Tie-Dye Fun: a simple guide to tie dying with kids

Tie-Dye Fun: a simple guide to tie dying with kids

Tie-dye is a time-tested craft. For decades, kids, adults, and everyone in between have been using tie-dye to transform their wardrobe, bringing new color and life to even the most dull and worn-out articles of clothing. From t-shirts and sweatpants to hats and bandanas, tie-dye is a great way to bond with your kids while creating lasting memories and even better outfit options. 

While tie-dye is fun and relatively skill-free, you still need to know what you need and what you’re doing. This simple guide will walk you through the tie-dye process, leaving you confident and ready to create a colorful, laugh-filled, kid-friendly afternoon.

two hands on a white tshirt with dye bottles and rubber bands

Materials Needed

The beauty of tie-dye is that it’s not a material-heavy, cost-intensive activity. While tie-dye doesn’t require a large set-up, you do need to have the right supplies on-hand to make sure everything goes alright. 

The core supplies needed for tie-dye are:

Dye

Dye is the number one ingredient for tie-dye (so much so that it’s even in the name). When selecting dye, choose a permanent blend; otherwise, you risk losing color after a few washes.

If you are tie-dying with children, remember that dye is permanent and will stain most fabric surfaces it encounters. To avoid unwanted stains, I always recommend tie-dying outside or in an area entirely covered with plastic or paper. And make sure kids are wearing clothes you’re okay with them getting stained.

Also, make sure that the dye you select is child/pet safe, just in case some of the dye accidentally gets in a mouth, eye, etc. 

Rubberbands

When it comes to tie-dye, rubber bands are essential. To get the fun swirls or stripes you’re looking for, you need to section off your fabric with rubber bands, which create natural breaks and swirls in whatever pattern you choose. 

If you’re looking for thicker breaks in your dye, go for thicker rubber bands, and conversely, if you want thinner breaks, go for thinner bands. 

If you’re in a bind, strings work also, but rubber bands are the best and most durable choice. 

Stencils

Stencils allow you to create fun shapes and designs on your tie-dyed item. You can create these stencils at home with paper or cardboard, and the sky’s the limit for designs. I have seen some great animal designs, stars, moons, and rainbows, which look stunning on the finished product.

Garbage bags/Plastic Bags

Plastic bags are needed to allow your wet, freshly tie-dyed items to settle and set before you wash them and get ready to show them off. Tie-dyed items should be left in the bag for 24 hours, allowing all the dye to soak into the shirt and set the dye, creating a permanent bond.

Since newly tie-dyed items are wet and heavy, I suggest using a thick garbage bag or double bagging thinner options. The last thing you want is a colorful, staining leak. 

If possible, allow the items to sit in the bag outside in the sun. Heat speeds the setting process along, so anywhere in direct sunlight usually offers the best results.

Gloves

As mentioned, dye tends to stick around for a while. I strongly recommend using plastic gloves, which you can usually find at any pharmacy or craft store, to protect your hands. To protect clothes, especially for younger tie-dye artists, I recommend wearing a smock or using old clothes that you don’t mind being stained as a protective cover.

Pro-tip: While you can tie-dye virtually any fabric, lighter fabrics yield the best results. Think white 100 percent cotton shirts or clothing items, light yellows, blues…light colors are the key here. If you are going to use black or darker shades, you will want to use bleach or bleach-heavy dyes to give you the contrast you need to see your stunning work come to life.

Tie-Dye Patterns 101

When it comes to patterns, you get what you see. 

spiral tie dye pattern

Swirl

If you’re looking for a swirled pattern and look, you will want to take your t-shirt (or whatever you’re dying) and create a coiled, swirl shape with it before dying. If you think of the shape of a snake coiled up…that’s the look you’re going for. For each color that you want to use, you will take your rubber band and section things off.

If you want a blue, yellow, and red tie-dye swirl shirt, you will take the blue and dye one section, then use another rubber band for red, etc. The key is to ensure that your rubber bands act as a barrier, keeping colors where you want them.

When you’re done, take some extra rubber bands and make sure the swirl/t-shirt is tight and secure before placing it in your plastic bag for 24 hours to set. Once that 24 hours is complete, take the shirt out, rinse it thoroughly until the water runs clear, and throw the item in the wash, dry, and you’re ready to show off your new creation.

ink blot tie dye pattern

Ink-Blot or “Crumple”

For this pattern, it’s pretty easy to achieve. Take your shirt, scrunch it up so it’s wrinkled, and then use your rubber bands to create a grid where you will place each color you want for your shirt. For this pattern, your shirt should almost look like a checkerboard with rubber bands. Use the same plastic bag, water, wash, and dry technique, and you’re ready to go!

sunburst tie dye t-shirt

Sunburst

You will take your shirt and create little “knots” with your rubber bands for this one. Your shirt should almost look like a mountain range, with tiny little knots all over it. Then you place your color(s) on each knot, follow the bag, wash, dry technique, and you’re ready for wear!

Tie-dye is a great and easy way to make lasting memories with your kids, friends, and loved ones. As a bonus, you will end your tie-dye experience with unique new wardrobe items that will bring you joy (and style) for years. 

"Tie-Dye Fun: a simple guide to tie dying with kids" with picture of tie dye shirts on a wood table


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