Introduction: Ombre Dyed Rainbow T-Shirt

About: I am an almost retired stay-at-home mom. I teach sewing as a hobby. I think people need to create something everyday. To me, creating something doesn't have to mean crafts, it can be music, organization, happi…

I am an experienced dyer. I truly love the art of dyeing. Recently, my daughter asked me to make her a prom dress that was ombre dyed from one color to another. I made her dress from a luxurious white rayon twill that drapes like melted chocolate.

After doing a lot of research and not finding anything that didn't involve dip dyeing which would be problematic for a high-low hem line. I decided to create a method myself.

This is our first attempt at ombre dyeing from one color to another. I love the result but on the next try, I will overlap the colors a bit more. The couple of sections that have overlapped colors are more what I expect an ombre dyed item to look like.

In person, the colors aren't quite so striped, but the camera flash showed the stripes distinctly. I am pleased with the slow color change which is characteristic of an ombre item. It is a beautiful shirt. The colors are vibrant and fun. She loves rainbow shirts, but didn't want and orange and green shirt, so we decided to put the blue in the center to give her a purple and green shirt. We will definitely use this method again.

Step 1: Materials.

Procion (cold water) dyes in three colors. Primary colors really work best.

I used turquois, yellow and fuchsia which are mixing colors from Dharna.

Several container for holding dyes and dumping used dyes.

Measuring cup and spoon for mixing dyes.



Measuring tape.

Rubber bands.


Clean tray or tarp to protect you surface.

Pencil and ruler if not using lined paper.

Plastic wrap (not shown) for wrapping newly dyed shirt to keep it wet.

Step 2: Preparing Shirt for Dyeing.

We decided we wanted each color section to be 2", so we laid our measuring tape on the shirt and gathered every two inches.

If you aren't comfortable with that, you can use a washable children's marker and make a line every two inches and gather the shirt at each line.

Either way, you will secure the shirt with a loose rubber band. We are not looking to keep the dye from spreading, we just are marking where to dye.

We ended up with 16 sections.

Step 3: Doing the Math.

You can use lined paper if you want, we didn't because we couldn't find any easily, so we drew spaces for as many sections as we were dyeing (16 if you remember from last step). There are numerous ways to do this, but I am lazy when it comes to math and I was a draftsman for several years, so I find that doing math visually helps keep me accurate.

We are ombre dyeing from blue to yellow, then yellow to red. In a later step you will see that we decided we wanted blue as the center color. I hope this doesn't confuse you. Just pretend it says blue in the center and yellow at the bottom.

I chose to mix 1 teaspoon of dye for each color change. This is for ease of measuring. I ended up making about double the dye I actually needed. I anticipated this and saved the extra for a dye project later in the week.

The math: As you can see, we started with seven teaspoons total dye for each change. If you count the number of spaces there are seven spaces counting one of the two pure colors. (If you are doing something bigger, say a table cloth or a prom dress, you might want to start with double that amount.) We numbered our paper from 7 teaspoons to 1 teaspoon starting from each pure color and going towards the second color. That means that the center color had to go from the center up and the center down. Please study the last picture carefully as it shows the completed method. If you are astute, you will see that I only counted 15 sections for this math. The reason is that yellow is a hard color to keep pure, so we allotted two sections for yellow. That is purely from experience.

Now I added up the total teaspoons for each color and mixed that amount of dye. The totals are 28 teaspoons for the two end colors and 49 teaspoons for the middle color. If you convert that to cups, it is 5/8 cup of the two end colors and 1 cup of the middle color.

If you are doing a shirt like ours you need:

1 cup blue ( middle color)

5/8 cup yellow (end color)

5/8 cup red (end color)

Step 4: Soak and Spin.

Soak your shirt in soda ash. If you are using a kit, follow the mixing instructions for the soda ash on the kit. I use pool pH up, so I am not conversant with the amount from a kit. You just need enough soda solution to cover the shirt.

Allow to soak for 20 minutes. (This is a good time to mix dyes.)

Wring the shirt out thoroughly.

Spin. If you don't have a spinner, either give it a whirl in your washing machine if your spin cycle doesn't add water or roll into a towel and squeeze the excess water from the shirt. I like to dye my shirts fairly dry. You can dye a wetter shirt, but you won't have as good dye saturation as the water in the shirt dilutes the dyes a bit.

Step 5: Mix Dyes.

I typically mix light to dark, so I should have mixed the yellow first. Go figure, on an instructable I mix the dyes in the wrong order thus teaching bad habits.

If you are using a kit*, mix each dye with the total amount of water you need for the amount of dye you are making then transfer the dye into a holding container and rinse the bottle.

IE. 5/8 cup red means that the red bottle needs 5/8 cup water. If your bottle doesn't quite fit that amount pour the 5/8 cup water into your holding container. From the holding container pour enough water into the bottle of powder to dissolve the powder enough to pour back into the holding container. You will end up with 5/8 cup dye.

Repeat with the other two dyes keeping in mind that the middle color of your shirt needs 1 cup of dye.

Now you should have three containers of dye and three rinsed bottles.

*If you aren't using a kit, mix dyes according to dharma or prochem or jacquard instructions**. If you own larger quantities of dye, I am assuming you know how to mix them, so just go ahead and mix how you normally would. I am not a proponent of urea. I think it is extraneous since it is just a wetting agent, but there are good arguments for using it if you are not going to wrap you dyed goods. It causes the water to evaporate significantly slower.

**I used 1 teaspoon of yellow for 5/8 cup water, 1 teaspoon fuchsia for 5/8 cup water and 1 tablespoon turquois for 1 cup water.

Step 6: Measure Dyes and Dye Shirt.

  1. Using the chart you generated during step 2, add the appropriate number to teaspoons of dye to your rinsed bottle.
  2. Dye each section between rubber bands making sure there is no white in the section. That means checking inside the folds or gathers carefully.
  3. Dump extra dye from bottle into a waste container*. I will use this dye in other projects so I try to have a waste container for green and a waste container for purple.
  4. Rinse bottle or bottles if you are using more than one.
  5. Move on to next section and repeat steps 1-4.

You will want to dye your shirt sequentially and check off sections on your chart as you go. You can easily get lost on this step.

It was impossible to get a picture of the color change, but you can see it easily as you do it. Keep in mind ombre is supposed to be a subtle change, so except for the pure colors, the change is slight.

*Any section dyed with a pure color (not mixed) can be dumped back into your holding container. All other dye needs to be dumped into a waste container.

If you making a shirt like mine see chart below:

  1. 7 t red
  2. 6 t red/ 1 t blue
  3. 5 t red/ 2 t blue
  4. 4 t red/ 3 t blue
  5. 3 t red/ 4 t blue
  6. 2 t red/ 5 t blue
  7. 1 t red/ 6 t blue
  8. 7 t blue
  9. 6t blue/ 1 t yellow
  10. 5 t blue/ 2 t yellow
  11. 4 t blue/ 3 t yellow
  12. 3 t blue/ 4 t yellow
  13. 2 t blue/ 5 t yellow
  14. 1 t blue/ 6 t yellow
  15. and 16. 7 t yellow (this amount for both sections not for each section)

Step 7: Batch Shirt.

Wrap shirt in plastic wrap and allow it to sit in a warm spot for at least 24 hours. If you aren't sure if it is warm enough, allow the shirt to sit for 48 hours. It is important that the dye remain wet the entire time so that it deactivates all they dye.

Step 8: Rinse, Wash, Dry and Wear.

After batching rinse shirt in cool water until water runs fairly clean.

Just a note, as you can see, I keep the yellow out of the rinse water until it runs fairly clean. I am not truly worried about cross contamination since the dye is deactivated, but I still am careful for the first part of rinsing.

Wash shirt in very hot water with detergent.

Dry and enjoy.

(These rinsing instructions are standard for all cold water (procion) dyes.)

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