Introduction: Hand Dyeing Plaid

About: I'm a maker with a penchant for art and a love of sculpting the unsettling. I also appreciate the history of deep craft traditions and would be a good part of any post apocalypse survival team.

I wanted to see if I could make a plaid pattern simply by using mechanical resist dye techniques. I tried two ways, one by tying and the other by stitching. I ended up with one that was fairly successful, and after a failure at sewing it into a shirt, I ended up with two-tone napkins. I'll walk you through the dye technique and touch on the sewing bit.

Warning: Unnecessary Geek Out 
I, for one, find the history of textiles fascinating. Which, by the way, is not a great pick up line. Generally speaking, I am not a big fan of tie dye. It's tacky and really shouldn't exist beyond the point of hanging on the summer camp clothes line. However, my mind was ever so slightly changed when I went to an exhibit at the Kent State University Fashion Museum a few months back . They had a resist dye exhibition with some really amazing bandhani garments made solely from mechanical resist techniques like binding, folding, twisting... basically tie dye. I was inspired. There was one piece that was highly detailed with people and animals and it told a story all from scrunching up fabric in the right way. While amazing, I had no idea how to even begin to work on something like that, other than spend 40 years as an artisan in India. However, there was another piece that used similar techniques, but from the Caribbean that was an almost perfect plaid pattern. This was still pretty distant from the type of tie dye I've seen before but was slightly more in reach. So I decided to give it a shot as a technical experiment.   

Fabric - best with non-synthetics, like cotton
Fabric Paint

Step 1: Tie Technique

This is for the first, more traditional method tying the fabric with thread. 

1. Accordion Fold: For this to work, you'll need to do an accordion fold on the fabric so that when you paint the edge of the folded fabric, you'll be painting each successive layer. 

2. Tie: Measure out how far apart you'd like your horizontal lines to be. Use a heavy duty thread to tie each section as tightly as possible. I did a first knot with one piece of thread, that came in with another to get it tighter.

NOTE: Make sure that the edges of the accordion fold are visible after tying.  It's easy to let one flap cover the others. 

Step 2: Stitched Technique

After my first attempt with tying, I decided to try to get cleaner lines by sewing.

1. Fold
Accordion fold - like the tie method, be sure each fold is visible on the edge. I also cheated a bit and used a tab of hot glue on the edges between the layers. I just cut off those edges when I was finished dyeing, but it helped keep it together while sewing.  

2. Sew
Set sewing machine to the longest stitch setting and sew a baste stitch for the horizontal and vertical lines you'd like to see in the finished fabric.  

3. Bind
After the lines were stitched in, I folded the fabric again keeping the stitched lines on the inside. I then rubber banded it all together. 

Step 3: Dye, Wait, Rinse

1. Fill a bucket with very hot water and add your dye. I usually use half of the recommended amount and still get good results, but this is just a personal preference. I also add salt and it seems to help set it. 
2. Let the fabric soak for about 30 minutes. 
3. Once it's good an soaked through, rinse it out keeping it tied up. It's messy, so do it in a utility sink or bathtub. Twist it, squish it, do whatever you need to, but don't open it. Keep at it until the water runs pretty much clear. 

Step 4: Paint Edges

After it's been rinsed, bring it back to your newly plastic bagged work area and paint the edges. Remember, you're trying to get straight lines so attempt to keep it on the edges. Of course, part of the aesthetic is the variation, so don't worry if it's gets a little off here and there. You can thin down your paint if you'd like it to seep farther into the fabric. I did this on the first attempt and ended up with more pink than I expected.

Step 5: Dry and Open

1. Dry Overnight
Keeping it all wrapped up, let it dry over night. Try to sleep, however, the anticipation may be too great. 

2. Cut the threads
Now for the satisfying moment of truth. On the tied piece, just cut the threads and pull open the fabric. Ooh, pretty. 

3. Seam Rip 
The stitched piece will be more of a pain to open since you'll need to take a seam ripper to it, but hopefully you have a podcast to listen to and a steady hand. 

4. Finish Drying on Flat Surface
The fabric may still be a bit moist, but you can finish drying it on a flat surface to ensure that gravity doesn't have it's way with the remaining dye. 

Voila! The closest I got to resist dyed plaid. 

Step 6: Use It!

So you've created this lovely fabric, what are you going to do with it? Well there are lots of options. I attempted to make a cute little shirt out of the blue plaid*, but that was an unmitigated disaster for many reasons. I had also dyed a flat blue fabric to compliment the plaid and decided to some two tone napkins instead, which have a cute country quality to them. 

* I'm using the term loosely. It still looks more like tie dye than plaid. 

Bonus Instructable
Two-Toned Napkin

1. Cut out two pieces of fabric the same size
2. Stitch them right sides together leaving a 4" gap on one side.
3. Flip it right side out through the gap. 
4. Top stitch around the edge including the gap area. 

Print & Dye Contest

First Prize in the
Print & Dye Contest