T-Shirt Tie Dye Guide and Patterns For Kids

Tie-dyeing is when clothing, sheets, or other fabrics are dyed using a variety of brightly colored dyes, where garments made from knit or woven fabric display bright colored patterns. Tie-dyeing was influenced by traditional dyeing methods found in various cultures around the world. Tie-dye became fashionable in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This fashion statement was made popular by various musicians within the United States, including Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, Joe Cocker, and John Sebastian. Even today people continue to tie dye fabrics for fashion.

Anybody can learn the tie-dyeing process. In fact, tie-dyeing requires creativity in order to produce unique color patterns that are made by folding, tying, stitching, or scrunching the fabric to control where the dye will and will not be able to reach. The pattern used in the folding and scrunching of the material will be what causes the final design. Experienced tie-dyers can actually predict and control the resulting pattern; however, most people enjoy surprise of the craft.

Things You'll Need:

  1. 100% Cotton T-shirts
  2. Washing Machine
  3. Laundry Detergent
  4. Folding Table
  5. Rubber bands or tie wraps
  6. Pattern books
  7. Dust Mask, Gloves, Vinyl Cover
  8. Soda Ash Solution
  9. Cup measure
  10. Urea
  11. Container
  12. Dye Powder
  13. Funnel
  14. Squeeze Bottles, Sponges, Paint Brushes
  15. Plastic Bag
  16. Professional Textile Detergent
  17. Professional Textile Fabric Softener


Step 1: Preparations

  • Gather all necessary materials and protective equipment.
  • Wash all apparel prior to moving forward with the project.
  • Use a folding table or other surface to lay the wet t-shirt or other apparel on.

Step 2: Folding and Tying the Garment

  • Fold and tie the chosen material into the pattern you want. For highly detailed patterns, tie-dyers should squeeze and spin extra water out of the fabric before folding. Several instructional books and multimedia courses exist to help you come up with great pattern ideas.

Step 2: Prepare and Soak Garments in a Soda Ash Solution

  • Wear a dust mask and gloves to protect yourself from fumes and chemicals. Place vinyl covering over all valuables to avoid staining your property. Prepare 8 ounces of soda ash mixer per 1 gallon of warm water. A gallon of soda ash mixture will soak between 10 and 12 XL t-shirts.
  • Reserve 15 minutes to fully soak the tied garment.
  • Squeeze the tied garment until all extra solution is gone. Do not throw away the soda ash solution. In fact, tie-dyers can re-use the soda ash solution until it's completely gone.

Step 3: Mix the Dyes

  • Continue to wear all protective equipment.
  • Use a cup measure to pour the correct amount of urea and warm water into a suitable container, such as an old pitcher. Typically you need twice as much urea requires as you do dye. For example, 1 tbsp of urea will require 2 tsp of dye.
  • Add a modest amount of urea water to the dye powder until you make a paste. Pour the remaining urea water into the mixing container and then stir until it is completely dissolved.
  • Use a funnel to pour the dye mixture into squeeze bottles.
  • Fill each squeeze bottle with about four ounces of liquid dye. Some colors will require more liquid dye to obtain the desired outcome. Check the labeling on the jar to find out the best measurement.

Step 4: Apply Dye to T-Shirt

  • Apply the dye mixture to the t-shirt. Use squeeze bottles, sponges, and paint brushes to create the desired pattern. Use a variety of colors for more colorful and unique effect.

Step 5: Allow it to Rest

  • Place the tied garment into a plastic bag to keep it damp. Allow the tied garment to rest for at least 4 hours; however, for the brightest color contrast leave it for closer to 24 hours.
  • Allow longer time-frames if temperatures dip below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 6: Wash the Garment

  • Fill the washing machine with hot water and then add 1/4 cup of professional textile detergent.
  • Rinse the tied garment in cold water under a water faucet, shower head, or water hose to halt the dye reaction.
  • Rinse the tied garment in warm water while untying the folds. Continue rinsing the garment until the water runs clear of dye.
  • Toss the garment into the washing machine immediately after thoroughly rinsing it. Be sure that the washing machine fully cycles.
  • Do not wash more than 8 adult t-shirts at any given time.
  • Use a professional textile fabric softener during the final rinse to ensure the tie-dyes remain soft to the touch.

Helpful Hints

  • Use natural fiber substitutes, such as hemp, linen or rayon, if a retailer does not carry 100% cotton shirts.
  • Be careful when tie-dyeing silk or wool. Don't use soda ash on these materials.
  • Obtain water softener if using hard water.
  • Never use hot water when tie-dyeing apparel.
  • Always dissolve urea in water first and then add it to the dye powder to create a paste.
  • Use Calsolene oil to break the surface tension of the paste.
  • Do not exceed 8 shirts per laundry load; otherwise the water will become muddy.
  • Hand wash all delicate natural materials.

Popular Tie-Dye Variations

Avid tie-dyers may create several tie-dye variations when creating their own shirts. Some may experiment with spiral designs, peace signs, scrunches, and 4th of July patterns. Spiral designs consist of simply grabbing the middle of the shirt and then spinning it in a circular fashion. A complicated pattern consists of creating peace signs with a light marker and then folding the shirt. Scrunching the shirt into a small ball will produce a different effect. Fourth of July patterns require numerous rubber-bands and various colors to produce the American flag. Experienced tie-dyers will create their own unique patterns.

The Chemical Process of Tie-Dyeing

The cellulose fibers found in natural fabric, such as cotton, rayon, hemp and linen, form a bond with fiber reactive dyes. Each of these molecules absorbs a certain spectra of light, which restricts the reflection of other spectra. Covalent bonding is one of the strongest chemical reactions. It usually happens gradually over time, depending on the temperatures or pH level of the surrounding environment. The soda ash soak increases the pH level of the tied fabric to roughly 10.5. Increasing the pH level of the soda ash solution also raises the level of negative hydrogen ions within the dyeing environment. The soda ash soak also allows for the dyes to work at room or higher temperatures. Experienced tie-dyers may choose to use baking soda as an alternative to soda ash, especially if the shirt is being made for chemically sensitive people. Generally, the tie-dyed fabric must rest for 24 hours to allow for the dye to chemically react. This allows the fibers to become completely saturated by the reactive dyes and become permanently bonded. The non-bonded molecules wash away while rinsing under running water.
Written by: , a staff writer at ooShirts.com