Tie Dye Instructions
We teach the modern "direct application" method of tie dye. In direct application tie dye, you make small, concentrated solutions of dye and squirt the dye onto the fabric. You do not make large buckets full of dye, and you do not dip the fabric into the dye. When using dyes and chemicals it is important to protect your work area, and always wear gloves and protective clothing. Please read our common sense safety and dye handling instructions before starting your project.
Equipment you will need:
- Dyeing Surface: Disposable work surfaces such as cardboard or plastic tarp work well.
- Work space protection: Plastic sheets covered with newspaper provide good workspace protection.
- Personal protection: rubber gloves to protect skin from fixer irritation and dye staining; eye protection to protect eyes from splashing fixer water and Synthrapol SP detergent; dust masks to prevent breathing powders. “Paint shirts” to protect clothing.
- Bucket to mix fixer solution
- Pitcher or jar to mix chemical water
- Cups, bottles or other containers in which to mix dye colors.
- Ties: Big, thin rubber bands, twine, sinew, zip ties, etc. all work well to tie fabric.
- Pipettes, squeeze bottles, or other tools to apply dye.
- Measuring cups and measuring teaspoons.
Step 1:Wash fabric
Wash fabric to remove any sizing or oils on the fabric that may interfere with the dye.
We include this instruction because it is a long standing recommendation in fabric dyeing. Unless you are concerned about the fitness of the fabric or tie dye, you don’t need to bother washing the fabric first.
Step 2: Prepare fixer water
In a plastic bucket, or other suitable container, mix ¾ cup dye fixer per gallon of warm water. Expand recipe as needed.
Dye fixer is a chemical called sodium carbonate or soda ash. Wear gloves to keep it from irritating your skin and avoid splashing it into eyes to avoid irritation and burning; treat it as you would a strong soap.
Step 3: Soak Fabric
Soak the material to be dyed in the dye fixer solution. Let the fabric soak in the solution for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the fabric is completely saturated. You can reuse the fixer water and treat several batches of fabric in the same mixture.
Step 4: Fold, Twist or Tie
Wring out excess fixer water back into the fixer water bucket. Place the “fixed” fabric on dyeing surface and fold, twist or tie it into the pattern you want to dye. You can find instructions on common designs later in this guide. The dye spreads on the fabric in different ways depending on how wet the fabric is with fixer water. Wetter fabric causes the dye to flow out into fabric in more feathery or marbled patterns. Dryer fabric yields cleaner lines and less spreading. Different dye patterns look better with different fixer wetness levels in the fabric. For example, marble patterns look better when starting with a wetter shirt, and striped patterns look better on dryer shirts.
Step 5: Prepare Chemical Water for dyes
Chemical water consists of Urea, Ludigol and optionally Water Softener. The recipe for Chemical Water is ¾ cup urea, 2 teaspoons ludigol, and an optional 1 teaspoon water softener for every 1 quart of warm water. This will be the “Chemical water” you will mix your dye powders with to make your dye colors. If you do not have the chemicals for chemical water, you will mix the dye powders with plain warm water. Expand recipe as needed.
Step 6: Mix dye colors
In this stage, you are not making big buckets full of dye. You will be mixing dye powder with “chemical water” or plain warm water in cups, bottles, or other containers in small, concentrated batches. You can control the shade of the colors you mix by using different quantities of dye in your concentrated dye solutions. For bright, strong colors, mix 4 to 6 teaspoons dye powder per cup of chemical water. For medium shades, mix 2 to 4 teaspoons dye powder per cup of chemical water. For light or pastel shades, mix ¼ to 2 teaspoons of dye powder per cup of chemical water. Stir dye well to dissolve dye powder completely.
Step 7: Apply the dye
With fabric on dyeing surface, apply dye to fabric by squirting dye onto the fabric with a pipette, squeeze bottle, or other dye application tool. Most dyeing patterns call for saturating the fabric with dye. The mistake most beginners make is to not squirt enough dye into the fabric. Apply all the different colors at this time. Flip the fabric over and apply dye to both sides of the fabric, saturating each side of the fabric.
Step 8: After you dye
After you are done dyeing the fabric, leave it alone. Do not untie it. Do not hang it up to dry. Leave it tied up, and leave it alone. Let the fabric sit for 2-24 hours. The longer you can let the fabric sit, the easier it will be to wash out loose dye from the fabric. The length of time you let the fabric sit is not overly critical. If you are in a hurry, let the fabric sit for as long as your deadline will allow.
Step 9: Wash loose dye from fabric
Wear gloves while handling the fabric, as the dye will still stain your hands until after it has been washed. Place fabric under cold running water and rinse until no more dye comes out of the fabric. We always say “rinse until you’re sick of rinsing.” A lot of loose dye will wash out off the fabric. This is normal. The wash water may turn black or brown, and the fabric may look discolored with ’dirty’ dye. This is normal as well.” After rinsing, move to washing machine. You may wash several pieces at once, up to a full load, even if washing different colors. From this point, you can continue with or without Synthrapol SP Detergent. The best and easiest way to wash out loose dye is with Synthrapol SP Detergent. Synthrapol SP is a very concentrated and sudsy detergent - a little goes a long way. If you have a front loading washing machine, do not use Synthrapol SP as it is too sudsy. Front loading or low water washing machines tend to not wash out loose dye well, because they do not have enough water to dilute the dye and carry it away.
With Synthrapol SP: Put your dyed shirts directly into a top loading washing machine, adding Synthrapol SP detergent. On the first washing, use cold water. Use 1-2 tbsp of Synthrapol SP if you have washed most of the loose dye out by hand, and up to ¼ cup of Synthrapol SP for heavily dyed loads. The more dye you are attempting to wash out, the more Synthrapol SP you will use. Use warm or hot water on subsequent washings. Add smaller amounts of Synthrapol SP Detergent on each additional washing. Wash fabric as many times as you need you’ve washed out all the loose dye and the water in the rinse cycle is clear.
Without Synthrapol SP: If you do not have Synthrapol SP Detergent, use regular laundry soap in amounts for a normal wash load. Wash fabric as many times as you need to until you've washed out all the loose dye and the water in the rinse cycle is clear.
You are finished!
Dry as you would any normal fabric and enjoy!