Introduction: Indigo Dyed Beach Towels

About: Made in Canada, I grew up crafting, making, and baking. Out of this love for designing and creating, I pursued a degree in product design from Parsons School of Design in NYC. Since then I've done work for Mar…

Being a big fan of the beach, I'm always on the lookout for fun towels to accompany me on my sea side adventures. I got it in my head that I wanted one that was indigo dyed in the Japanese shibori style, but couldn't find one anywhere on the inter tubes. So I decided to make my own!

I made two versions, one using a hard to fold, big 'n puffy fancy towel, and another one using a thin, cheaper towel that allowed me to try a traditional folding technique. I love how they both came out - the thinner, more lightweight one will be great for quick dips, while the bigger one will be perfect for all day luxury lounging.

Indigo dying is an ancient art dating back to Egyptian times. Both the natural and synthetic versions are incredibly color-fast (permanent), so there shouldn't be any transfer of the dye to your skin after a swim. The manual that comes with the natural plant based dye kit I recommend buying in the next step has a great write up on the history of the indigo dye if you're interested in learning more about it's fancy past.

Let's get started!

Step 1: Video Overview

Here is a quick project overview compliments of Instructables' talented videographer Jon Brown:

Step 2: Supplies


(x1) large, puffy 100% cotton beach towel
(x1) thin, lesser quality 100% cotton beach towel*
(x1) indigo dye kit
- indigo dye
- soda ash packet
- thiox packet
- rubber bands (two sizes)
- short rubber gloves (I prefer to use longer ones to ensure arm protection as well)
- binding blocks for Shibori folding technique on small fabric pieces (we need larger ones for the towel)
- popsicle sticks, also for binding small fabric pieces (not for the towels, but try them on a muslin scarf!)


(x1) 5 gallon bucket with lid
(x1) 2.5 quart bucket with lid
(x2) inexpensive plastic paint pan liners
(x1) long stir stick
(x1) 3 or 5mm plastic drop cloth (9'x12' is plenty big)
(x1) rubber gloves that come up past your wrist
(x1) large metal spoon
(x2) 4 1/2" wood squares (I used 1/2" plywood)
(x20) zip ties *optional - use for very crisp lines in place of rubber bands, if desired
(x1) bottle of mild laundry detergent
(x1) utility sink
(x1) work table

Step 3: Line 'em Up!

Using the plastic drop cloth, cover all of your work surfaces.

This dye is pretty powerful, so cover anything that is even remotely in the line of (indigo) fire. You'll be able to wipe all the plastic off and re-use it, so don't worry about being wasteful.

Step 4: Fill 'er Up!

Using your small 2.5 quart bucket, add 4 gallons of warm water to your 5 gallon bucket.*

5 gallons = 16 quarts

*These measurements/instructions are for the particular dye package I bought (purchase link is in supply list). If you bought a different brand kit, please be sure to follow those directions for the dye bath prep instead of mine and join back in with us on step 6.

Step 5: Safety First!

Or rather, 'How to not look like you have Smurf hands'. This dye is non-toxic, but it will definitely do a great job of giving you hands that would fit in at a Blue Man Group performance if you don't protect them with gloves. So put on your gloves. Unless of course you dream of hitting the stage...

*To protect your clothes, an apron is also a good idea. And I would suggest wearing an old pair of shoes that you don't mind risking getting some dye on.

Step 6: Indigo Dye Mixin'

Preparing Your Dye Vat

  1. Place the bucket on your protected work surface.
  2. Empty the indigo dye container into the water and stir.
  3. Add the soda ash and thiox.
  4. Slowly stir in one direction until it appears that the powders have dissolved.
  5. Slow down your stick until it's stopped, reverse the direction and stir again, scraping the bottom and edges of the bucket as you go.
  6. Cover the bucket with the lid and set aside for 1 hr, to allow the sediment to settle.

Step 7: Get Your Bind On

While the dye is busy settling, it's time to prepare your towels. Your dye kit should have come with illustrated pattern ideas and folding/binding techniques to try. Feel free to do any of them that tickle your fancy. If you want your big towel to look like mine (see second image above), follow the instructions below.

Because the big towel is pretty plush, I didn't think folding it would yield great results, so instead, I went for a repetitive circular pattern. This is achieved by pulling up the fabric where you want the circles to go and binding them with elastic bands* in your desired spacing/pattern. (like pictured)

If you want to be super precise about your pattern layout, you can measure and mark the circle centers with pencil so you know exactly where to pull and bind the fabric.

*You can also use string or zip ties, instead of rubber bands.

Step 8: What NOT to Do

Thinking that the large towel would be too unruly to dip in the dye loose, I rolled and bundled it. This DID NOT WORK! The dye didn't penetrate to the center of the bundle, leaving big portions of it white. So I cut the ties and ended up re-dying it loose. This worked just fine. Learning... : )

Step 9: Folding for Binding With Blocks

For the smaller, thinner towel, I wanted a crisper linear pattern (see second image above) and achieved this by folding the towel lengthwise three times (1/2, 1/4, then 1/8) and then three times for the width. (like pictured above). The end result is a tidy little stack of towel.

Step 10: Adding the Blocks

Place one of your 4.5" square blocks centered on the top of the towel stack. Flip the stack over, holding the first block in place, and then add the second block to the center of the other side.

Use the bigger rubber bands that came with your kit to bind the boards to the folded towel. Keep in mind that there will be a white, un-dyed line wherever you place a band, so it's best to space them evenly if you want to be in keeping with the grid pattern the square boards will create.

Step 11: Wetting the Fabric

Wet both of the towels thoroughly, squeezing out most of the excess water.

Step 12: Removing the Dye Flower

Sometimes a bubbly "flower" will develop on the surface of your dye vat after it's settled. If this is the case, use a big spoon to remove the surface 'junk' and place it in a separate smaller bucket. * You will be returning this to the dye once you've finished dying, so don't throw it out!

Step 13: The Dying Process

Squeeze your towel (to remove excess air) and while still squeezing it, lower it slowly into the dye vat without letting go of it.

Be Careful to not let your piece touch the bottom of the vat, the settled residue can cause spots on your fabric. Dyeing them one at a time is the best way to avoid this.

Once it's entirely submerged, gently move the piece around in the dye for 2-6 minutes, depending on how large the piece is. For the smaller, board bound towel, I left it in for about 3 minutes. The larger loose one, 4 min.

Slowly remove the piece and set it on one of the plastic trays.

Note: The piece will be a light green at first and will slowly turn the signature blue once it's exposed to air (oxidized) for approximately 20 minutes. For a darker blue, after the 20 minutes you can repeat the dying process before unbinding and rinsing your piece(s).

Step 14: Dye Re-Use

If you plan on doing more dying over the next few days, add the flower you removed back into the dye vat and replace the lid and store.

The dye will keep for at least 3 more days before it becomes too oxidized. You will need to repeat the second half of step 5 (from the stirring on) before using the dye again.

If you are finished dying, empty the contents of the vat down the drain and clean the bucket and tools thoroughly with soap.

Step 15: Clip, Rinse, & Wash

Once you are done dying your fabric and it has oxidized for at least 20 minutes, use scissors to cut all the bindings on both towels and remove the boards from the folded towel. Rinse both towels in cold water, using gentle pressure to remove as much of the excess dye as possible. Once you've removed as much as you can, hand wash the towels in warm water with a mild detergent. Rinse thoroughly.

Wash the towels (alone or with other dark fabrics) in the your washing machine TWICE and then dry in the dryer before heading to the beach.

Step 16: Soak Up the Sun in Style!

Now it's time for the final and most important step... Head to the beach!

The locals were blown away by how good looking my new towels are, as you can see in the final image above. ;)

Happy making!

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