Ever wondered why all those faded circles, swirls and stripes that appear on t shirts and tops are called tie-dye?

It’s from tying and twisting stones, buttons, (or whatever you like) and tightly securing them  around fabric before they are dipped in dye. The technique creates  the distinctive faded, grooved-out hippy look, that seems to have made a reappearance in recent years.

I was inspired to have a go at home after a day of dyeing fabrics on my creative textiles course (run by fabulous textile artist/tutor Maria Thomas) in Leamington Spa.

What you need…

You don’t need any fancy kits or materials, just a selection of hand dyes, salt, plastic containers, spoons for stirring and rubber gloves (which are pretty essential).

We had a go at home today, experimenting with:

circles and swirls – these are created by tightly tying elastic bands or string around buttons or small stones before adding the garment into the dye. 

stripes – these can be horizontal or vertical depending on which way the fabric is folded before tying the string in place.

ombre effect’  or dip dyeing – this is similar to the hair trend  that’s now right in fashion with the young and happening. You simply dip the fabric into the dye at different depths and for varying times to create a layered look.

Tie it up

The key  with  these techniques is to wrap the string or elastic band as tightly as possible so that the dye doesn’t seep through when the garment is soaked in the dye.

Leave it in a bucket

Once your design is ready you simply need to choose your colour or combination of colours, dissolve the dye in a bucket with some warm water, dilute it and add salt. You can then add your fabric,  stirring it  every now and then for about 45 minutes.




Rinse & wash

Rinse in cold water until the dye runs clear. Then hand wash in warm water.

Now for the fun bit …

You can now take away the string to reveal the pattern.

The kids  love doing this. We bought a few cheap white cotton shorts and t shirts for my 10 year old daughter and her  friends to experiment with at the weekend.

They put their creative skills to the test and produced some  interesting designs in funky colours.



I reckon I’ll keep the dyes in the garden with lids on for cover.  The sewing machine and box of fabrics will also be readily available and I’m hoping it will encourage some creative experimentation. It should be just the thing to bring out family creativity during the summer holidays.


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