First-time tie-dyer
June 10, 2009 4:15 PM   Subscribe

I have been asked to tie-dye some cotton t-shirts for my co-workers. I have some books on hold at the library from which I should be able to get basic instructions for tying, but I am wondering if anyone of you has advice about the dye? It is important to me that the colors are very bright and vivid. It seems to me that homemade tie-dye shirts often look a little faded. I was thinking of using Rit dye, but should I use liquid or powder? Or some other brand? Any advice you have would be great, as I am a total novice.
posted by waywardgirl to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (15 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Pick up a kit from Dharma Trading! As far as I can tell, the company is run by a bunch of old hippies. They've got all the info and supplies as well as PFD (prepared for dyeing) blank garments. There are a bunch of basic tutorials on their website, as well.
posted by mollymayhem at 4:33 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dharma Trading has lots of supplies and instructions.
posted by xil at 4:34 PM on June 10, 2009

Everything you could possibly want for this project can be found at Dharma Trading. Their page dedicated to tie-dyeing is here.

on preview, beaten to the punch! So thirding the recommendation for Dharma Trading.
posted by Vervain at 4:34 PM on June 10, 2009

heh- and may I suggest Dharma Trading?
posted by small_ruminant at 4:43 PM on June 10, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks. Does anyone have any advice about how to make tie-dye colors vivid? It is necessary for me to buy all of these fixatives and such? Is a hot or cold dye better for ensuring bright colors?
posted by waywardgirl at 4:45 PM on June 10, 2009

Response by poster: Like, based on your past tie-dying experience, if I omit the urea, will I be screwed?
posted by waywardgirl at 4:47 PM on June 10, 2009

The Rit Web site has good information on this.
posted by jgirl at 4:56 PM on June 10, 2009

A friend and I did some tye-dying with Rit powder and had reasonable success- but we weren't trying for super bright overall. We'd do maybe three colors together- yellow, brown, and blue, for example. I think the best colors came from hot water dying in pots on the stove, but we also did some nice lazy color overlay tie-dying using the washer. I do remember that their black dye is really kind of purple, and that the yellow did turn out quite vivid.

Looks like Dharma Trading has much more sophisticated products and advice than me- so that's probably the way to go!
posted by Secretariat at 5:08 PM on June 10, 2009

Best answer: Avoid Rit Dye. All-purpose dye is a poor-quality dye that produces dull colors, fades quickly, and ruins anything else you wash with your dyed clothing later on. Use Procion MX or other fiber-reactive dyes; they produce brighter colors which last years longer. Dharma Trading Company is an excellent source of Procion dyes, but they also sell poorer-quality dyes, such as iDye.

Urea is optional, but if you don't use it, wrap your tie-dyed things in plastic to keep them moist overnight as they react. The purpose of the urea is to keep moisture in the fabric long enough for the reaction to occur. The reaction of the dye with the fiber also requires a pH-increasing chemical such as soda ash. A good tie-dyeing kit will contain everything you need; again, avoid the Rit tie-dye kits.

Don't try to dye 50% polyester clothing. 100% cotton dyes better; the colors will be brighter still if you use mercerized cotton. Avoid stain-resistant shirts, because the treatment that resists stains also resists dyes.
posted by Ery at 5:17 PM on June 10, 2009

While you're waiting for your library books, a great place to look for tie-dyeing tutorials is the Tie-dye Wiki. It has much better illustrations than any book that's been printed, and more different folds are included.
posted by Ery at 5:37 PM on June 10, 2009

For easy at home tie-dyeing (I bet the Dharma people have much better advice, but on a summer-camp level, I've had good results with Tintex brand dye:

Use 100% cotton shirts.
Wash & tumble dry them with no fabric softener before dyeing, so they shrink and have no residue on them.
Tie the shirts tightly with elastic bands or string
Mix double or triple the recommended amount of dye in very hot water
Put the tied shirts in the dye bath and leave them in for whatever the time limit is supposed to be (I wouldn't go too much longer because you don't want the dye to infiltrate the tied parts)
Rinse while still tied until the water runs kind of clear.
Untie them and let them dry before washing them. I'd even maybe consider ironing them before washing to heat-set the dye a bit, but that might wreck your iron or ironing board.
The first time you wash them, throw in a cup of vinegar (apparently it's some sort of fixative, I dunno, that's just what we did)
The dye will run pretty much forever so always wash them carefully.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:48 PM on June 10, 2009

Rit dye washes out and isn't good for bright colors. It tends to go pastel after a while. Definitely use 100% cotton, no poly blends. It's really fun to have a tie-dye party where every gets to do their own shirt. Definitely get a kit for your first time out.

Michaels also has a couple different types of tie-dye kits that are very vivid. Mine had some easy patterns included. It could be cheaper than ordering online if you have coupons. You might want to also get a darker color like black or dark blue to give a little more variety to your shirts. The kit I got had a bright yellow, fuchsia, a bright blueish turquoise. It looked a little more kid like than I wanted. The basic kit won't give you any darker versions of colors but that's up to you. Have fun!
posted by stray thoughts at 11:20 PM on June 10, 2009

N'thing Dharma. I use the Procion dyes to dye plain white tees and tablecloths to the color I really want. Gorgeous, brilliant, long-lasting colors. I manage without the urea, but I do use the soda ash fixer and tons of salt, when I tub dye things in the washing machine. I also really like the Synthrapol detergent for pre-wash and post-wash.
posted by sarajane at 8:05 AM on June 11, 2009

Wear rubber gloves and old clothes
posted by radioamy at 3:14 PM on June 11, 2009

I'll ask my buddy, the art therapist, what dye she used at our church retreat. She put the dyes in squirt bottles (like mustard & ketchup dispensers) and the shirts in aluminum pans to keep it off the kids. Worked really well.
posted by MichelleinMD at 7:19 AM on June 12, 2009

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