Different Ways to Tie-Dye – Tie-Dye Techniques

Tie-dye has come back in full-force in the past year or so, and I’m here for it. I’ve personally purchased a few tie-dye sweatshirts, and they never fail to brighten my day (or remind me of summer camp crafting) when I put them on. What’s interesting, though, is this current resurgence of tie-dye isn’t like the one you might remember from the ’90s. Tie-dye was mainly all about clothes back then, but this time around, the home decor world is getting in on the multi-colored fun.

Today, you can find everything from pillows and sofas, to bedding and curtains (and then some!) decked out in this music festival-famous motif. This isn’t to say that tie-dying furnishings is new (quite the opposite, actually, as certain tie-dye techniques date back to ancient times and have been used in homes around the world since then)—but the full social media and home takeover of tie-dyed decor feels extremely current.

Jamie Williams, co-founder of NaCIO Apparel, can’t help but think that part of this resurgence in popularity is due, in part, to all of the time people been spending at home. “I think that being inside has definitely rejuvenated tie-dye as a trend,” says Williams. “People around the world are exploring DIY with household materials.”

If you feel seen by that statement, you’re not alone. Until recently though, I never thought much about the breadth of tie-dye prints, nor did I know that many of the special patterns you can create have names and processes behind them. So here’s a quick primer on some of the most popular tie-dye techniques. Whether you’re looking to dye a few t-shirts, craft custom table linens, or just support a favorite maker in their own creative endeavors, you’ll be fluent in seven different tie-dye methods after reading this. You may find that you remember some of these from summer camp!

“Shibori is the most ancient form of tie-dye,” says Kalen Kaminski, owner and designer at NYC-based clothing and home goods brand, Upstate. “Developed in 8th century AD Japan, it involves the intricate folding of fabric then binding it with clamps or rubber bands. The clamps are described as a ‘resist’, and give the contrast of color to white in the fabric.”

Any number of patterns, from simple to elaborate, can be created with this technique, from painterly lines and grids to half-dot and concentric circle designs. While shibori can be created in any color dye or dyes, this technique tends to be heavily associated with indigo blues, as natural indigo dye was widely available in Japan.

Where you’ve seen it: In Japanese design and textiles; in Rebecca Atwood’s first line, which began with hand-dyed shibori fabrics made in her apartment.

“This does not involve any sort of folding of the fabric,” Kaminski explains. “Instead you ‘dip’ your fabric in dye. You can also let it sit [in the dye bath], and the color will slowly work its way up the fabric, causing an ‘ombre’ effect.”

Where you’ve seen it: Large, more dramatic textiles like the living room curtains from this House Tour (a fabulous and somewhat easy DIY!); West Elm sheets and throw blankets.

Kaminski notes that the stripe, or accordion design, is technically a form of shibori, but it’s a very specific method that’s actually quite easy to do. “It involves folding your fabric and adding string or rubber bands to ‘resist’ [the dye], resulting in the white stripes.”

Where you’ve seen it: This is a popular pattern for clothing, and often, shirts are divided into various “stripes,” each dyed a different color.

“This is the most generic of the tie-dye,” Kaminski says. “You twist your fabric into circles and use rubber bands to to resist. Because it’s twisted up instead of neatly folded, it will give off the spiral technique.”

Another popular iteration of this style is the large single spiral, which you can start right in the center of a garment or piece of fabric. For an asymmetrical look with less dye resistance, you can move the spiral off-center and use fewer rubber bands or strings to bind it.

Where you’ve seen it: Spirals are what most people first think of when they hear the word “tie-dye.” Think: those “groovy” shirts from the late ’60s or even the ones you DIYed at backyard birthday parties

While the techniques mentioned above are the ones spotted most frequently right now, your tie-dye repertoire doesn’t have to stop there. Below are a few additional styles of tie-dye that may appeal to you.

“Reverse tie dye has been our favorite medium because it allows you to pull different colors that are within the fabric rather than adding dye to the fabric to create the pattern or print,” says Williams. “We create our signature prints through a freehand technique that we created, which involves a combination of pleating and scrunching the fabric. We do not use rubber bands or ties because we love the fact that each piece truly is one-of-a-kind.”

This is the easiest technique, according to Veronika Rokashevich, an artist with Arteza. Just as a piece of candy corn features three distinctly colored sections, your shirt or textile will, too. “Split the shirt into several parts and from the bottom, apply each of the layers with the help of brush,” she says. “Let the shirt dry.” There’s no need to stick to candy corn colors here—use any dyes you like.

To create a polka dot tie-dye pattern, follow these instructions. “Gather a handful of plastic beads or dried beans,” says Rokashevich. “Cut plastic wrap into square pieces that are about four times larger than the beads or beans. Place a bean or bead inside the shirt, then place a piece of plastic wrap on top of the shirt. Working with just the front layer of the shirt, wrap a rubber band tightly around the plastic- and shirt-covered bead or bean then repeat this process as desired to make more dots.

For best results with this polka dot method, Rokashevich says to wet the t-shirt before dyeing it. You can choose to dye the rest of your a fabric solid color or colors or incorporate other tie-dye techniques around the “dots” as shown in the image above.

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