tie dye tutorial: the official, hhr how-to guide to tie dye


Yes, the much anticipated post is here.  My how-to tie dye guide.  I’m so flattered by the requests for such a post, and of course I had fun doing it.

DISCLAIMER: the dye I used for this post is NOT my favorite dye of choice.  I used dye that is really easy to buy/use so that people who want to dye at home can have a realistic expectation of the outcome.  Also, I couldn’t find soda ash at the crafts stores here in Hawaii (I had to order some online and it’s not here yet) – so, if you use soda ash, you’ll get even brighter, better, results.

STEP 1: Supplies

  • dye – in this case I bought a Tulip brand dye kit that includes a lot of the items in this list
  • plastic squirt bottles (more on this as we go)
  • rubber bands
  • soda ash (this is a white powder, usually found in the craft section right with the tie dye or fabric dye products)
  • whatever you want to dye: shirts, dresses, whatever fabric  (i find that 100% cotton dyes the best)
  • gloves
  • a tarp or a surface that you don’t kind getting stains on
  • a bucket
  • a washing machine
  • a sink or hose
  • plastic bags

this kit is the most basic and easy ready-to-go kit!

I want to say this: Tulip brand dye is great.  I’ve used it oodles of times, and its easy to get at every craft store I’ve ever been in This kit came with three colors: yellow, blue, and a pinky reddish color.

I’m going to interrupt the how-to steps with a little personal philosophy on dying.  (this probably should have come first. but whatevs.  Let’s just roll with it, right?)

Let’s talk about dye and colors for a minute:

  • red + yellow = orange
  • red + blue = purple
  • yellow + blue = green
  • red + yellow + blue = brown

You don’t have to buy every color out there to make a rainbow of colors.  You can mesh the colors together.  And when you dye the way I do – the colors WILL run together and mix.  So if I have yellow next to red on a shirt, there will be orange in the final product.

For this project, I ONLY used these three colors.  In the final results you’ll see how it looks like I had a whole mess of colors. Its dye.  Its liquid.  It runs, and when the liquids touch each other they mix.  It’s a beautiful thing.   Which leads me to my most important piece of tie dye instruction…

TIE DYE IS NOT MEANT TO BE PERFECT.  Colors can and will run together.  That’s what makes it pretty.  Just let it happen.  Don’t stress.  Don’t worry about making perfect lines.  The “imperfections” is what makes every piece unique and awesome.  Whenever you’re doing something by hand I think it should look like it was done by hand, as opposed to being so “perfect” it looks machine manufactured.

Also – this tutorial is for dying with squirt bottles – not dip-dying in buckets like you used to do at summer camp.   I do know how to dip-dye, and I love a good ole fashioned dip-dye, but this method that I’m teaching here is for a more intentional application of the colors.  You can control where the dye goes and use more colors and be more detailed with the squirt bottles.  If you wanted to get really awesome, you could use droppers. Anything with a narrow opening, really.   A ziplock baggie with the corner cut off would do the trick too.

Okay, let’s tie dye!!

Step 2: soaking

You gotta soak your shirts before you can dye them.  (For the sake of keeping things simnple, I’m saying “shirts” in this post, but really – I mean whatever it is you’re dying, any garment, okay?).

Soaking the shirts in a bucket of water + soda ash is best.  The soda ash changes the pH of the shirts, and it does something magical and/or scientific that I don’t rightly know how to explain other than to say it will make your shirts come out ballin’!  They will be way more vibrant and the dye will just get in there way better.

Wet shirts > dry shirts

If you can’t find soda ash, at least soak your shirts in water first.  Dying a wet shirt is way better, and the dye gets in there much easier, and just trust me… things turns out much better when you get your soak on first.

here's my pack o' shirts. i'm fixin to put them in the bucket you can see in the background there.

my shirts all soaking away.

For the sake of this project, since I couldn’t find any soda ash, I soaked them in water with some vinegar and a bunch of salt in there.  I looked up what the ingredients of soda ash are, and given what was available in my house – this is what I figured would be a good substitue.

Soak the shirts for like 20 or 30 minutes.  (I know the soda ash box usually says an hour… but I’m impatient and its always worked just fine for me doing the ole 20 minutes method).

Step 3: wringing, picking your design, folding, rubber banding, dying – pretty much the whole thing. Let’s just do it.

When the soaking is done, WRING out your shirts and we’re ready to pick out a design and start folding and twisting and rubberbaning.

I mean it, wring that shirt out.  We want to dye a DAMP shirt, not one dripping wet.

Now you have to choose what pattern you’d like to do.  I did several just to show y’all how they go!  If you buy that Tulip kit, it actually comes with a nice instructional poster in there that shows you how to do many common tie dye patterns.  I’m pretty sure google and youtube are informative as well.  These guys are pretty rad too: howtotiedye.net – how I roll is pretty similar to them (except the dye dry shirts, which i’m so not into).

I’m pretty self-taught, through a lot of trial and error.  My sister and I have done a lot of dying in our day, and we’ve gotten a lot of the kinks worked out.  So hopefully our system and methods work for you.

THE SPIRAL (my fav)

Lay your shirt out on a nice flat surface.  Pick where you want the center of your spiral to be, and pinch that spot.


THINK ABOUT IT: think about the aesthetic of a shirt.  The center of the spiral will be the focal point.  Do you want the focal point to be your belly?  I sure don’t.  I never ever do my spirals in the center of a shirt (at least not an adult shirt, baby stuff is different).   Pick a spot kinda off-center, off-kilter and start there:

now that's better. PINCH!

Pinch, and twist.  Start twisting from your pinch.


and twist

keep twisting

like a hurricane

See how tight that twist is?  Like a teeshirt hurricane?  That’s what you want.  Make sure that twist is serious and tight. And keep the shirt against the flat surface as you twist.

one hand twists, while the other hand makes sure it all stays flat and tight.

Use one hand to do the twisting, and use the other to sort of guide the shirt and make sure it stays nice and flat and tight and doesn’t bunch up.

like this

see these "tails" that sortsa stick out as you get close to finishing your twist? the sleeves. just try and get them to go with your spiral as best as you can.

Now that you’ve gotten the shirt all twisted up, its time for the rubber bands.  Carefully rubber band it up, trying your best to keep it as flat as you can.  And try not to let the outside of the spiral cover up the inside, keep it flat.


With the spiral, think pie slices.  The rubber bands have made some pie slices.  Put a color on each slice – and every slice will be a ray of the spiral when the shirt is done.  So dye by slice.

A note on dying: Be GENEROUS with your dye.  You gotta saturate the shirt with the dye.  Put so much dye on there that its dripping.  You’re dying a shirt because you don’t want a plain white tee, right?  You’ve folded it so tightly, you gotta use enough dye to get down in there!

i started with the yellow and red

Using the squirt bottles allows you to apply dye to wherever you want it.  So i just point the tip of the dye bottle right to where I want the color to go, and I squeeze.  (I know for some of you this sounds like common sense… but for people who’ve never dyed before and aren’t too experienced with crafts, I just want to spell out every step so they feel confident that they too can make awesome, beautiful tie dye!!)

get that dye everywhere! apply it to both sides of your wheel and the outside too.

Dye BOTH sides of the shirt, and the outside.  Use your bottle to get in there and really get the dye all over the shirt. The whole thing.

all done!

I only had those three colors: red, yellow, and blue – but they all ran together and merged and made orange, green and purple for me.  Beautiful, right? Lovely!

Now stick the dyed shirt in a plastic bag and leave it.  For a while. Like overnight is good.  24 hours is fine.  Just let it soak and chill out.

stick it in a bag

set it and forget it!

Other patterns…

THE FAN/VERTICAL STRIPES (I call this “the fan” because you fold it like you would a paper fan):

lay the shirt out flat

start folding the shirt like you would a paper fan.

all folded up!

You know how to fold like a fan, right?   How you kinda do one up, one down.  Anyways, I don’t know how to really explain it other than like a paper fan, one fold forward then the next one backward, then one forward and so on.

Once its all folded, rubber band it up.  The rubber bands are to help it stay folded.  The way you’re banding is like a biker’s ponytail:

biker ponytail

A lot of folks would dye a shirt like this all one color, and then when it was done there would be vertical stripes because of the folds.  I, however, like to go nuts and do everything rainbow style.


Again, stick it in a bag and let it soak for a good while.


Just start pinching of little pieces of the shirt and rubber banding it off.  Don’t try and be mathmatical about where you pull and band off.  Just let it happen.  Make it haphazard.  Don’t worry if one section has more fabric than another, its cool if they’re different sizes.  Just go with it.  Let it happen.

just start picking spots and rubber banding them off

keep going!

Once you have all your little starbursts pinched off – start dying.  My fav technique is to start dying the little pinched off nubs one color, then do the rest of the shirt a different color.   Or maybe do the nubs in several colors, and then the rest of it in a different color.  Anyways, I like to differentiate the nubs from the rest of the fabric. That’s just my style (I’m sure some people would dye this kind of shirt in different ways, like color blocking or dip dying.  I’m just telling y’all how I’d do it).

blue nubs

after i dyed all the nubs blue, i flipped it over - this is the bottom of the shirt

I flipped the shirt over after dying all the nubs, I dyed the bottom of the shirt “green.”  Meaning I squirted yellow all over it, then blue, and then I massaged and squeezed it ’till the colors mixed together.   Obviously, some parts are still totally yellow. But I know in the washing process it’ll blend together better too.

looks so rad, right?

Bag it up and let it soak like the others.


The bullseye is pretty rad.  Pick a spot to be the center – again, like we talked about in the spiral – think carefully about where you’d like the focal point of your shirt to be.  I suggest starting somewhere off-kilter.

Pinch off a nub.

pick your starting point and pinch it off with a rubber band, like a starburst nubbin

grab the nub and pull up

as you pull up - start banding.

You’re going to pull up, and band as you go. Then every section you band off, dye a different color, and those will be the rings of your target.  (This shirt will look like a target with a bullseye, hence the name “bullseye.”)

all ready to go!

all the colors!

Bag it up, and put it with the rest of them.  Time to let them sit overnight.

i just kept 'em all in this bucket overnight. and let them soak up that dye in their bags.

LET EVERYTHING SET OVERNIGHT.  At least overnight.  Give it a day or so.  (I know I’m being redundant, I’m emphasizing that patience is a virtue, and if you let them set – the results will be better!


STEP 4: Rinsing and Washing

Put your gloves back on, and take each shirt out of its bag one at a time.  Do this in a sink.  Give each shirt a really good, thorough, cold water rinse.  Be careful if there are lots of colors going on not to let a dark color wash over a light color.   Try and hold the shirt out and rinse it carefully. I try and rinse until the water runs almost clear.

opening the bag in the sink so as i don't get dye everywhere, and i'm ready to rinse!

the starburst after a rinse

rinsing is fun

the bullseye

the spiral (amazing!!)

the fan

After a good rinse – put them all in the washing machine together.  YES. We are going to wash them now.

Yes, they will loose some vibrancy.  Its a bummer, I know.  BUT – after washing them, they’ll become washer-safe and now we can wear and re-wear them all the time without worrying that all our other clothes will be ruined if they get washed together.  And well, we can actually WEAR them.  If you want to be able to have a functional item of clothing, you gotta be able to wash it, right?

If you’re making something non-wearable, like a piece of fabric to go on your wall or something – at this point you could hang dry it and be done.  But that’s not what we’re doing here in this blog.  We’re washing our’s.

i wash 'em all together

teensy amount of tide, good amount of vinegar

I use my normal washing method – a teensy bit of detergent and then i fill the detergent cup all the way up with vinegar.  Vinegar is great for clothes in general, but awesome for tie dye.  Think about Easter Eggs – vinegar locks that dye in there!

Wash on HOT!


After they go through the wash, put them in the dryer!  I do everything in the dryer on a gentle-ish cycle, like a medium heat.  I’m not trying to totally shrink all my shirts.  If I was making them to sell though, or to give as gifts, I’d dry them on high heat so they’re “pre-shrunk” when the recipient gets them!

Step 5: THE RESULTS!!!!

Here they are:

bullseye, all done!

this is the fan... the folds didn't really hold up well, but you can see some vertical stripes. not my best work, bummer.

the pooch likes it though!

the finished starburst - again, not my best work. but you get the idea of how to do it!

amazing awesome spiral - i love this one!!

Well, there ya go!  Not my finest work in some cases… but then again, I had no soda ash and I used some really basic over-the-counter dye.

Happy dying, and PLEASE – if you have questions, just ask me!  I love teaching people how to dye and helping out.  I hope more people dye and rock out the look, its so happy and bright.  HAVE FUN!!!!!

wearing one of the tees outside so you can see how bright it is. natural light really does the colors justice. looks great, right?

i'm making a weird face, but the shirt looks good!

i almost dropped the laptop trying to photograph myself. the things i do for this blog!


40 responses

  1. LOVE IT!

    thanks, Rose!! I cannot wait to get some more stuff to dye! I have never heard of soda ash, so I hope I can find it. Maybs I will attempt this squirt bottle/soda ash/actual patterns tie dye adventure next week!

  2. I officially want to dye something now. I feel confident like I could go forward & not fuck totally fuck it all up. And Dia told me she wants to come see you in HI so you could dye together. I think she likes you more than me haha.

    • I’ve tried tie-dying after seeing a tutorial on youtube and let me tell you, chances you fuck up are slim.
      Explanation: Tie-Dyes are all about RANDOMNESS and SURPRISE. Like, you won’t know what it looks like til you un-tie it. And since tie-dyes will always provide some randomness (can’t do the exact-same shirt twice) you’ll always be able to make new ones and being surprised about the result, wheter it be a good surprise or a not so good surprise 😉
      Pros can mess up and newbies can rock some awesome stuff, it’s very random.
      My first tie-dye ever is the best out of the +/- 10 i’ve done yet 😛

  3. Pingback: Spiral Mens Adult Rainbow Tie

  4. Hi, Love your designs!!! Have a camporee, tomorrow and we are tye dyeing. I bought the Tulip kit, but need more than it comtains. So I bought the Tulip powder, but the directions on the pack is for dipping. Can I mix the powders and put them in the bottles?

    • I’ve tried doing that before, and for the most part it was fine. If anything, the color was a little on the faint side. Maybe try mixing it in a way that makes it more concentrated? So the dye is darker!

      Even if you follow it exactly by instructions, it should be functional!

      Good luck and enjoy!!

  5. Great article. Thanks for all the tips. My wife and I tried tie-dye with some shirts recently and we are having trouble with the red running. Just the red. If we don’t use red the shirts come out fine but if we do use red all the white area goes pink.

    Here are the things where our instructions differed from yours…

    We didn’t soak the shirts before we started
    We did not use vinegar in the wash.
    We were told to wash in cold water not hot
    We used RIT brand dye

    Do you think one of these things is our problem or are we doing something else wrong? I have enough pink shirts so I thought I would seek some help before trying again.


    • hi kurtis…

      thanks for reading my blog! let’s see here:
      – i don’t care fpr rit dye
      – the pre-soak in soda ash only matters if you’re using a procion dye. it’s a chemical reaction between the soak and the dye that locks the color into the fabric via covalent bond.
      – vinegar is a color ficer, fabric softener, and brightener that i find just enhances the whole shebang.

      okay, rit dye. it works, kinda. my experience with rit is that it produces very faded colors. i really love some seriously bright tie dye. if you like a softer look, rit could produce the results you’re seeking.

      procion dyes are the type of dye i use.
      soda ash and procion have a chemical reaction, they bond together. the bond is super strong and makes it so the shirts don’t fade. it locks that color in there.

      hope this helps!

  6. Pingback: How to Tie Dye

  7. How long is a soda ash mix good for? If I mix a bucket up and I’m happy with the dyes I do can I leave it in the bucket and go buy more shirts tomorrow and soak them in the same solution?

    • It lasts a while, I’ve done that very thing. I would say a couple/few days and you should be good. I’ve also soaked shirts and then not dyed them for a while – and the soda ash has stayed “activated” enough to get strong bonds and BRIGHT colors!

      When I mix the soda ash and water, I feel it. The texture is slippery/silky, it doesn’t feel like regular water. So I always just test a pre-mixed bucket with my fingers to see if it still feels concentrated/mixed, to make sure it’s still “good” – know what I mean?

  8. Awesome, thanks! I’m not an exact kinda person so it’s probably good there aren’t actually facts….I’d just end up estimating anyways 🙂 I’m going to look for a subscription to your blog….I love the way you describe what you are doing, it totally matches exactly how I think.

  9. Hi; im making a shirt and i already finished the dy in it but its been setting almost 2 hrs and i lifted it up to move it to a dry trashbag to set on and its soaked and drips when i lift it. is that normal? Im letting it sit for 8 hrs then rinsing it and washing/drying it.

    • Did you finish the shirt already? Sorry I didn’t get back to you, it was my birthday this week + I had family visiting + the 4th, and so on! How did it come out?

      As for dripping, I think that’s pretty normal. I usually super saturate my shirts!

  10. FYI: soda ash is also called ph UP with the swimming pool chemicals (don’t worry — it won’t hurt you. It’s edible. They use it to make german pretzels). 1 cup to 1 gallon of water and you only need to soak 5-15 minutes.

    You also can use Washing Soda, which is in the laundry aisle. 1.75 cups to 1 gallon of water.

    Nice tutorial!

  11. Thanks for all the help i work in a nuresing home and we tie die shirts today i have never done this be for but there were people there that have!!! i just wanted to know how to do mine when i took it hope thanks so much 4 all the help on here!!! :}

    • You can make some really dark browns with mixing, but I find for a good, strong black – you need black dye. This is one of those colors too where Tulip dye can’t hold a candle to real Procion dyes. There are a lot of cheaper dyes that wash out gray right away.

  12. Exelent !!! I love the steps !! Thanks isu first time to try this and I’m sure have to use this steps !!!
    Cuestion .. How to prepare The paint ?

    • if you buy procion dye to use, it will come with instructions – basically, you just use the powdered dye and add water. i find it’s easiest to apply the dye using those plastic bottles with small tips.

  13. Hi! I followed your tutorial and everything went just perfect, until the rinsing!! Anything that was white on the shirt turned grey! They look horrible! Any tips for that?

  14. Hi! I followed your awesome tutorial and everything was perfect…..until the rinsing when all the colors bled onto the white and turned everything white a grey/lilac color. Any suggestions to help with this?

    • What kind of dye did you use? If you use procion dyes and soda ash, it will not bleed or run at all when you stick it in the wash the next day. Did you put the dyed items into plastic bags and let them sit for a day or two? Did you rinse them in the sink before putting them in the wash??

  15. I teach tie dye at camp each year… we used procion MX dyes from artist and craftsman supply online. Get soda ash from a pool supply store and buy synthrapol which is a special soap that literally suspends the dye in the water while you wash it for the first time…. I wash up to 20 shirts at a time with no mixing or bleeding at all! Synth online from same supply co.

    • Thanks for reading, Jen! I’ve used synthrapol before. The way I rinse the dyed garments before washing them, I’ve never had any issues of bleeding / laundry drama. Glad you have a system that works for you. Tie dye is the best!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s