbonate) and stir until it is dissolved. If you use washing soda from the grocery store, use three times that amount. Soak the tied garments or fabric in the soda ash for 5 to 15 minutes. Remove them from the bucket and allow them to drain and dry out a little bit. If they are too wet when you apply the color, the excess water will dilute the dye. They should be at least slightly damp, however, when you apply the dye. Do not untwist the fabric.


Step 3

Decide on what colors you want to use in your shirt, planning ahead to avoid muddy colors. Muddy color results when you mix colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel, for example green and red. If these colors are next to each other on your shirt, the colors will bleed into each other and turn brown where they overlap. Try to put analogous colors – colors that are neighbors on the color wheel – next to each other, such as red and orange. That doesn't mean you can't use a lot of colors on your tie-dye; just lay them out in the order of the rainbow, and you can't go wrong.


Step 4

Mix your dye solutions while the fabric is draining. Add 1 tablespoon of the urea to 1 cup of warm water; stir until dissolved. Wearing the dust mask, measure out 3 teaspoons of dye into a jar. Pour the urea water over the dye slowly, stirring with a small whisk or fork to dissolve the dye thoroughly. Pour the dye solution into a squeeze bottle using the funnel.


You can also add some sodium alginate to the dye solution to thicken it somewhat. This creates sharper edges in your tie-dye, as the dyes don't mix as much. Follow the directions on the sodium alginate package about how to mix the dry powder into the dye solution.

Plan to use 12-20 ounces of dye per shirt.


Step 5

Lay the drained, tied items out on a plastic sheet or garbage bag. Squirt the dye onto the tied bundles, remembering to keep complementary colors away from each other. Turn the tied bundle over, and squirt more color on. Put the bundles in a plastic bag. Store them for 24 hours in the plastic bags, at a temperature of at least 70 degrees.


Step 6

Fill a washer with hot water and some detergent. While the bundles are still tied up, rinse them with cold water using a hose and bucket. Untie the bundles, while rinsing with warmer water. When the excess dye is mostly washed off, put the dyed fabric in the washing machine. Do not crowd the machine, as some of the dye will come off in the machine. You may want to wash a second time to make sure all the excess dye is washed out.


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