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5 easy tie-dye instructions — plus, 4 tie-dye patterns to try

5 easy tie-dye instructions — plus, 4 tie-dye patterns to try

Tie-dying is exactly what it sounds like. You twist a T-shirt, garment or other cloth item, tie it in various places with rubber bands and then dye it. When finished, the twisted and folded areas of the shirt reveal a cool colored pattern. After a good rinsing and then drying, you are left with a shirt that’s as fun as it is fashionable.

Tie-dye shirts make great team T-shirts, and they also make for a great activity for kids. Consider lining up a fun tie-dye project for your next party. Even better, the final product doubles as instant party favor. Try these instructions for tie-dye basics and a few fun patterns.

Tie-dye materials

  • White, 100% cotton T-shirt (or other cotton item)
  • A tie-dye ink kit (which includes tie-dye instructions) or several colors of Rit dye
  • These items, if not using a tie-dye kit:
    • Squirt bottles
    • Rubber bands
    • Rubber gloves
  • Gallon-sized zip plastic bags
  • Water (to add to the ink bottles)
  • A spray bottle of water (helpful to dampen shirts before applying ink)
  • Paper towels or rags for spills

Project preparation

1. Get set up
If you have purchased a new T-shirt, machine wash and dry it first, but don’t use fabric softener or a dryer sheet, to avoid leaving any kind of residue on the fabric that might repel the ink. Cover your work space with a plastic tablecloth (or set this up outside).

2. Prepare your ink
If you bought a kit, set up the inks in the bottles according to the tie-dye instructions. If you bought powered or liquid dye, prepare it according to package instructions and put the ink into the squirt bottles.

3. Prepare your shirt
Spray the shirt with water to dampen it, then choose your pattern from the list of four below or come up with your own. Twist the shirt and wrap with rubber bands to secure it in your desired pattern.

4. Ink the shirt
Squeeze ink onto the sections per kit instructions or per the pattern you’ve decided to follow — or freestyle it! Once you’ve finished dying, place each shirt in a sealed plastic bag for 24 hours to allow the ink to set and the colors to become vibrant.

5. Rinse
After 24 hours, put on a pair of rubber gloves, remove the shirt from the bag and rinse it in cold water (without removing the rubber bands) until the water runs clear of the dye. Then remove the rubber bands, rinse again, then machine wash and dry the shirts on the hottest setting allowed on the shirt tag. Do not combine the shirts with any other clothing for that initial wash and dry in case any extra dye bleeds. When it’s dry, you are ready to wear and enjoy your classic shirt!

Tie-dye patterns

1. The classic swirl pattern

Pull the shirt from the center stomach area and twist/swirl in one direction so the entire shirt forms a flattened disc shape that looks a rose. Wrap the disc with three to six rubber bands in a crisscross overlap pattern which will give you six wedges or quadrants of fabric. Put on your rubber gloves and squirt at least three different dye colors onto the wedges formed by the bands. Make sure to do the back of the shirt, too, so you have a uniform look.

2. Crumpled or splotched pattern

Lay the shirt flat then take your hand and twist, turn and crumple it while keeping the shirt flat. Pull little pieces of the shirt up by pinching your fingers to bring as much of the shirt up to where the dye will be applied. Continue to crumple the shirt in a random way while making a flattened disc shape. Take several rubber bands and tie into quadrants. Don your rubber gloves, choose your dye and saturate each quadrant.

3. Striped pattern

Fold the shirt from the bottom up into small pleats until the shirt in the shape of a long, thin log. Take your rubber bands and place them evenly across the pleated shirt log using about five to eight bands. Put on your rubber gloves and choose a different dye for each section between rubber bands, making sure the ink is fully absorbed through each layer of pleating. Make sure the shirt is saturated all the way around.

4. Circle pattern

Choose the areas where you want the circle or bull’s-eyes to appear. (Three circles are standard.) Pull a tiny bit of the fabric up in these areas and twist and pinch with your fingers and wrap with one rubber band at the base so the fabric sticks up above it. Follow this for the other areas where you want a circle pattern. Next, choose the color you want the circle to be and squirt on that area above the rubber band making sure it is saturating through. Next choose the color(s) you want the shirt to be and squirt both front and back avoiding where the circle dye is.