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Tie Dye DIY: Prepare for Messy Fun


Tie Dye has become a favorite tradition in our household over the last several years. Typically we start out our summer with a tie dye day and then we proudly wear our creations for the months that follow.  This year we waited until late August and now we have some cool t-shirts (and socks) just in time for school.  If you have never attempted tie dye before, let me tell you that it is really easy and really messy and totally perfect for kids of all ages.  Here are some of our tried and true tips to help you tie dye like a pro!

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Tie Dye Kit (we like Tulip brand) Kit will include dyes, rubber bands, gloves, soda ash.

Pre-Washed 100% cotton white clothing (this can include white shirts with text, or white shirts that have become stained)

Plastic table cloth

Raised wire rack with tray

Gallon sized Ziploc bags

Large plastic bin to soak clothing items

Paper towels or wipes


Step 1:

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Set up your work space. We’ve found working outside is easiest, but if you are inside, be sure to cover your table with a sturdy plastic cloth or several plastic trash bags. Wear clothing that can get dirty and expect to get dye in unexpected places, it’s inevitable.

Soak your clothing items in the soda ash mixture with warm water in a large plastic bin for about 20 minutes.  The soda ash will help the clothing receive and retain color. After 20 minutes, wring out excess water but let the clothing remain damp.

Wear your gloves from this point on! While the clothes are soaking, prepare your tie dye bottles by filling them with water to the line and shaking until the dye is dissolved. Be sure to apply dye within 45 minutes of mixing for the best results.

If you are a planner, now is the time to decide on your technique. Most kits have examples and illustrated explanations of different techniques.  We prefer the “swirl” and “sunburst” styles, but there are several techniques ranging from “bullseye” to “ombre” to “crumple.” You can also just create your own style and let your little Picasso’s have at it.  My daughter loves the “polka dot” style which always turns out fun. You can’t go wrong with tie dye, so let loose and go for it.

Step 2: 

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Take your still damp clothing items and arrange them into the design of your choice.  You can use the rubber bands to keep the design in place, or you can use them in the creative process by binding up little sections and coloring the balls of fabric. Let little ones choose their favorite color combinations, while older children can create designs based on a favorite team (Go Warriors!)

Place the clothing on the wire rack with tray and begin the tie dying fun! Don’t worry if colors mix, it is just part of the process. Also, be sure to fully saturate the clothing with the dye, don’t hold back! You’ll also want to flip the clothing over to make sure the backside receives some color. You’ll notice that the excess dye is caught in the tray below which should help prevent a table full of stains, but even so, prepare to get messy.  The dye usually gets under the gloves somehow and it takes a couple of days for hands to go back to their original color, but they always do!

Clean up and distract. Kids will be disappointed that they have to wait for their creations, so I always curb the crankiness with a distraction such as popsicles.

Step 3:

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After all your clothing items are sufficiently dyed, place each item in it’s own plastic Ziploc bag or wrap in plastic wrap to keep damp. Let the items set for 6-8 hours (I leave overnight for brighter results). Before washing, rinse each item well in water to remove the excess dye.  I do this in our outside sink, but you can do it under a hose too.  Remove rubber bands if you used them.  Fill your washer with warm water on the “large load” setting, use a small amount of laundry soap and wash and dry items separate from other laundry the first couple times.

Step 4:

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Wear your tie dyed items with pride! Kids love to see the rewards of their labor and are always amazed at how cool their creations turn out.  Compare designs and styles and try to figure out why they look the way they do.  Also, I like to have my kids wear their old tie dye shirts, that way if any dye is accidentally spilled, it just adds to the design!

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