Friday, June 22, 2012

DIY no dye tie dye

I imagine that nearly everyone has tried tie-dying at some point in their life.  It's fun and low-tech and has a cool mysterious element.  I mean, isn't it exciting when you undo all the rubber bands and finally get to see the finished product?   There are many ways to tie-dye and I've tried most of them.  For most methods a sink, washing machine, and dryer are standard pre-requisitions.  But I found a way around all those requirements.  In fact, I can tie-dye without dye.  I've been doing it for over 15 years.  Intrigued?  I hope so!

My family gets together every summer.  To add an extra element of fun to the family reunion, this year we had a theme: The 70s!!!  I know, fun right?  It was a blast!  What comes to mind when you think about the 1970s?  Disco?  Mod?  Bell-bottom pants?  Tube socks? Half shirts on men?  Short shorts?  Leisure suits?  Wedge high heels?  Newsboy hats?  Sock it to me?  Fringed vests?  Headbands?  Chokers?  Well, nearly every single one of those elements were seen at my family reunion.  My contribution: tie-dye t-shirts for all the kids!  Maybe tie-dying is a bit more 60s in your mind, but I looked it up and those hippies were tie-dying well into the 1970s.  (psst!  I was born in 1977 so I don't recall too much tie-dying...)

Anywhoo, here's what you need to use the Ricochet Method of Tie-Dye:
Everything but the paint can found at your local dollar store.
  1. T-shirts.  For most dyes, you would need 100% cotton for best results, but any fabric will work for this method.  I got all my white t-shirts from the dollar stores.  I even got some grey t-shirts and they worked as well.
  2. Water.  A bucket will do.  No sinks required.  I used a horse trough.  ;-)
  3. Rubber bands.  I got 2 bags of assorted rubber bands from the dollar store and had way more than I needed to tie up 28 t-shirts and several pairs of tube socks.
  4. Spray bottles.  I got mine from the dollar store as well.  This item is actually optional because you could really just pour the color onto the t-shirts or use paint brushes.  The spray bottles are good for kids though.  
  5. Acrylic paint.  Not tempura, oils, or watercolors.  I used Apple Barrel brand acrylic craft paints.  They are very inexpensive and come in virtually every color.  
There are lots of ways to tie up your t-shirts to prep them for color.  I like the following method because it creates lots of wrinkles to catch and resist the color, it's faster than creating the concentric-bulls-eye with rubber bands, and the front and back match.  You could also create lots of stripey wrinkles by simply using an accordion fold, but here's how I do it to create a traditional spiral design:
  1. I like to start with a damp t-shirt.
  2. Pinch the middle of the shirt, grabbing all the layers of fabric and start twisting.
  3. Take some time to define the arms of the spiral pattern you are creating.  Just pinch the folds to form lots of deep wrinkles.  
  4. See how it is coming together?
  5. At any point you can add a rubber band to help secure what you've already twisted up.
  6. Keep adding rubber bands and twisting and making wrinkles.
  7. Here's what mine look like after they're all tied up.
  8. Here's the backside.  
  1. Take your acrylic paint and water it down.  There is no perfect ratio of paint to water, sorry.  If you use too much paint, the shirt will be sort of stiff when it dries but your colors will be intense.  Too much water and your colors will be pastel-like.  Experimentation is encouraged!
  2. Put your watered down paint into a spray bottle and saturate your t-shirt with color.
  3. I kinda squish my shirts inside a plastic bag.  In my mind this squeezes more paint into all the wrinkles, but I'm not convinced this step is necessary.
  4. Now that all the paint has been applied, let your shirt sit out in the sun for while to dry.  You don't need to wait for the shirt to dry completely.  You could unwrap it right away, but you'll get your fingers super painty and risk transferring that paint to areas of your shirt that you don't want to get paint.  
  5. Here's what mine looked like after removing the rubber bands.
  6. Then I started to untwist it.
  7. Cool!  Here's the front.
  8. Here's the back.
As soon as the shirt is COMPLETELY dry, you can wear it.  The beauty of acrylic paint is that it is completely non-soluble in water after it dries.  Because I started with a wet shirt, the paint will bleed and continue bleeding into the wet fabric until completely dry.  I can't prove it, but I think if I would have let the shirt dry completely before removing the rubber bands, there would have been less bleeding and a more defined design.  But who wants to wait that long?  Not my 5 year old daughter!  The photo above shows my daughter wearing her dry shirt.  The pic below shows the same shirt after several machine washings.

Here's how we tie-dyed at my family reunion:
  1. I twisted and tied up all the dollar store t-shirts ahead of time.  I prefer to start with a wet shirt and apply the paint right away, but this method worked out OK too.  We just dunked the tied up shirts in a bucket of water and wrung them out as we needed them.  I even used some grey shirts and they turned out Ok as well.  
  2. Here you can see my dollar store spray bottles filled with diluted craft paint.  I had the kids help me add a few squirts of paint to each bottle, add some water, and shake it up to mix.  The tablecloth: a dollar store shower curtain!
  3. Some of our finished t-shirts drying in the sun.  My daughter did the one on the left, my son the center, and you can see the shirt on the right in photo #7.
  4. When my little cousin was spraying the paint on this shirt, I was thinking, "Oh you better stop her or there will be no white left on this shirt."  I just let her spray away though.  Turns out I was wrong.  Her shirt was one of the coolest we saw that day.
  5. Tube socks were fun to tie-dye as well.  The great thing about using acrylic paint is that the socks don't have to be 100% cotton to hold a rich color.
  6. Cute!  As soon as the shirts were completely dry, the kids wore them.  
  7. I like the look of just one color.
  8. Here's where I got the water for this project.  Our redneck swimming pool:  the horse trough!  

Because I am a list-maker, here are some things to keep in mind about tie-dying with acrylic paint:

  • As long as it is not dry, acrylic paint is water soluble.  But once it's dry, it basically turns into a plastic-like substance that will not be diluted with water.  You can look online for ways to remove acrylic paint that has been dried.  I used rubbing alcohol to get wall paint off my hardwood floors.
  • If the paint dries on you skin, it will rub/scratch off under water.  It's harder to remove the paint from under your nails and around your cuticles, but it won't stain your skin.  
  • If your finished, dried t-shirt is super stiff, don't freak out until you've put it through the washer and used some fabric softener.  The combination of the paint and hard water can make the shirt pretty stiff.  If your shirt is still pretty stiff after washing, then you know you didn't water down your paint enough.  
  • If you were to use a more expensive brand of acrylic paint, something like Golden that comes in tubes, your paint will have more bang for the buck.  Fine quality acrylic paint has a high pigment content compared to "craft paints".  I didn't have a blue Apple Barrel craft paint, so I used my Golden brand phthalo blue.  The result was a bright and beautiful blue.  
  • One really cool thing about this method is that you can utilize white paint on dark colored fabric.  Think about it.  :-)
Have you ever tie-dyed?  How did it turn out?  Would you be willing to try out this method?

Happy crafting and big hugs from Montana,


  1. The effects look great, Rikka. I can vouch for tie-dying being well and truly alive in the 70s.

  2. So great!!!

    I would love for you to link this to my Flaunt It Friday link party at Blissful Bucket List. We also have a great giveaway this week!


  3. So much detail....thanks so much for sharing all the wonderful photos and the info. I think I will have to give this a try. Might borrow my young nieces and nephew to add a little more fun

  4. Your t-shirts look really cool! Looks like a fun time was had by all too :)

  5. Cool idea! Did not realise that acrylic paint acted this way with fabric. Will definitely use this, maybe I'll try some Rorschach like prints too with the watered down acrylic.

  6. That looks so cool. My daughter would love that. I also love that picture! Too cool! Newest GFC follower. Love for you to follow back when you get a chance.

    What program did you do that fun color splash with? I use photobucket (free) can't figure it out.

  7. Looks quicker and less mess than the old way! tfs

  8. A great tutorial and a great idea! Tulip has a "soft" fabric paint, it dries softer than other paints-might want to try it sometime. Thanks for sharing such a great idea!

    1. Martha Stewart makes a fabric paint medium that you mix with her craft paints to they dry softer as well. Thanks for commenting!

  9. I love tie dyeing! Mum used to do it with us a lot when we were kids :) We always used regular dye, and tied elastic bands or string around little pinches of t-shirt (or around the legs of leggings!) to get lots of little circles. It was fun and I got a lot of summer pyjamas out of it lol

    Thanks for your tutorial, it was easy to follow and understand! I'd seen people write about using acrylic paint on fabrics before but always wondered if it would just wash out. Am glad you mentioned that it becomes non-soluble after drying! I didn't realise (but considering the state of my paint pallet, it makes perfect sense!)

    Pinning your post for future reference. Definitely need to get my paints out and have a little tie-dye fun :)

  10. What a fun activity! I know my kiddos would love it! Thanks for sharing. :)

  11. wow! How many shirts! Lovely and colorful. I just stumbled on this page through one of the blogs I am following - what a coincidence!

    I hope you are well, my friend!!

  12. So much of fun at the family reunion..
    brilliant colors nice to see them..i have used dyes to make tie-dye prints.
    was always wanting to try with paints. ur post has given the confidence. thanks for sharing!
    already purchased a plain tee will upload my work on my blog.

  13. How fun! I like that this would be a lot less messy than the original method. And what a great idea to have it as a family reunion activity. Just wanted you to know that I featured you on today's Show Off Saturday!

  14. So you don't have to soak it in anything or wash it alone first? The paint won't bleed into other clothes in the wash??

    1. As long as the acrylic paint is COMPLETELY DRY you can launder without fear of the color bleeding onto other clothes in your washer. When my daughter's shirt was dry, I honestly washed it in load of my husband's Air Force uniforms with no problems at all. It MUST be acrylic paint, though. Acrylic paint dries into a nonsoluable plastic. Think about an acryic painting on canvas. You could spray that painting with hot water and scrub it with soap. The paint may chip off, but it will never dissolve.
      I hope that helps. Thanks for your comment!

    2. You can further "set" acrylic paint by ironing with an equal mix of white vinegar and water in a spray bottle - it's what I've done when painting on fabric in the past. HTH.

  15. we are holding my daughters 6th birthday party and I am very excited to try your method as we are doing a peace party with your tshirts thank you for making it look way easier.. I will try to post pictures after, if I remember!! we are also going to do this for a family party in a month!! thank you!

  16. Wow this is so cool! I was just on my way out to buy a package of Rit, but I think I'll try this method instead. Awesome, thanks! :)

  17. I am so trying this! I love your whole post, with the family reunion photos. thanks for the fabulous idea!

  18. I have to do this! It looks pretty easy and like lot's of fun!

  19. So happy to have found this! We've been at war with bleach, cheap tie-dye kits, and ugly curtains. This was the ONLY way we could dye the fabric we were working with. And it was 10 times easier than any other method, with a LOT less mess. Will be keeping more acrylic paint around for fun projects like this!

  20. some beautiful line work in that t-shirts. Okay, neat. You could just stop there and print a cheap, one color design but there are some simple things you can do to give it that extra oomph.
    Print Tshirt
    Design a Tshirt

  21. we did this on socks and t-shirts at art camp last summer and am going to do it again. It was so much easier than microwaving each shirt and much more colorful.

  22. So excited to try this with the kids I'm nannying this summer. Re-reading obsessively to make sure I get it exactly right.

  23. Thanks so much for this post!!! I was looking for an easy way to tie dye with my preschoolers this summer. You are a lifesaver!

    From a new fan & follower

  24. I did this spray painting white sheets and then tacked the sheets with safety pins around a hula hoop. I hung the hula hoop up using twine and it was a very cool cubby house!

  25. Can you dye jeans with acrylic paint

  26. Can you give me an idea as to the ratio of paint to water? I know you said to play with it but I don't have the time!

    1. Start by making the paint just thin enough to flow easily through the spray bottle. Because acrylic "craft paint" is thinner, mixing a 1:1 paint to water ratio may work well for you. The more expensive acrylic paint that comes in tubes is much thicker so you will have to add more water. Don't worry so much about measuring and let "sprayability" be your guide. Hope that helps!

  27. Did this last night. My daughter needs an orange shirt for a school field trip....she's a princess...she doesn't have any orange shirts. Now she does! It really was as simple as you state, I will definitely be doing more of these. I need more practice twisting and banding, the shirts were more white than I'd like, but overall, I think I'm hooked! Thanks for sharing :)

    1. Thanks so much for commenting! I'm glad it worked out for you. Now that you've done it once, you can make adjustments to get even better results next time. :)

  28. Thank you for this post! I used your ideas with my 150 middle school science students... it was quite a fun week :)

  29. Will this method work for a pair of nylon tights? It's really urgent and this is the only method I could find that didn't say it had to be cotton

  30. I am so excited that I just want to give you the biggest hug! I am a big believer in combining art and science and making sure kids have hands-on experiences. I am the creator of ScienceWear (, wearable science projects for students. I just took your tie dye idea and used it on one of my Lunar Cycle shirts. I used a watered down light blue acrylic paint and added some diamond glitter to it. I just unrolled it and i am squealing with delight at the "cool factor". It looks AH-MAZING! Now i just need to let it completely dry and I will be ready to complete the actual project,- draw in the phases and add the glow-in-the-dark paint.Thank you so very, very much for this idea. I would love to send you a photo of my project when I get it 100% completed!

  31. Rikka, I "liked" your facebook page and sent you a message. Hope to hear from you.


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