Stephanie has been an online writer for eight years. Her articles focus on everything from RVing to rock collecting.
Tie-Dying T-Shirts Is a Fun Activity for Children and Families
Looking for a fun summer activity for kids? Tie-dyed t-shirts are fun to make and fun to wear. Kids can express their creativity through their choice of color and design, or they can just have fun with lots of different colors. Adults will want to get into the act, too, so be sure to have a few adult-sized t-shirts on hand.
My granddaughters, ages 9 and 19, were with me for a week. We were looking for something fun to do that would be of interest to all of us, and we decided to make tie-dye t-shirts for ourselves and for them to take home as gifts for their parents. It turned out to be a great family project!
You Can Tie-Dye Indoors or Outdoors
Tie-dying can be done indoors or outdoors, but either way, you should plan to cover the table with plastic and use paper towels or newspapers to soak up any drips or spills.
Materials You Will Need
- Fabric dyes
- Plastic bottles with an applicator tip
- Rubber bands (about 4-6 for each shirt)
- Plastic gloves
- *Wire rack (cake cooling rack works well)
- *Paper towels
- *Plastic table cover (some kits come with a small plastic cover.)
- *t-shirts (100% cotton) or other cotton items to dye
Note: Tulip kits (which I discuss below) contain all but the starred (*) items.
How to Gather the Supplies and Prepare to Tie-Dye
Although you can use regular fabric dyes for tie-dying t-shirts, I recommend purchasing a kit when working with kids. The 12-Color Tulip Tie-Dye kit I purchased had all materials except the t-shirts and starred items from the list above. Using this kit makes the process a little less complicated, and you don't have to hunt down things like rubber bands and applicator bottles separately.
You can find the Tulip Tie-Dye kits at Amazon or in craft stores. Kits come in varying sizes that will dye anywhere from 9–100 items. I purchased a kit capable of dying 36 items. They list for around $30, but you can find them discounted at Amazon or use coupons to get a better deal. You will find that if the kids are overly enthusiastic when applying the dye, you won't get as many shirts out of it as they say. Younger children will need some guidance about how much dye to apply.
Hint: Choose a kit that will do only the amount of items you plan to dye in one session as the dyes lose their potency once you add water to them.
What Kind of T-Shirts Do You Use?
Any plain colored 100% cotton t-shirt will work. We tried some green and pink T-shirts as well as white ones and found that we liked the clarity of the colors on white the best. It's a matter of personal preference.
Since we were planning to do a lot of t-shirts, we purchased some individually and also bought a couple of multi-packs of men's t-shirts. I also picked up a couple of t-shirts at the thrift store for a dollar each. My grandson and I also tie-dyed a couple of faded and stained t-shirts that we already owned and loved how they came out.
Hint: Although you can use colored t-shirts, the white t-shirts come out the brightest when using the colors included in the kits.
Preparing the Shirts
Wash all the t-shirts using only a small amount of detergent to get out any sizing. If you dry them, do not use fabric softener as it will hinder the absorption of the dye.
Preparing the Indoor and Outdoor Areas
When folding and rubber banding the t-shirts, you’ll need a table large enough to lay the t-shirts out flat before folding. We did our dying indoors, but we went outside when it was time to rinse out the dyes. We rinsed out the shirts with a hose onto a grassy area to avoid staining sidewalks and patio blocks.
Read More From Feltmagnet
Photo Guide to the Tie-Dying Process
Step-by-Step Tie-Dye Instructions
- Cover the table with a plastic drop cloth, and have all other material on hand.
- Wet the T-shirt. Wet cloth accepts the dye better and colors will blend nicely. Either put shirts in a basin of clean water and wring out excess water before folding or use them directly from your washer. My washing machine spun out too much water, so we had to re-wet the shirts before dying.
- Fold and Rubber Band the T-shirts. We found it easiest to fold all of our t-shirts and rubber band them before mixing the dyes. That way, we didn’t have to take the plastic gloves off and on but once. Kits come with directions for folding in order to get different designs. (See some design patterns further below.)
- Prepare Dye. Put on protective gloves and add water to the dye bottles according to instructions. Carefully shake over a sink to mix. Be sure to rinse off the outsides of the bottles so that dye doesn’t drip on the floor. We put dye bottles on a small cookie sheet to keep drips contained.
- Prepare Dying Area. Put a couple of layers of newspapers or paper towels under a cooling rack for each person to use as a dying area. Have extra paper towels ready to replace used ones.
- Dye T-shirts. Be sure t-shirts are still wet (not dripping) and that each person is wearing protective gloves. Place the tied shirt on the cookie rack and start dying a section at a time. The dye will come out pretty fast so apply it carefully to one section of the shirt at a time. The colors look best if you limit them to 3 or 4 colors to each shirt. If you mix too many colors, you’ll get a muddy look. Some colors when mixed together will make brown (ex: red and green, purple and green) so try not to have them next to each other without some white between them. Turn the shirt over and do the backside. It’s o.k. to have some white showing. Much of that will go away as the dye soaks into the shirt.
- Wrap dyed shirt in plastic. We used plastic grocery bags, one for each shirt.
- Let wrapped shirts sit for at least 6 hours. We piled ours into a dishpan and left them overnight.
- Rinse t-shirts one at a time under running water. Wear protective gloves to avoid getting dyed hands! With kids, the rinsing works best if done outdoors with a hose. We draped our shirts over a low wall and rinsed ours with the hose first, then dropped in a bucket of water and rinsed some more.
- Wash t-shirts in a washing machine. Once excess dye is rinsed out, wash shirts in a washing machine. Use hottest water available and a large load setting. You may add a small amount of detergent. T-shirts can be dried in a dryer or hung on a clothesline. We enjoyed hanging them on a clothesline so that we could see all the different colors and patterns!
Traditional Tie-Dye Design Patterns
These are a few of the designs we tried, along with tips on how to achieve them.
Our favorite was the spiral or double spiral.
- To get a spiral, lay the shirt out flat, pinch a spot where you’d like the eye of the spiral and twist.
- As you twist, the shirt will fold into a rough circle that you can push together a little with your hands.
- Use rubber bands evenly placed to hold the shirt together.
- Lay the shirt aside and go on to the next one.
Bull's Eye Design
The bull’s eye design was another of our favorites. This one is even easier!
- Lay the shirt flat and pick it straight up by a spot where you’d like the center of the bulls eye.
- Rubber band starting about 2 or 3 inches from the top and place rubber bands every few inches.
This one is easiest of all as you just crush the shirt into a mass and band it together using 4 or 5 rubber bands.
Tie-Dying Techniques Have Been Used for Centuries
As far back as the sixth century, ancient craftsmen in Asia and Africa evolved many ways of painstakingly folding and tying fabric to create detailed designs. Although tie-dying techniques have been used for centuries with many intricate variations, modern day tie-dying in the US only became popular in the 1960s during the hippie movement. It was a cheap and easy way to create bright, original designs on T-shirts and other clothing that fit in with the renewed interest in fabric arts and crafts.
Today the availability of better and cheaper dyes and tie-dye kits make it easy for anyone to create a beautiful T-shirt with one-of-a-kind designs.
Let Your Creativity Flow With Tie-Dye
If you've never tried tie-dying, you'll find it a fun and rewarding project—especially if you do it with kids! Each shirt will be unique, even if you use similar tying techniques. The new tie-dying color kits are easy to use and much less messy than the more involved methods of using fixatives.
Do have fun with your tie-dying experiments!
Sp Greaney from Ireland on July 24, 2020:
Your designs turned out really well. I saw people doing this on instagram the last few months. It's a craft that keeps getting popular every few years.
Nicole K on June 20, 2019:
I love how you've included the designs your grandkids made themselves. So cool! We got a tie dye kit for $5 from Target last summer and my oldest loved it! He also made a tie dye shirt at VBS this year. They're so much fun! I'd love to get better at making the specific designs.
Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on November 03, 2017:
It is a lot of fun, especially if you get together with family or friends. Thanks for stopping by to comment!
Mary Wickison from Brazil on November 03, 2017:
This looks like a lot of fun and great quality time together. I love the results.
suziecat7 from Asheville, NC on November 02, 2017:
You've piqued my interest. Looks like fun! Great Hub!
Rebecca Graf from Wisconsin on October 12, 2017:
Never thought of this. Might do it next time my nieces and nephews come over.
Asher Socrates from Los Angeles, CA on February 20, 2016:
I always enjoyed making tie dyed t shirts because of the brilliant bright colors that came out of the dye process. This is a great how to with easy to follow step by step clear instructions. This article brought back many memories for me. Thank you and keep up the great work!
Besarien from South Florida on February 07, 2016:
Are you an old hippy? Because you have tie-dye mojo. You got some really nice results which in my experience isn't a given. Have had success and abject mottled failure side by side using the same technique, of course it doesn't matter which is part of the fun. Still I don't see a bad one in the bunch. I can tell the kids were thrilled too which is the best part. Thanks for sharing this!
Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on October 05, 2015:
letstalkabouteduc - I love doing craft projects with my grandchildren. As they get older, it's fun to do some of the more complicated and messy projects that we couldn't do when they were younger, but this one actually worked great with a 9 year old. I think that younger kids could do it too -- though it might be a good idea to do it outdoors!
McKenna Meyers on October 04, 2015:
You are one cool grandma to do this with your granddaughters. They'll always remember it! Thanks for showing us how. I never tried before because I thought it was too messy and complicated. But next summer I'm doing it with my boys!
Nithya Venkat from Dubai on October 04, 2015:
I love the bull's eye design. The T-Shirts look fabulous, great hub. Congratulations on the HOTD.
Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on October 04, 2015:
One of my favorite hubs by you! I still haven't got around to tie dying, but I am glad that HP reminded me! :)
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on October 04, 2015:
Stephanie, congrats on HOTD, since I've read this hub 5 months ago.
myraggededge on October 04, 2015:
Love these! I will have to see if these kits are available in the UK. It's just the kind of thing my daughter would like to try.
peachy from Home Sweet Home on July 29, 2015:
i have never tried self made dye shirt, this looks fun
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on May 02, 2015:
My pleasure Stephanie. This is the perfect time to do it now with the spring weather. You're very welcome.
Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on May 02, 2015:
Kristen Howe - It seems that tie dying is fun no matter how old you are! Thanks for stopping in to comment and vote!
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on May 02, 2015:
I miss those tie dying days in camp, when we did our own shirts. How fun for the family and how creative too. Voted up for useful!
Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on March 23, 2015:
Schoolmom24 - So glad you enjoyed my article on tie dying t-shirts. This is a great craft to do with kids of all ages, and works particularly well as an outdoor project! I'm sure the ones that your sister-in-law did with the kids were great fun!
Schoolmom24 from Oregon on March 23, 2015:
This a great how-to article and the shirt designs are awesome! Our extended family goes camping every year and my sister in law did this with all the kids last summer. They loved it! (But not sure they came out as cool as the ones in your pictures!)
Nell Rose from England on February 01, 2015:
I love this! I used to tie dye loads of shirts and T's back in the 70s! most of mine were multi colored! lol! brings back memories!
Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on December 26, 2014:
atlantichorizons - That sounds like a great idea, and I'm sure your Girl Scouts were thrilled with the results. Thanks for sharing.
Kristen from Wilmington, NC on December 26, 2014:
I did this with my Girl Scout Daisy troop. We made them aqua and blue to match color. The patterns were obviously unique to each girl. Then, we had them screen-printed with a daisy in the middle and the words Girl Scout on top and Daisy on bottom. Adorable!
Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on December 22, 2014:
The tie dye shirt kits make great stocking stuffers, too! Have fun with it!
Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on December 21, 2014:
I haven't had a tie dye shirt in years. I'm due for one! These will also make a fun gift...birthday, christmas, etc!
Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on November 02, 2014:
Peggy W - Tie dye shirts remind me of the 1960s, too. It was fun to share a little bit of that era with my grandchildren! Thanks so much for your comment and for sharing my hub!
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 01, 2014:
That takes me back in time! Tie dying used to be popular back in the 1960s. Nice tutorial on how to do this for people who have never tried their hand at making these colorful designs. Shared this with G+, twitter and pinned to Awesome Hubpages.
Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on October 30, 2014:
jill of alltrades - One thing about tie dye is that even the mistakes usually turn out great! Thanks for stopping in to comment!
jill of alltrades from Philippines on October 30, 2014:
What a fun way to spend with the kids! I love the designs. Thanks for the steps and tips.
Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on October 07, 2014:
AprilApril - Glad you enjoyed my tie dyed t-shirts. When inspiration strikes, do have fun with it!
AprilApril from England on October 07, 2014:
These look fantastic. I have not done any tie dying in a long time but I have definitely been inspired to do so.
Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on October 05, 2014:
Rtalloni - The kids and I had a great time tie dying t-shirts. We did get a little carried away...now we all have enough tie dyed t-shirts to last a lifetime! :) Thanks for stopping in to read and comment!
RTalloni on October 04, 2014: