The easiest material for tie-dyeing is 100%, or at least 80% cotton; synthetic materials may not retain the dye evenly, but it’s worth trying. What dye should you use? It depends on the fabric, but since cotton materials are recommended for the beginner, choose a fiber-reactive dye such as “Procion MX,” which is available at some craft stores or by mail order. RIT and other fabric dyes commonly available in grocery stores aren’t recommended unless you plan to use only one color and don’t want a deep shade. Squeeze bottles are helpful for application. These can be ordered along with the dye, or you can use plastic condiment bottles. A pair of disposable latex gloves will come in handy as well because the dye will stain your skin. For the ties, you can use a number of things such as rubber bands, string, nylon cable ties, or anything that will hold firmly in place. Newspapers or other covering materials are useful for protecting the surface where you apply the dye and lay the finished fabric to dry.
First, wash the material to remove any chemicals that may be in the fabric; if this step is skipped, the dye may not penetrate well. Dry the material completely before dyeing. When the fabric is dry, you can begin tying it. There are several “standard” patterns used for tie-dye, including:
1. Spiral: Determine where you want the center of your spiral, and hold the fabric in that spot. Twist the fabric into a point, adding ties along the length of the “cone.”
2. “V” Pattern: Fold the fabric in half and starting at one corner, fold the fabric in even segments back and forth accordion style. Add fasteners as you go.
3. Concentric circles: Same as the spiral, but don’t twist the fabric.
4. Stripes: Roll the fabric into a tube, and fasten ties along the length.
Any number of other patterns can be created; use your imagination. You could try sewing the fabric with a loose basting stitch and pulling the thread tight. Fold the garment into different shapes before tying. Be creative: the most interesting results come from using many fasteners and keeping relatively consistent.
Now that the material is all scrunched up and tied, the next step is to add the dye. Be sure to use enough dye to fully saturate the material, including inside the folds, unless you intend to leave white space. Choose colors that work well together, according to the color wheel. Opposite colors on the wheel (red-green, blue-yellow, orange-purple, etc.) will tend to look muddy where the two colors meet.
When finished with the dyeing process, allow the fabric to dry completely before removing the fasteners. This can take quite some time. Allow at least four hours if the material will be dried in the sun on a hot day, but it will often be necessary to let the fabric bundle dry overnight. Do not attempt to dry it in your dryer! When it’s totally dry, remove the ties and admire your artwork. You’re not done, though because the material must be washed thoroughly in cold water. Don’t use soap; you may wish to rinse it several times before washing it in a machine. After each wash, squeeze the material to see if any dye is released. If dye is released, wash it again!