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How to Tie-Dye on the Cheap

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Dawn is a Canadian crafter skilled in textile work, weaving and toy making, among other arts. She enjoys tie-dyeing and budget crafting!

Learn everything you need to know about tie-dyeing inexpensively.

Learn everything you need to know about tie-dyeing inexpensively.

Make the Most of Tie-Dye!

Tie-dyeing is a fun way to become a fabric designer. You can choose dye colors that range from subtle pastels to shouting vivids. Use them in interesting combinations to create your own masterpiece!

Why should you try this project?

  • You can tie your fabric in any fashion you choose.
  • You can create color effects and patterns that are unique.
  • It's easy to transform a plain T-shirt, pillowcase or jeans into something quite striking— all with a packet or two of dye.
  • With a little practice, you will be able to control the patterns you achieve as surely as if you have painted them on the fabric.
  • Each time you untie your cloth and hold it up for inspection, there is an element of pleasure and surprise.

How to Do Cheap Tie-Dye

Dylon Fabric Dye has been the cheapest I have found on the market. Using this recipe will help your dye go even farther! Cut the recipe in half if you are only doing a small area with this color, as a little bit goes a long way with this technique.

  • 1 tsp RITS fabric dye (Dylon Fabric Dye is cheaper and has more color options)
  • 1 cup hot water (140°F—use a meat or candy thermometer)
  • 1 tsp ordinary table salt
Yellow, Orange, Teal Tie Dye Pattern

Yellow, Orange, Teal Tie Dye Pattern

How Does Tie-Dye Work?

The term tie-dye is exactly descriptive of what you do.

  1. First, you tie the fabric.
  2. Then, you dye the fabric.

It's as simple as that.

The fabric resists the dye where it is tied, allowing it to maintain its background color. Otherwise, if you are using more than one dye, it will keep the last dye just where you want it.

When working with colors:

  • If you apply a yellow dye and then a blue dye, the areas that overlap will be green.
  • If you tie the fabric so that parts of yellow areas (under the ties) resist the dye and other parts are exposed to it, it will have three colors with only two dye applications. (yellow, green and blue)

Other color combinations:

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Feltmagnet

  • Yellow and red make orange
  • Red and blue make purple

Remember that the way you tie the cloth is what actually determines the pattern.

Tie-Dye Fabrics

Tie-Dye Fabrics

What Are Suitable Fabrics to Tie-Dye?

  • Look in your closet, as I'm sure you have something that would look good with some added color to it.
  • Another great place to find cheap things to tie-dye is the local second-hand shop. You can pick up a plain shirt or dress for less than a dollar and make it spectacular with your own personal touch.
  • If you use a cold dye, which is the easiest to start with, you can dye any type of cotton, unbleached calico, household cotton, and even fine lawn.
  • You can also use muslin, which will give you some beautiful, cob-web effects.
  • Terry toweling, linen, cotton-and-wool mixtures, lightweight wool, viscose rayon, cotton and silk velvet and corduroy and pure silk all handle the dye quite well.

What Fabrics Don't Take the Dye as Well?

  • Fabrics with a crease-resistant finish tend to resist the dye: acrylic fabrics such as Orlon are unsuitable for dyeing.
  • Polyesters accept the dye in a much-diluted form.
  • Rayon and nylon fabrics need treating with multi-purpose dyes.
  • For best results, wash the fabrics first in hot, soapy water. Let them soak for an hour or two before rinsing and drying.
  • For your first attempts, try working with fairly thin materials such as pieces of partly worn sheeting, which are much easier to handle until you get the hang of the process.
Tie-Dye Dresses

Tie-Dye Dresses

How Do You Tie Fabric to Tie-Dye?

When you are tying the fabric, make sure to tie the fabric as tightly as possible. This prevents the dye from seeping in where you don't want it. If you do this project with kids, they might need help with this step.

  • Begin by experimenting with small pieces of cloth.
  • An area that has been tied with broad bands of fabric for 'bindings' pieces, from the rag bag, leaves a wider area untreated by the dye than fine string or twine would.
  • Try using a string of all kinds: raffia, strong cotton or linen thread, cord, tape, bandages, and wide elastic bands.
Tie-Dye Cross

Tie-Dye Cross

What Do I Need to Tie-dye?

Luckily, you don't need special equipment to start this project.

The main requirement is a container for the dye. Choose one according to the size of the articles you will be dyeing. A plastic bucket is ideal, or glass or china bowls or pots (do not use an aluminum container). Large mixing basins are ideal. If you are dyeing large items, like a pair of double bed sheets, you can use a sink, wash basin, bath or even a washing machine.

In this case, remember to follow the maker's instructions for rinsing the machine out afterward before you do the weekly wash. Using a little household bleach is typically recommended.

Besides the container, sometimes called the dye vessel, you will need:

  • 1 pint measuring cup
  • Household soda (or a sachet of manufacturer's Cold Fix)
  • Common salt
  • Tablespoon measure
  • A stick or old wooden spoon
  • Waterproof apron
  • Pair of rubber gloves
  • Pencil
  • Sharp scissors
  • For some of the designs, you might want to use a needle and thread
  • Selection of the bindings suggested above

You are now ready to begin!

Multi-Colored Tie Dye

Multi-Colored Tie Dye

Tips to Work Out How Much Dye You Need

  • Weigh the article when it is dry. This will help you work out how much dye you need.
  • The instructions on the packet will tell you how much to use. An example of this would 1 packet for every ½ pound of dry material. This means that if a garment weighs 1 pound and you want to tie-dye it with two different colors, you will need two packets of each.
  • You can dye the articles either wet or dry. Experiment with both.
  • You will see that if you wet the fabric a few minutes before dyeing, you will have a design that is slightly blurred at the edges (rather as if it has been caught in the rain).
  • If you use dry fabric for the dyeing process, it will give it a slightly crisper outline.

Note: Because dyes retain their full properties for only a limited time, make up your dye only when you are absolutely ready to use it.

Tie-Dye Layers

Tie-Dye Layers

Tie-Dye Instructions

  1. Immerse the tied-up fabric in the cold dye solution. Stir well with the wooden spoon or stick.
  2. Keep stirring at frequent intervals for about 10 minutes. Leave the fabric in the dye for an additional 50 minutes.
  3. Lift the cloth out using the end of the spoon or stick. Rinse it very thoroughly in several changes of cold water.
  4. When the water is clear, soak the cloth in hot, soapy water for five minutes. Then, give ita final rinse.
  5. Pour the dye solution away or keep it to use again.
  6. If you decide to use it again, remember that it will have a very diluted color effect. This can actually be rather charming, so it's worth it to give it a try.
  7. Take care how you cut the tying cords. It is really easy to snip the fabric.
  8. Hang the articles up to dry.
  9. If you want to give only one dye application, iron it while it is still damp. Otherwise, tie the fabric up again and repeat the process—always rinsing it in cold water, soaking it in hot, soapy water, and re-rinsing.
Another Idea For Tie-Dye

Another Idea For Tie-Dye

Tie-Dye Retro

Advanced Tie-Dye Techniques to Try

Use Tie-Dye For Matching Bedspread, Sheets & Curtains

Use Tie-Dye For Matching Bedspread, Sheets & Curtains

Will You Try Tie-Dyeing Something?

Thanks for stopping by, and happy crafting!

Nice to See You - Tie Dye

Nice to See You - Tie Dye

© 2013 Dawn


Johnk922 on July 18, 2014:

I do agree with all the ideas you have introduced for your post. They are really convincing and can certainly work. Still, the posts are very brief for newbies. May you please extend them a bit from subsequent time? Thank you for the post. aebafabbkgdc

Dawn (author) from Canada on March 26, 2014:

Thank you! :)

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on March 25, 2014:

Your tie-die designs are beautiful! Great job. Shared and pinned.

Dawn (author) from Canada on March 23, 2013:

Thank you for stopping by, reading and commenting! I love my tie-dye and it's great for those hot summer days!

Donna Herron from USA on March 21, 2013:

Great designs and hub. Tie-dyeing has certainly come a long way since my days at summer camp :) These are beautiful!!

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on March 21, 2013:

These pictures are so beautiful! I've attempted tie dye in the past but without much success. The dye rinsed away and the colors were wishy-washy. But you've given some extra steps that maybe did the trick. (We used one of those thin hospital blankets, thinking it would be a nice picnic blanket)

Jill Spencer from United States on March 21, 2013:

These are gorgeous! Not too retro at ALL.