How to tie dye t-shirts with dye, bleach and food colouring

It’s one of the biggest fashion trends of this year already.
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  • Learning how to tie-dye with things in your household is not only a fun craft hobby to get stuck into over the weekend but it’s also a great way to re-use old clothes and turn them into something you’d wear again.

    After all, learning how to tie dye t shirts is one of those crafty fashion trends that always comes back into style every couple of years. The versatility of the print and the many ways that you can tie dye t shirts yourself makes it an appealing craft project for beginners as well.

    While we’re all spending more time inside, tie dye is getting even more popular with people coming up with unique ways to dye their clothes using every day, using household items like food and garden materials.

    Here’s how to tie dye t shirts

    No matter whether you have food colouring as one of your standard store cupboard essential or access to a garden to create natural dyes, you’re bound to have some of these materials needed to tie-dye at home.

    To tie dye t shirts using any of these methods, you will need:

    • A plain t-shirt
    • White vinegar
    • Plastic gloves
    • Water bottle and push pin
    • Floor covering (like plastic or old newspaper)

    How to tie dye with food colouring

    1. Choose your fabric

    Most people will tie-dye with classics household items like a classic white t-shirt, but you can also tie-dye white socks or even jeans using food colouring. Because food colouring is an acid-based dye, you need to use clothing that is NOT made from plant-based fabrics like cotton and linen. Instead, use a polyester item of clothing.

    tie-dye with household items: food colouring

    Credit: Getty

    2. Mix two cups of white vinegar with two cups of water

    Into a bucket or large bowl, mix your vinegar and water. White vinegar helps the food colouring stain the fabric.

    Warning – the vinegar will smell like you’re standing in the middle of a chip shop, so if that’s not a smell you like then do it in the garden. Tie-dying, with all its potential for mess is a great outdoor craft!

    If you are tie-dying small clothing items, like children’s t-shirts or socks then use half a cup of each instead of two.

    3. Soak your clothes for one hour

    Put your fabric into the vinegar and water solution, press it down so that all parts of the material are covered and if it starts floating then weigh it down with a glass jar, for example. Leave it for one hour.

    After the hour has passed, wring out your fabric. Although the item needs to be damp, it shouldn’t be dripping.

    4. Crumple your fabric

    To create a random tie-dye pattern, as is most popular, crumple your fabric up into a ball. Then wrap two rubber bands around it in a cross shape. Add as many rubber bands as you need to keep the fabric together – the tighter the ball, the more shapes you’ll have.

    If you want to create other patterns like spirals, follow these instructions for crumpling.

    5. Choose one or two colours

    Any more than three colours and you could end up with a mud-like colour, which is definitely not the goal here. Traditional tie-dye colours are pink and blue, or yellow and red – classic food colouring options.

    Fill a water bottle with 120ml of water and 8 drops of food colouring

    You will need one standard water bottle per colour that you want to use. Close the bottle and shake it to mix the water with the dye.

    Poke a hole in the top of the plastic cap of your water bottle (safely!) using a small, sharp object like a push-pin.

    TIP: If you want to use purple for example, but only have red and blue then mix them together to create your perfect shade of purple.

    6. Apply your dye

    Wearing plastic gloves so that the dye doesn’t stain your hands, take your first colour and squirt it onto a section of your crumpled ball. To avoid a mess, place the fabric on a tray or covering (like old newspaper) when you do this.

    As the fabric is already damp from the water and vinegar solution the dye should spread quickly.

    Make sure you do all sides of the crumpled ball, then repeat the process with the other colour.

    7. Wrap your dyed fabric in a plastic bag

    Carefully put your dyed t-shirt or clothing item into a plastic bag, whether that be a sandwich bag for small items or a carrier bag for bigger ones.

    Leave it for eight hours, so that the dye can properly set.

    8. Take it out and wash it with salt water

    After eight hours, carefully take your crumpled, dyed fabric out of the plastic bag and unravel the plastic bands.

    Then soak the food colouring-dyed fabric in a solution of salt and water, using 150g of salt and 120ml of water. You don’t need to leave it in there for ages, just dip it in and pull it back out again.

    Wash it out again, this time just with fresh water from the tap.

    9. Dry it out

    Your tie-dye fabric is done! Dry it out either in the tumble dryer (by itself) or hang it over the bath.

    When washing your tie-dye t-shirt, make sure you wash it without anything else in the machine for three weeks.

    How to tie dye t shirts with bleach

    Now you’ve seen how to tie-dye with food colouring, learning how to tie-dye with other things in your household like bleach is easy. This technique works best with dark fabrics like a black t-shirt or jumper. Of course, always keep bleach away from children.

    1. Pinch your fabric and turn it into a tube shape to get started.

    Then wrap your elastic bands around the tube, about an inch apart. Like shown in this video on how to tie dye.

    2. Mix your bleach and water solution

    Because bleach is a powerful substance, you won’t need to soak your fabric in vinegar and water first.

    Using similar ratios though, pour one cup of bleach together with one cup of water in equal parts. Put it into your water bottle and shake.

    3. Squirt bleach over your t-shirt

    It’s up to you how you want to squirt your bleach – but we recommend applying all of the solution to the fabric, covering all side of your tube.

    Once the fabric has reached the shade you want, cut off the rubber bands immediately. Then rise the fabric thoroughly and wash with fresh water, under the tap.

    Then leave damp.

    If you like the colour the bleach has made, then feel free to leave it like that! Just whizz it through the tumble dryer or hang it up to dry.

    But if you want to use more colour, lay the fabric out on a covered surface and apply your dye (whether that be shop-bought, food or natural dye) over the bleached sections. Let it process, then follow instructions based on what type of dye you have used for finishing.

    How to tie dye with natural food colours

    Tie-dye with natural food colourings is a great way to reduce your food waste.

    You can use brown onion skins to create a yellow or orange colour, red onions to create a purple shade, coffee ground to make brown and strawberries to create the colour pink.

    how to tie dye

    1. Add your chopped plant ingredients into a small saucepan

    Cover them totally with water and place on a medium heat, then let them simmer for one hour.

    2. Turn off the heat and leave the dye

    Let the water return to room temperature, then pour the cooled dye through a strainer and into a mixing bowl. Pour the dye into a bucket.

    3. Soak your fabric

    Soak your t-shirt or piece of clothing in the bucket with the dye until it reaches the colour you want it to be. Then put the fabric in a microwave-safe plastic bag and seal it. For two minutes, heat the bag. Leave it to cool overnight.

    4. Rinse under cool water and hang to air dry

    To really set the dye, put the fabric in your tumble drier on high for about half an hour.

    Other household items like flowers and spices like turmeric can also be used to tie-dye fabric, using the same method.

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    How to wash tie dye t shirts

    Learning how to tie dye t shirts is loads of fun and you can pretty much do it with any item of clothing – like baby grows, socks, jeans or even other materials, like towels and table cloths. However, there comes a time when all these things have to be washed, and that’s when problems can happen. You don’t want your fresh tie-dye pattern disintegrating in the wash, or even worse, the dye moving onto other clothes. Here’s how to wash tie dye in five simple steps…

    1. Rinse the material with cold water under the sink 

    After the dying process, you should have rinsed out the material anyway, but if not then go back to this step to be sure.

    2. Fill the basin with warm water to set the dye 

    This will stop it from bleeding onto other clothes when it’s put in the washing machine next time. Mix in a small amount of washing detergent into the water as well.

    3. Leave it in the basin 

    Let the tie dyed material soak in the mixture of water and detergent for about 15 minutes.

    4. Wash the shirt again under cold water

    But be careful not to rub it too hard otherwise you could risk rubbing off the dye. Then allow it to soak again for another 10 minutes.

    5. Hang it out to dry

    If possible, hang it out over the bath or in the bathroom, to ensure that any leaked dye doesn’t find its way to carpeted flooring.

    After these steps, you can wash it in the machine but be sure not to wash the material on too high a temperature for the first couple of washes.