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How To Tie-Dye Shirts At Home & Actually Love What You Make

When you were about 10 years old, you probably spent entire days during the summer in your backyard tie-dyeing so many white t-shirts, shorts, socks, and any other white fabric you could get your hands on. Who knew the trend would come back with such a vengeance in 2020, to the point where no un-dyed fabric in your home is safe? If the sudden resurgence of tie-dyed clothing has you itching to remember how to tie-dye shirts at home, clear a space in your home, throw on some gloves, and gather all your old white tees, because it's about to get groovy.

Before starting the tie-dye process at all, you'll need a few things. First, you'll need a white t-shirt or something similar, obviously. Fabric-wise, your best bet is something made of either 100% cotton rayon, hemp, or linen. If the fabric of your t-shirt is a blend, try to make sure it's at least mostly cotton, otherwise your dyes might rinse out more than you intend. Next, you'll need fabric dyes. To get the most colorful items, I suggest purchasing a tie-dye kit with several colors in it, so you can play around — any of these affordable tie-dye kits will work. Then, check to see if your kit requires you do a soda ash soak. Last, you'll need some rubber bands or some string.

Above all else, make sure to read the instructions of your tie-dye kit thoroughly before beginning, particularly as they relate to preparing the dyes. (Powder dye will likely come in a squirt bottle, and you'll have to add warm water.) Those guidelines are your gospel for this activity, so you can end up with something you actually love. Once you do that, throw on some gloves (so you don't stain or irritate your skin) and prepare a space with some newspaper, old towels, or tarp since things will get messy. The process should go a little something like this.

1. Wash your shirt.

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As ready as you are to jump right in, if your shirt is brand-new, you should wash it first for the most optimal outcome. This will remove any sort of chemicals or other elements on the shirt that prevent the dye from soaking in.

2. Pick your pattern.

Once your shirts are washed and ready to go, you'll want to choose from the manyyyyyyyy tie-dye patterns out there. Here are some classic options to get you started:

A spiral tie-dye is one of the most popular patterns out there. To start, take a firm stick or fork and place it where you want the center of your spiral to start. (If you're using a fork, the prongs should be touching the shirt.) Then, spin the stick or fork until your shirt starts spiraling into itself. You may have to help guide the sleeves and ends in. Once your shirt is totally spiraled, take at least three rubber bands and place them equidistant around the bunch. You can add more rubber bands if you want your shirt bunched tighter or with more sections.

Another tie-dye method, called the crumple method, essentially just involves laying your shirt out and scrunching up random areas until your shirt is bunched together. Once it is, stick your rubber bands around the bunch however you'd like — all the matters is that the bunched shirt stays together.

The stripe method will give you either vertical or horizontal stripes, depending on which way you fold the shirt. If you want horizontal stripes, simply pleat or fold your shirt horizontally, or from sleeve to sleeve. Then, place rubber bands along the pleated shirt where you want your stripes to start or stop. For vertical stripes, do the same folding and rubber banding technique, but from top to bottom instead.

Finally, a bullseye tie-dye pattern involves an expanding circular pattern coming from one area of the shirt. Similar to the spiral method, pick where you want the center of the pattern to start. Then, pick the shirt up from that spot and bring the rest of it together, placing rubber bands along as you go.

3. Soak your scrunched-up shirt in soda ash, if needed.

This step is why it's important to read your tie-dye kit instructions first. While some tie-dye kits already have soda ash, which helps dye adhere to the shirt, mixed into its dyes, others don't. If yours doesn't, you'll need some soda ash and a large bucket or other container filled with warm water. Follow the directions provided with your soda ash to know the ratio of soda ash to water and how long you should soak your item.

4. Start dyeing.

Now, get ready to have the best time of your life. If you're using squirt bottles, simply squirt the dye directly on the fabric where you want it, and cover all the white parts you see. If you're not using squirt bottles, dip the part of the fabric you want dyed into the container of dye. Be creative! Swirl the dyes, change up your colors, and don't be afraid to experiment. Just try not to muddy up the colors too much. Oh, and don't forget to turn your creation over and dye the other side, too.

5. DON'T. TOUCH. IT.

When you're done, for the love of God, don't unwrap the shirt. Otherwise, you'll undo the hours of work you just did. Instead, wrap the shirt in plastic wrap or put it in a plastic or Ziploc bag — just make sure it's relatively airtight. Then — and I'm really sorry in advance — you gotta wait, preferably overnight or longer, but at least for eight hours. Do literally anything else, but no peeking.

6. Rinse it all out.

Has it been at leasttttttt eight hours? OK, OK, now you can peek. Take your shirt out of the wrapping, take off the rubber bands, and marvel at the work of art (or, if you're like me, the work of something) you just created. Then, rinse the whole thing out. Ideally, you'll do this somewhere you don't mind residual dye splashing around a bit. When rinsing, keep wringing out the shirt until the water runs clear.

7. Wash your shirt before you wear it. (I mean it.)

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As much as you want to throw this baby on once it's dry, resist the urge, unless you want all that dye transferred to your skin. (Low-key, that might look cool, but it's not good for your skin.) Throw your shirt in the wash — by itself, or else you'll dye everything else with it — and then dry it. Once that's over, you're finally ready to resurrect your '90s campwear and rock your creation for everyone to see. Love this for you.