To Dye For DIYers

Embrace color and lean into the craftiness of tie-dyeing
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Photo by Lindsey Masterson

Once, tie-dyeing shirts was simple, and there was no right and wrong

Had I somehow as a kid independently arrived at the spiral tie-dye technique that yields a pattern not unlike that which is disclosed when a chambered nautilus is cross-sectioned, I would for some days have been the grooviest kid in the neighborhood.

The technique is simple, really, like so many things once revealed. Pinch a moistened T-shirt and twist it into a swirl. Apply rubber bands to the shirt to keep it from unfurling and to define pie-slice-shaped pieces of the whole.

Dyes of various bold colors are then applied to the wedges. A few hours later, the dye now processed, the shirt may be unwrapped, revealing a pattern like something you might find at the end of a kaleidoscope.

My childhood approach to tie-dye, however, was the basic one and random. Along with a boy named Brad, who died young, and one whose last name, Stone, was just a letter short of perfect for him, I would tightly wrap rubber bands around portions of T-shirts to create spaces that the dye would not penetrate. The shirts were then bathed in a dye solution. Among the resulting designs, it was not possible to call one any better than the next.

In coloring the shirts, we were not trying to emulate anyone. We were not trying to be more like Jerry or to arrive at emblems of a counterculture. Rather, we dyed shirts because it was something to do and easy to do, the very same motivations that attach to people who, upon growing tired of feeding sourdough starter, sought to tie-dye their way through the pandemic.

Do It Yourself

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Photo by Lindsey Masterson

What you’ll need:

  • Tie-dye kit or dye
  • Gloves
  • Metal bowl and grate (to catch excess dye)
  • Rubber bands
  • Fork
  • Plastic Bags
  1. Disposable table cloth or newspaper (to protect surfaces)
  2. Lay your fabric down flat and place your fork in the center and twist.
  3. Make sure the fabric is in a tight circle and secured with a rubber band.
  4. Evenly space 3–5 rubber bands onto the fabric.
  5. Choose 3–5 dyes. Dampen fabric with water so dye sticks. Saturate the fabric with dyes of your choosing.
  6. Place in a plastic bag, and let it sit 8 hours or overnight for more vibrant patterns.