How to Tie-Dye While Quarantined (Without Creating a Murky-Hued Mess)
If there’s an unofficial uniform of 2020, it’d be tie-dye sweats. The look is everywhere—and practically sold out everywhere—right now. And as we do, well, everything from home, it’s showing no signs of slowing down. It’s not just a style; it’s the kind of activity that forces you to focus, zeroing in on the present moment, making it a fitting stress-reliever too.
All that zen evaporates pretty quickly, though, when you try it for yourself and wind up with a murky, misshapen mess. That’s why we turned to Isabella Bokan, founder of the upstate New York-based brand, Dat Dye. She’s making a name for herself with her range of tie-dye shirts, sweats and bike shorts, all made with a kit her sister, Madeleine, gave her this past Christmas. As friends started requesting custom designs, her side project turned into a full-blown business, so we asked for some of her hard-won wisdom on how to tie-dye at home.
Read on for the Bokan sisters’ tips—and if in the end you decide you’re just not the crafty type, you can always order a custom piece directly from Dat Dye.
1. Don’t Limit Yourself to White Sweatshirts“With the tie-dye craze totally blowing up, white sweatshirts and sweatpants can be hard to find, so try a heathered grey,” Isabella says. “Blues and pinks look especially amazing on grey for a more subtle look.” (Linen shirts and denim jackets also make for great canvases, BTW.)
Cotton’s easiest to tie-dye, Isabella and Madeleine say, but polyester and Spandex work too—it’s just a little harder for the dye to absorb into the fibers. For those materials, it’s best to use darker colors or go through two rounds of dying.
2. Use Two to Three Colors, Max
“While tie-dying is all about being creative, some colors just don’t mix great,” Isabella tells us. “For example, in some cases yellow on top of purple can look brown. Instead, try yellow and blue, which can make a gorgeous green.”
3. Try Bleach Dye InsteadEven tie-dye kits can be hard to come by right now, and while you could make your own dyes, the Bokan sisters recommend trying a whole new method. “We still love the bright colored tie-dye sets as much as the next quarantined gal, but bleach-dying is a technique we’re totally obsessed with right now,” Madeleine says. “Different materials and colors react to bleach in unique ways, but one combo we love time and time again is the shades of pink a maroon sweatshirt turns once bleach-dyed.” (Learn more about the technique, also known as reverse tie-dying, here.)
4. Soak Your Fabric Before You Start Tie-Dying
“If the fabric is dry, the colors will not absorb. The wetter the fabric, the more the colors will bleed together,” Isabella explains. Dampen whatever you plan on dying, wring it out so it’s not dripping, and then you’re ready to get to tying.
5. Don’t Stick to the Spiral
Most tie-dye tutorials tell you to stick a dowel or clothespin on the front of the shirt, twisting the fabric around it in a spiral, then secure it with rubber bands before you start dying it. It’s a classic, sure, but there are plenty of other designs to try. See this TikTok demo for inspo, or simply try scrunching the fabric for a more casual look.
6. Try an Ombré EffectFor another twist on the tie-dye trend, grab a paintbrush. Lay your dampened fabric flat and apply dye to the top of it, Isabella says. “Pull” the dye down the fabric using the brush, so the color gets lighter as you paint down the shirt (or socks, or pants, or whatever you’re dying).
Pro tip: Wet the paintbrush with water to help blend the dye, smoothing the transition from dark to light.
7. Stretch Your Dye a Bit Further
“The dye itself can get expensive. One way to make it go further is making lighter, more pastel shades,” Isabella says. “After you’ve used ½ or ¾ of the full-strength dye, add more water to your squeeze bottle or applicator of choice, so you can add a lighter shade to the same item or for use on a different tie-dye project.”
8. Try This Trick for Easy Clean-Up
“Gloves are crucial when tie-dying, but during these unprecedented times, they might not be the easiest to find,” Isabella says. She and Madeleine have improvised using sandwich bags and plastic wrap to cover their hands. Even if you do have gloves, you might get some dye on your skin, but there’s an easy fix, they say: Mix baking soda with a splash of water to form a paste. Use that to wash your hands, rinsing them clean, and the dye should come right off.