Doing tie-dye is one of those activities that everyone knows about, but nobody seems to do unless they’re at summer camp or at a summer party. Tie-dyed clothes also require a very particular taste, so it’s understandable why making them isn’t such a popular activity. However, tie-dying is one of those things that doesn’t take much effort or artistic ability and can be a super fun group-friendly and child-friendly activity. 

You can tie-dye basically anything as long as it’s white. The term ‘tie-dye’ became popular in the 1960s, but really just means ‘tied and dyed’. People have been tying and dying clothing and other fabrics throughout the ages, but they really only became bright and psychedelic in the 60s. 

To make your own psychedelic t-shirt, here’s a step by step guide to help you out:

Materials You Will Need:

Step 1 – Gather your shirt into a ball. To start off, you will need to clump your shirt into a shape of your choice, whether that be a ball, a strand, or a messy octopus shape. You will need to use rubber bands to keep the shirt in this shape. [!!Scroll down for a guide on the different patterns you can get from specific shapes!!]

Step 2 – Squirt on some dye. Now that your rubber bands are all on, squirt your dye on your shirt. You do not have to be exact with this, but if you end up mixing too many colors together, they will just make a purple-brown color, which isn’t that exciting. 

NOTE: You can use the rubber bands as a sort of color inside of the lines guide. 

Step 3 – Let the excess dye drip off. Put the shirts on the grass outside or on a wire rack for about 10-20 minutes to let the extra dye drip off of the shirt. 

Step 4 – Wrap the shirts in plastic. With the plastic wrap or the plastic bag, wrap the shirts tightly. Then, store the shirts in a warm place. Let them rest for about 24 hours. This will help the dye soak into the shirt and stain it well. 

Step 5 – Unwrap them. Take the shirts out of the plastic wrap or bag and wash them. It is better to hand wash them or make sure your washing machine is set to cold! Then set the shirts out to dry.

Unwrapping your creations is the most anticipated part of doing tie-dye. If you don’t end up with the pattern that you were hoping for, don’t be too upset. Tie-dye is a great creative outlet, and you can be content knowing that no two tie-dye shirts are the same. So whatever pattern you end up with, you should feel proud of it! No one else has a shirt exactly like that one.

Step 6 – Put on your tie-dye and take some pictures! Have fun with your tie-dye. No white clothes will ever be safe again. 

A Guide to Tie-Dye Shirt Patterns

The way that you tie your shirt together before dying has a great effect on the pattern that the dye will make one your shirt. You can tie your shirt up however you want, but there are steps to creating specific patterns. Below are the steps to making 3 different shirt patterns. Use the following patterns in Step 1 of the above tie-dye guide.

Spiral Technique – To make a signature spiral tie-dye shirt… 

  • Hold down the center of the shirt between your finger (or something similar) and a flat surface.
  • Wrap the rest of the shirt, keeping it on the flat surface at all times, around that spot. The shirt should now be in a flat circular shape. 
  • Wrap your rubber bands around it so that the spaces between the bands resemble slices of pizza or cake. 
  • Use those slice lines as a guide for your coloring. Make each slice a different color, or make a fun pattern. 

Kaleidoscope Technique – Kaleidoscope shirts are a little more complicated to make than a spiral, but they both use the same hold and wrap technique. To make a kaleidoscope tie-dye shirt… 

  • Fold your shirt in half lengthwise. 
  • Pick a spot and hold it down with your finger (or something similar). 
  • Wrap the shirt around this point, keeping it on the flat surface at all times. Do not wrap the whole shirt around this spot, just a portion of it.
  • Pick another spot and do the same thing again.
  • You can try doing a third and fourth swirl, but there will most likely not be enough fabric left for this. So, clump the remaining shirt around the two spirals (or more if you could fit them in) you already made.
  • Secure this shape with rubber bands.
  • Put the shirt in a bucket or circular cake pan that will hold the shirt and ice in place (the ice comes in in the next step). Whatever you use, make sure that you are okay with it getting messy, and possibly permanently stained. 
  • Place ice cubes on top of the shirt so that they cover the entire thing.
  • Pour dye powder over the ice cubes and let the ice cubes melt. Using dye powder instead of liquid dye will give you a much better effect.
  • Flip the shirt over and repeat the last two steps on this side. 

Bullseye Technique – To make a super easy bullseye pattern tie-dye shirt…

  • Pick a spot on your shirt where you want the center of the bullseye to be and pinch it between your fingers.
  • Gather the rest of the shirt in a cone-like shape with the pinched spot being the tip of the cone.
  • Decide how many rings you want around your bullseye, then wrap around the required amount of rubber bands. Space them however you want. I.e. if you want your bullseye to have 3 different colors, you will want to have 3 rubber bands, which would create 4 sections on your cone. 

Making tie-dye shirts can be a lot of fun. It’s a great backyard activity, but can be done inside as well as long as you have clean-up supplies on hand. All you need is some white shirts, some dye, and your creativity. 

NOTE: Don’t tie-dye if you’re scared of getting your hands dirty! (But, you can always just wear gloves)

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