Killer Tye-die





Introduction: Killer Tye-die

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How to tye-die T-shirts

Step 1: Things You'll Need

Cotton shirts (silk works too, polyester is the problem fiber)
Rubber bands or other tying implements

So, tye-dying is really simple. All you need are some dies, a fixer, some fabric, and something to do the tying with.
I like the Procion Dyes--They're very bright and are easy to mix. You can get them online, or at your local art store. Get a bunch of colors
You'll also want urea. You can get a bag of this at your local art store--it usually comes as a bag of these small white balls
Get some kind of fabric to die--100% cotton works best, bust silk works too, and denim does, to some extent. Polyester, rayon, and the like won't work at all.
Finally, get some rubber bands or twine.

Step 2: Mix the Dyes

So, the tye-dye basics are like this:
you have some dyes that are water-soluble. If you just squirt them on a shirt, they'll wash off. However, if you treat the shirt with a fixer, it'll hold the dyes in place. In our case, urea is our fixer.
I really like mixing my dyes in ketchup-style squirt bottles, which makes for easy dying. However you choose to do it, add some warm water to a container, and then mix some dye powder in. I do it qualitatively--the more dye you add, the brighter the colors will be, although there is some saturation point. A good rule of thumb might be 1 tablespoon of dye for 8 ounces of water.
Anyway, put some dye into the water and mix it up. Then, go on to slep 3

Step 3: Soak the Shirts

So now we're going to soak your fabrics in urea to add fixer.
First, get some tub that's large enough to hold your fabrics and water. A sawed-off 5 gallon bottle worked well for me.
Now, add enough warm water to allow you to submerge your shirts.
Now, add the urea. Again, this is kind of qualitative, but the stronger your urea concentration, the better your dye will stick. For a few t-shirts, usually a couple handfuls of urea is fine--try to put in as much as you can dissolve.
Now, stick your shirts into this, get them nice and soaked, and let them stew for five minutes or so

Step 4: The Tying Part

So now, we'll tie the shirts, which determines what pattern comes out.
First, take the shirt out of the urea and wring it out. A wringer/washer is gratuitous, but makes this part endlessly more fun.
Next, twist/pleat/twirl your shirt into whatever pattern you like. It's impossible screw up tie dye, so just do whatever interests you here. Some basic batterns for swirls and lines are shown below.
Now, add rubber bands anywhere you want a different color. You'll want to be sure that they're on tightly, so double them over a few times
Now, you're ready to dye!

Step 5: The Dyeing Shtick

So now you're all tied. Sweet. Let's get to the fun bit.
First of all, you should know that these dyes will stain your skin for a few days. If that bothers you, wear gloves.
Also, do this somewhere that you can clean easily or you don't mind being colored(i.e. a sink, or a metal work table)
Now, take your dyes and put a color into each region that you've banded off. Be sure to get dye into all the folds, otherwise you'll have a lot of white.
Now, flip the shirt over and put the same color dyes on the other side.
When you're done and satisfied, put the shirt in a plastic grocery bag so it doesn't dry out, and let it sit overnight.

Step 6: Results!

After a sleepless eager night, rush to your tie dying area and take your shirt out of the bag. It's still in the danger-will-stain-your-fingers mode.
Take the rubber bands off and unfurl your creation. Cool, huh?
Now, rinse the shirt under color water, squeezing and wringing it, until color stops washing out of it.
Now, throw it in the wash. For the first wash, it still might bleed a bit, so throw it in with other tie dye or by itself. Generally, it's pretty benign after you've rinsed it out.

Hooray! you've dyed a tie!



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    21 Discussions

    When i soaked the white tshirts in the soda ash mixture they turned yellow in areas. Anyone know what i did wrong? The shirts were washed first. Thanks

    Hi tyediers! My husband and i tried on white cotton hanes shirts today. HOW DO WE STOP RED FROM TURNING ANY WHITE SPOTS PINK?! Thank you!

    My favorite dyes are by a brand called Tulip. The powder is already in bottles, all you have to do is add water and shake it up. The large packs come with gloves and rubber bands.

    if u want it to look freaking awesome, dip one side in black cotton dye, twist it off center(possibly with rasta colours:D), or do a DOUBLE SPIRAL!!!! double spirals for the win!

    soda ash isnt necessary... i didnt use it


    Urea is not a fixer! What you should be doing is soaking the materials in soda ash (sodium bicarbonate.) You can buy this in most grocery stores under the name "Washing Soda" or in pool supply stores or online from the Dharma Trading Company. Urea is a good addition to a tie dyers supplies, but it acts to help the dye dissolve and help penetrate the fibers. The dyes you are using are called fiber reactive dyes because they actually become part of whatever fiber you are dying. However, they need a raised pH to react with the fiber. That's where the soda ash comes in. Mix 1 cup soda ash with 1 gallon of water and you'll have a solution with a pH of around 10.5. Soak cotton in the solution for around 15 minutes prior to dyeing. To dye silk you will need to use vinegar then heat set the dye in a microwave. I think you'll find that following these directions will help make your tie dye last longer and look better!

    Can someone tell me how you get the color to stay so vibrant. We did some and as soon as I rinsed them out they faded to a dull color.

    3 replies

    1) First is use a great dye and the dye fixing chemical or process that goes with it. I agree that Procion dyes are true colors and last forever. For Procion, use the soda ash. Don't use drug store dyes (I'm thinking RIT) for anything special. They are for your kid's halloween costume when the kid changes his mind October 29th and you can't get to the art supply store. Fixing can be heat (as for many dyes for silk), vinegar, chemical dye fixer (I don't know what's in the all the dye fixers) or alum powder (as you'll see in an instructable using Koolaid as dye). But use the right one for the dye you bought. 2) Use the fixer long enough. For Procion dyes I have, that's not just "overnight" but 24 hours. Keep the project in a plastic bag to keep the soda ash (or whatever fixative your dye needs) wet and touching the fabric for the recommended length of time. Some of my silk dyes need heat and I can't be lazy with the iron..... OK so now your color is strong and it's going to stick to your fabric forever. Now keep the excess dye from smearing around on other colors... 3)Rinse A LOT with the bands still on to keep the undyed (usually white) areas from getting muddy. Keep the water running over the shirt until it's pretty clear before you untie. 4) Use a special detergent for washout. There are special detergents designed to keep the dirt in solution and prevent it from dyeing other areas on your shirt during the washout. Synthrapol is one brand but I know Dharma carried another one that worked great too. Whenever I die without the killer detergent, I"m really annoyed by the muddying of the colors. If that's not enough. maybe check quantities. 5) Use enough dye. Different colors require more or less dye. Dharma website tells you how much you need.. Dye manufacturer website will too. Dark colors tend to need more dye. Keep trying and dyeing!

    here they used urea but i did it once and was told to iron the fabric on hot once its dry to set the dye...perhaps it was the kind of dye i used

    'after a sleepless,eager night'....classic! :) bought some procion dyes on a whim,now i know what i can do with them-thanks!

    Years ago Deadhead style was to berolled around the ties like a cinnamonbun, then dyed in sections like a pie, then, while still wet, they were put into a preheated oven for awhile first between two wet white paper plates(that's what you dyed them on top of, it makes em more portable. into a pan (no longer for humans, just like sculpeytho not insanely BTW DO NOT EVER USE SCULPEY IN YOUR WALL OVEN AT HOME. use a heat gun with a respirator and eye pro or an outside toaster oven w/ thermometer. Polyvinyl chloride clay is rad and fun but toxic and not good for you if misused.


    12 years ago

    If we're talking Urea the chemical then it is also in your pee.

    3 replies

    so does that mean we can just pee in the mix???

    ROFL. This would make sense, because you can never get cat pee out of a couch.

    mercer is pretty much right--the way I understand it is that the soda ash helps the dyes grab onto the fabric. I've done it both ways--soaking the T-shirts in soda ash+water before tye dying them as well as just using urea with the dyes. My shirts come out and stay pretty bright either way, so I just skipped the ash since it's all basic and skin-irritating. I definitely use a lot of the procion dyes, and I think that helps my shirts come out bright.

    Were did you get the shirt.

    you actually will have little success using urea as a fixative, you will need soda ash (also known as sodium carbonate, not bicarb) which you can get at some craft stores, online, or at pool chemical places (sold as pH-up). this makes the fabric bond with the dye. look up the amounts and method at,, paulaburch website. the rest is as easy as you want to make it!!! and as fun!

    Great guide! Just an added note: be careful when using powdered procion dyes. They are not especially toxic, but can irritate your lungs and sinuses if inhaled (even in relatively small quantities). It's probably best to wear a mask and gloves when mixing the dyes. Google for more patterns - there are tons of variations you can use during the tying step!