How to Tie-Dye Activity

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Updated on Jul 3, 2013

In the spirit of recycling and reusing, as well as saving some money on buying new clothes, why not spend an afternoon outdoors creating some of your own designs by learning to tie-dye? Instead of tossing that permanently stained t-shirt or pair of shorts into the household rag bag, give them a refreshed look that will cover any stains while creating loads of fun for you and your family.

What You Need:

  • Clothes to tie-dye (light colors work best)
  • Buckets or large plastic containers
  • Fabric dye
  • Rubber bands

What You Do:

  1. Take a look through your child’s closet for clothing that is stained or could use a refreshed look. If you do not find anything that's usable, try to avoid having to buy brand new clothes for this activity. You may want to think about visiting a thrift store or dollar store that offers inexpensive items that could be used easily for this project.
  2. Once you have your items for dying, it’s time to prepare the design using rubber bands. Remember, with this type of art, any area that is not banded will be the color of the dye that it is placed in. To cover specific stained areas on your old clothes (if this applies to you), use a dye that is a darker color than the original stain.
  3. Create an original pattern by helping your child wrap rubber bands around clothes wherever you would like the original color of the clothing to remain. You can roll each article of clothing or scrunch it together to create different designs with the folds of the fabric.
  4. It's best to do the actual dyeing of the fabric outside if you're able. It can be pretty messy! You can prepare and dye several items at the same time. Here are the instructions for a stripe designed tie dyed t-shirt:
    1. Lay shirt out flat.
    2. Fold like an accordion in two-inch folds starting at the bottom until the shirt is completely folded.
    3. Place rubber bands 3-4 inches apart on the shirt.
  5. Now prepare the dye in a bucket according to the instructions on the packet. Prepare one color of dye per bucket unless you decide to mix two colors to create a new color.
  6. Dip the clothing item in the dye and let sit. You'll want to let the garment soak in the dye for at least 5-10 minutes. The longer you leave the item in the dye the more intense the color will be.
  7. Dip different areas of the item in different color until the entire item is covered with dye.
  8. Be careful with this next part! Remove your clothing from the dye and rinse under cold water until the water runs clear. 
  9. Now the reveal! Have your child remove the rubber bands from the clothing. Surprise! What did your garment end up looking like?
  10. Let air dry or in a clothes dryer separately from any other garments.
  11. Wash separately to avoid getting dye on other items in the wash. 

Other ideas for items to tie-dye are pillow cases, curtains, headbands, scarves or whatever else you're inspired to dye!

Alicia Danyali, BS Elementary Education, taught primary-level students for four years at the International School of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The last four years of her teaching career, she taught at the Washington International School in Washington, D.C. She recently completed writing a series of children's picture books and is a mother of one young son.

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