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Basic Tie-Dye Techniques
by Erowid
v1.0 - Jun 15, 2003
  1. INTRODUCTION
  2. FOLDING TECHNIQUES
  3. DYING TECHNIQUES
  4. LINKS


With the goal of simplicity in mind...all instructions on this page will be for tie-dying a standard sheet. The same methods can be used with t-shirts, shorts, tank tops, table cloths, etc, but it's easier to explain if I assume a large, square, flat, white piece of cloth.

I recommend Procion dyes. They have a home page that's linked to in the links section. You can use Rit dyes...which are cheaper and easily found in most grocery stores, but I wouldn't recommend it since the colors are less vibrant and fade much more quickly. Procion dyes are available through the mail from their home page, or at weird stores near you. I bought mine at a local beer making supply store. :)


Concentric circles are one of the simplest patterns to create with tie-dying.
  1. Simply grab a single spot on the sheet and suspend it from this point.
  2. Now wrap rubber bands around the sheet at varying intervals. (The space between the rubber bands will determine the width of the bands of color in the circle)
  3. Color between the rubber bands with alternating colors of your choice. (The circles will be smaller the closer they are to the suspension point)

Creating spirals is easy, but definitely not intuitive...
  1. Start by laying the sheet flat on the ground on a fairly clean, smooth surface.
  2. Take a broom handle, or your finger, or anything else you have handy and place the end in the center of the sheet.
  3. Slowly start twirling the handle. The sheet should start to wind around the handle.
  4. Continue twirling until the entire sheet forms a sort of flatish disk.
  5. Remove the handle from the center of the sheet.
  6. For this example we'll create a 4 color spiral. Divide the sheet disk into quarters by wrapping rubber bands around it...making 4 sections like a pizza or pie. (If you want more colors in your spiral (the more colors you want, the narrower each arm of color will be), simply divide the pie into more pieces)
  7. Dye each of these 4 sections with different colors. Make sure to flip the disk over and do both sides!
Variations :
  • Try folding the sheet in half first then doing a spiral...It creates mirror image spirals connected in the middle.
  • Try putting narrow strips of black between each of the other colors...

Pleats create a rather nice tie-dye effect of parallel straight lines running perpendicular to bands of color. These can be used in a lot of creative ways.
  1. Lay the sheet flat on the ground.
  2. Start pleating the sheet in the direction of your choice.
  3. 1-2 inch wide pleats work nicely as a default.
  4. When the entire sheet is pleated, I use short pieces (5-6") of bailing wire folded in half around the pleats to hold them in place. I think it's possible with rubber bands, but it's difficult to hold the pleats in place while you slide a rubber band from the end all the way to the middle.
  5. Place the wire at intervals as wide as you want bands of color on the sheet (try 7 or 8 inches apart if you don't have any specific idea in mind).
  6. Now dye between the wires with alternating colors of your choice.

This is a great easy one. I like to use it in areas of my sheet that haven't been included in another method. Sort of a filler technique.
  1. Scrunch up the area you want to dye
  2. Put a little red here
  3. Dump a little purple there
  4. Flip it over
  5. A squirt of black here
  6. A little blue there
  7. Insert a bit more red in the center
  8. Squish it around
  9. Voila!

Different levels of dye saturation in the cloth can often produce significantly different effects. The less you saturate your tied sheet, generally, the more white area you'll end up with. Sometimes this is a problem. Other times, it's what creates the coolest part of the pattern. I've found that often with pleated patterns, a slightly lower level of saturation is good. It creates a more defined set of parallel lines in the pattern. In spirals, I like a high level of saturation. Mostly these are things you'll have to try and decide for yourself...but try to consider it while you're dying.

I never have the patience, but a method that can create really complex patterns is to do 2 dying sessions on the same sheet. It's important to have a plan in this case because you might well ruin a good tie-dye by dumping more dye on it in a conflicting pattern. You might choose to do a spiral of blue and white on your first session...then diamond pattern over the top of that. I'm not particularly experienced with this, but it's on my list of things to try.

The art of color combining is probably one of the most important...and most personal aspects of tie-dying. There's just some colors that don't look good next to each other. Others are perfect. If you're doing a double dying session, you'll want to carefully consider which colors to use first so the colors of the second session will dye appropriately over the first ones. Adding yellow on top of black is pretty much going to be....black. But you can get cool effects by layering with good color combinations.

Black is a really good tool in tie-dying. It can be used to highlight subtleties of the folding pattern that wouldn't come out very strongly otherwise. For example, I like to highlight the edges of pleats with black to strengthen the appearance of the parallel lines.

I haven't tried it, but I've heard it works well to use bleach instead of dye for a piece of cloth that's already tie-dyed, or which starts as a color other than white. Do it just like you'd do with dye, but use bleach to create a pattern in white. Be careful that you don't use too strong a mixture or you'll eat holes in the material. I'd try starting with 25% bleach 75% water. I'm sure it depends on the fabric and the type of dye that's on it. When using bleach you're only going to leave it on for a fairly short period of time, rather than overnight. Just watch the areas you've bleached, and when they're as white as you want them, rinse it out.