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How to Tie Dye T-Shirts With Kids: A Fun Family Activity

Updated on September 11, 2014

Beautiful Tie Dye

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Tie Dying T-shirts With Kids

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 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 decided on 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!

Indoor or Outdoor Activity

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.

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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 contain all but the starred (*) items.

Supplies and Preparation

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 t-shirts and starred items. 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 Tulip Tie Dye 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.

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.

How to Prepare for Tie Dying

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.

We did our dying indoors, but 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. When folding and rubber banding the t-shirts, you’ll need a table large enough to lay the t-shirts out flat before folding.

The Tie Dying Process

Layers of paper towels were placed under a cookie rack, then the folded shirt placed on it for dying. Note the plastic gloves and plastic covered table cover.
Layers of paper towels were placed under a cookie rack, then the folded shirt placed on it for dying. Note the plastic gloves and plastic covered table cover. | Source
This shirt was folded for a spiral design and dyed with several different colors.
This shirt was folded for a spiral design and dyed with several different colors. | Source
Becky folded her shirt for a Bull's Eye design, then carefully applied the dye. She did forget to put on her gloves, though!
Becky folded her shirt for a Bull's Eye design, then carefully applied the dye. She did forget to put on her gloves, though! | Source

A Bull's Eye Pattern T-shirt

This is one of the t-shirts folded and dyed for a Bull's Eye design. Note the spaced rubber bands separating sections of color.
This is one of the t-shirts folded and dyed for a Bull's Eye design. Note the spaced rubber bands separating sections of color. | Source
This same shirt before rinsing.
This same shirt before rinsing. | Source
Here's my granddaughter modeling one of the Bull's Eye pattern t-shirts she made.
Here's my granddaughter modeling one of the Bull's Eye pattern t-shirts she made. | Source

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.
  • 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!

Double and Single Spiral Design Tie Dye Shirts

A single spiral design.
A single spiral design. | Source
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A double spiral design.
A double spiral design. | Source

Tie Dying Techniques 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.

A Few Traditional Tie Dye Designs

Spiral Design

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.

Bulls Eye Design

The bull’s eye design was another of our favorites. This one is even easier as you just 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.

The Crunch Design

This one is easiest of all as you just crush the shirt into a mass and band together using 4 or 5 rubber bands.

The bull’s eye design was another of our favorites. This one is even easier as you just 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.

Eyecatching T-shirts Designed by Kids

A double spiral design created by my granddaughter.
A double spiral design created by my granddaughter. | Source
My granddaughter proudly displays an eye-catching bull's eye design.
My granddaughter proudly displays an eye-catching bull's eye design. | Source

Tie Dying

Have you ever done tie dying?

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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!

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    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 4 days ago from Wisconsin

      Never thought of this. Might do it next time my nieces and nephews come over.

    • jupiter justice profile image

      Asher Socrates 20 months ago from Los Angeles, CA

      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 profile image

      Besarien 20 months ago

      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 profile image
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      Stephanie Henkel 2 years ago from USA

      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!

    • letstalkabouteduc profile image

      McKenna Meyers 2 years ago from Bend, OR

      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!

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      I love the bull's eye design. The T-Shirts look fabulous, great hub. Congratulations on the HOTD.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 2 years ago from Orlando, FL

      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 profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Stephanie, congrats on HOTD, since I've read this hub 5 months ago.

    • myraggededge profile image

      myraggededge 2 years ago

      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.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      i have never tried self made dye shirt, this looks fun

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      My pleasure Stephanie. This is the perfect time to do it now with the spring weather. You're very welcome.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image
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      Stephanie Henkel 2 years ago from USA

      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 profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      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 profile image
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      Stephanie Henkel 2 years ago from USA

      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 profile image

      Schoolmom24 2 years ago from Oregon

      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 profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      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 profile image
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      Stephanie Henkel 2 years ago from USA

      atlantichorizons - That sounds like a great idea, and I'm sure your Girl Scouts were thrilled with the results. Thanks for sharing.

    • atlantichorizons profile image

      Kristen 2 years ago from Wilmington, NC

      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 profile image
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      Stephanie Henkel 2 years ago from USA

      The tie dye shirt kits make great stocking stuffers, too! Have fun with it!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 2 years ago from Orlando, FL

      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 profile image
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      Stephanie Henkel 2 years ago from USA

      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 W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      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 profile image
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      Stephanie Henkel 2 years ago from USA

      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 profile image

      jill of alltrades 2 years ago from Philippines

      What a fun way to spend with the kids! I love the designs. Thanks for the steps and tips.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image
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      Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA

      AprilApril - Glad you enjoyed my tie dyed t-shirts. When inspiration strikes, do have fun with it!

    • AprilApril profile image

      AprilApril 3 years ago from England

      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 profile image
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      Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA

      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 profile image

      RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

      You really did let your creativity flow, and to do it with grandkids, well, what could be better?! Thanks for sharing the details of your process for tie dying with kids, along with tips on what you learned. The colors are really vibrant, making the shirts great fun to wear, I'm sure.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image
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      Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA

      Teaches12345 - There are kits with only enough dye for 3 or 4 shirts...perhaps you'd like to do this with your granddaughter? The spiral design is easy! Thanks for your comments!

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image
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      Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA

      Emilybee - We did our first batch one at a time, and it was a mess. I think you'll find the other method a little easier. Thanks for stopping in...glad you've given it a try!

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image
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      Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA

      Thelma Alberts - Tie dyed t-shirts are so colorful and cheerful....easy, too! Hope you'll give it a try. Thanks for visiting and commenting!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      My granddaughter was just asking for a tie-dye shirt. If I could, I would make one of these with her for fun. I like the spiral designs best. Thanks for sharing the design process. You have showon some really creative and beautiful examples.

    • emilybee profile image

      emilybee 3 years ago

      awesome tie dye! next time I will rubber band them all first as you suggested! it certainly would make things go smoother :-)

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 3 years ago from Germany

      Wow! Those dyed T-shirts look beautiful. I have not tried dyeing my t-shirts. It sounds easy and fun to make. Thanks for the DIY instructions. Voted up and shared.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image
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      Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA

      Bravewarrior - LOL...I may just be a leftover hippie! Maybe that's why I enjoyed this so much! Thanks for stopping by to read and comment!

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image
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      Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA

      Donna Nitz Muller - The process does take some preparation so that you don't accidentally dye floors and furniture, but it's worth the effort. Much luck if you try it again...it's so fun!

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image
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      Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA

      Paula Atwell - LOL...we got a little carried away with the number of shirts we dyed! I think we could all wear them daily and never run out of tie dyed shirts to wear!

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image
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      Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA

      DDE - What made it the most fun was that everyone just applied the dye wherever it felt right. Each shirt came out differently, and the results were often surprising.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image
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      Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA

      FlourishAnyway - The double spiral was one of our favorites, too. I'm sure your teen would love to try tie dying!

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      I love tie dyed t-shirts, although I've never tried my hand at doing it myself. I love the double spiral design your granddaughter made. They're all so colorful! Awesome addition to any wardrobe - especially us left over hippies!

    • Donna Nitz Muller profile image

      Donna Nitz Muller 3 years ago from 509 Pluto Court

      Awesome Hub! I tried this once long ago when I was too busy to properly prepare. But you make it sound so fun that I think I will try again with an ounce of preparation.

    • Paula Atwell profile image

      Paula Atwell 3 years ago from Cleveland, OH

      Love this hub! When my girls were younger, we tie dyed shirts every single summer. I happen to love color and tie dye, and had no problem wearing them daily.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Incredible colors and such a great thought here. A fun time indeed with kids with the different colors and the process sounds so happy.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Beautiful patterns, especially that double spiral. I would love to try this with my teen.