There are many traditional variations of Tie-dye around the world, including Shibori and Ikat. Here at Dharma, we consider modern tie-dye to be an American art form! Each type is unique, but basically, Tie-dye is a way of creating patterns of color by folding, tying, stitching, crumpling or otherwise preparing the fabric to inhibit the flow of the dye into the folds of the fabric. The pattern of the folds and where the colors are squirted determines the final design. With experience, the end result can be predicted and controlled to some extent, but the surprise is part of what makes tie-dye an exciting and interesting art form that even a first timer can have great results with. A fun & easy craft for children, camps and groups.
Follows are instructions for using the dyes the Pros use, Dharma Fiber Reactive dyes. We have 140+ colors to choose from! They are the dyes of choice for cotton, linen, rayon, hemp, and other natural fibers. The method below is for applying the dye with squeeze bottles, the secret to multicolored brilliant tie-dyes!
step 1: fold and tie your garment
Ideally, first pre-wash garments in HOT water and Synthrapol or Prof. Textile Detergent to remove any oils, dirt or anything else that might resist the dye. Fold and/or tie the fabric into the desired patterns. For more defined patterns wet the shirt and squeeze or spin out excess water before folding. We have several books and DVDs with great pattern ideas!
step 2: soak garments in soda ash solution
Soak the tied garments about 5-15 minutes. Squeeze out the garment so it is damp but not dripping. You can reuse solution until gone.
step 3: mix your dyes
Wear your dust mask & gloves! Measure urea and warm water into a container, an old pitcher works well. Use the chart below for amounts. Paste up your dye with the urea water (see below), then add rest of water and stir ‘till thoroughly dissolved. Pour into squeeze bottles with a funnel. An already wet, tied up adult tee will absorb about 4 oz of liquid dye, depending on how much you apply. Use this as a guide to help you decide how much to mix up. Check the name of each color on the label of the jar, some colors need more dye, they are marked with an * or ** by the name. For the best, most vibrant color, use freshly mixed dye.
step 4: squirt on your dye
Apply dye with squeeze bottles, paint brushes, sponges, etc., as many colors as you want. (see below for tips).
step 5: let it rest
Put tied fabric in a plastic bag (you want to keep it damp). Let it cure for at least 4 hours but preferably 24 hours for the brightest colors. In temperatures below 70º F, it takes longer.
step 6: wash it out
Pre-fill your washing machine with hot water and 1/4 cup Synthrapol or Professional Textile Detergent. Rinse the tie-dyes thoroughly before putting in the machine. Leaving ties on, rinse under cold running water (faucet, hose or shower), to stop the dye reaction. Next rinse in warm water while you untie the folds, keep rinsing until water runs fairly clear. Throw in the machine as soon as it is rinsed, running it through a full cycle. Don't wash more than the equivalent of about 8 adult size t-shirts at a time or the water gets too muddy. You can use Milsoft professional fabric softener in the final rinse to make your tie-dyes super soft!.
Check out these basic folding Patterns on our website (For more advanced folds Check out the books and DVDs!):
Fiber reactive dyes attach permanently to cellulose fibers using a covalent (electron-sharing) bond. These molecules carry a "chromophore" which absorb varying spectra of the light, allowing only certain spectra to reflect. Covalent bonding is one of the most basic and strongest types of chemical reactions. This reaction happens gradually over time depending on temperature and/or the Ph level of the surrounding environment.
The Soda Ash pre-soak raises the pH level of the garment or fabric to approximately 10.5. Raising the pH level of the solution that the fabric or garment is soaked in raises the level of negative hydrogen ions in the dyeing environment. The chemical bonding process uses these ions in the reaction. Pre-soaking in Soda Ash fixer solution is what allows the fiber reactive dyes to work at room temperature. The reaction can also be assisted with heat. Some tie-dyers have had success with using baking soda and microwaving their dyed articles. Since baking soda is a weaker alkali than Soda Ash, it must be accompanied by heat. Some people who are "chemically sensitive" choose to use this method.
The dye is allowed to react in a desirable host environment for up to 24 hours. After this time, the bonding sites on the cellulose should be saturated with dye molecules. Excess dye molecules that have not bonded permanently are washed away using warm water rinse and a dye-carrying detergent like Synthrapol. For a more complete explanation of how the dye and all the chemicals often used with it work, check this out.