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How to tie dye your old clothes

Do you want to refresh your wardrobe and learn a new craft? Read on to learn how to tie dye a shirt and other clothes and brighten up your wardrobe!


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Want to refresh your wardrobe without emptying your bank account? Read on for a step-by step guide that explains how to tie dye your clothes, as well as offering timely tips on how to prevent tie dye from fading.

Adding a cup of salt to your dye enhances the colour, for a fuller, brighter finish.

How to tie dye: Preparation

Preparation is key. First, it’s necessary to purchase a fabric dye. These can be found online or in most fabric shops. Choose wisely –  ensure the dye is suitable for the main fibre of your garment.  Dyes that work well on cotton and other natural fibres will not work on polyester or other synthetic fibres.   The colour and quality of the dye will affect the final result.

Second, choose your item of clothing. While it’s possible to tie dye almost any item, t-shirts are easiest, allowing you to show off your cool colours and designs. Natural fibres are ideal – cotton, rayon or silk absorb dye well, while synthetic fabrics may not.  Also be aware that the background colour of your fabric will affect your final colour.  White fabrics will give you brighter, clearer colour.  If your fabric isn’t white, it will still be fun and interesting to see what colour you will get after dyeing it.

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How to tie dye: Process

  • Before you begin, wash your t-shirt using any commercial detergent like Omo Ultimate Liquid to get rid of any dirt or stains. Always make sure to test any product on a small area of the garment first and follow the washing instructions. No need to dry before dyeing. However, be sure to wring out any excess water.

  • Mix the dye according to instructions found on the pack, in a bucket or a large container. Take extra care when using chemicals like dye and make sure to wear protective gloves.

  • Twist the t-shirt according to your design and hold in place using elastic bands or white waxed dental floss. Bands are easier, dental floss is stronger – the choice is yours. For a basic bullseye design, tie the centre of the t-shirt, then place bands/string at 4cm intervals to the edge of the shirt.

  • Wear rubber gloves and an apron or an old shirt – you want to dye your t-shirt, not your hands.

  • Using a steel spoon, fork or similar utensil, dunk the fabric in the dye. Stir frequently to ensure the fabric is completely covered. Dyeing should take between 30 and 90 minutes, depending on how deep a colour is desired. Ensure the entire fabric is well-covered, including the seams and between the ridges, otherwise the desired pattern won’t materialize. The next section will explain how to keep tie dye from bleeding.

How to keep tie dye from bleeding

Learning how to tie dye is one thing, but what about how to keep tie dye from bleeding? This is actually quite simple:

  • Wearing gloves, remove the t-shirt from the bucket and run under cold water.

  • Keep rinsing until the water runs clear (or almost clear – some colours, such as dark blue, will continue to run slightly). The longer you rinse, the less the colours will bleed into the white areas.

  • Cut off the ties, wash the shirt in warm water, and hang it to dry.

How to keep tie dye from fading

Once the garment has been tie dyed, it’s essential to know about tie dye fade prevention. For the first few washes, the garment could still run. Be sure to wash separately or with like colours. Certain colours will run more than others – dark blues and purples are particularly troublesome.

Once the dye has properly set, the next challenge is to prevent fading. Hand washing is highly recommended, but cool machine washes will also reduce fading. Turning tie dyed clothing inside out will also help to maintain colour.

Even if the above advice is followed to the letter, over time, the dye is certain to fade slightly. The good news is that tie dyeing can be repeated as often as you like – so if after a few months the garment looks a little washed out, simply repeat the above process!

So, there you have it – now you know how to tie dye a shirt, and how to wash a tie dye shirt without it fading.

Happy tie dyeing!

  • Rinse your freshly tie-dyed T-shirts to prevent the colours from bleeding.

  • Hand wash the item inside out and dry in the shade to prevent future fading.

Originally published