Getting Started Tie Dyeing


Over the years, I have made tie dyes in parking lots, carrying everything needed in a back pack, to full shops with tables, multiple blenders and dedicated washing machines. So tie dyeing can be done just about anywhere and with minimal materials. Just keep in mind the dye can be pretty messy and will “dye” all kinds of things it comes in contact with.

*NOTE* Having drop cloths, wearing old clothes and gloves, and careful handling will minimize the mess. Give some thought to this or things can get messy. The dye will eventually come off your skin… it can be permanent on other things.

List of materials needed for tie dyeing with this tutorial…

Something to Tie Dye – Fiber reactive dyes will bond to any natural fiber including cotton, silk, rayon, hemp, and wool. 100% Cotton T-Shirts are highly recommended.
Fiber Reactive Dyes – I am partial to Aljo Manufacturing Company’s Cold Water Process Dyes. Tell them we sent you!
* Soda Ash – I have found the best source to be pool supply stores. You want pure soda ash.
* Vinegar – Rinsing your hands and skin with vinegar after using soda ash will neutralize the alkaline and caustic Soda Ash.
* Tablespoon & Measuring Cup (For measuring dye and Soda Ash)
* Rubber Bands – I prefer two sizes. (No 12 and No 19) Thin rubber bands seem easier to work with and have less tension. Techniques discussed in this workshop use rubber bands mainly to hold the fold together. If there is too much tension on the fold the shirt tends to fold in on itself. Not good, but sometimes unavoidable.
* Squirt Bottles for Applying Dye – Though anything that will squirt dye can be used, my favorite is the 250ml Nalgene Laboratory Wash Bottle. It dispenses the dye without having to tip the bottle. Look for control and ease of use when deciding what bottles to use.
Table/Surface for Folding and Dyeing – A smooth surface that allows the fabric and rubber bands to slide is best for folding. I suggest using tables made with 3/4 inch plywood and covered with Plexiglas. Cheap plastic table cloths work well. Soda ash is caustic can quickly destroy and/or discolor most finishes, so please don’t use your grandma’s kitchen table. Dyeing on surfaces used for food preparation is NOT recommended. I have used everything from Plexiglas and stainless steel tables to plastic duct taped against plywood and old car hoods.
Rubber Gloves – I highly recommend using gloves in all processes of tie dyeing. The soda ash is caustic and can burn. If you have a small cut on your hand it will eat away at it. The dye can stain your skin and you will have to wait till the skin cells die before all the color is out. There are products on the market specifically for washing dye from skin but my experience is it doesn’t get it all off.
Respirator/Mask – A well ventilated mixing station and the use of a respirator is recommended. The dye comes in powder form and, while handling, gets in the air. You do not want to breathe this dust. Breathing this dust is by far the most “toxic” part of the tie dying process. Prolonged exposure can cause serious health issues. Read the Data Safety Material from the dye supplier. Mixing outdoors or with proper ventilation helps reduce dust exposure.
Buckets/Tubs – Used for soaking fabric in soda ash water and other aspects of the tie dye process.
* Blender – This is optional but highly recommended. Otherwise you will be pasting the dye powder and shaking the paste in bottles to mix the dyes. This can lead to clumps if not properly done. Not Good. Clumps clog the bottles. Cheap yard sale or discount store work great.

*NOTE* DO NOT USE a blender in food preparation after using for dye mixing.

* Newspaper – Used to place the shirts onto during the dying process.

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