Wet, wild, and, yes, a little messy, tie-dyeing is the perfect way to keep kids entertained on a summer day. Even adults will appreciate that moment of anticipation just before the unraveling of rubber bands reveals their own vibrant creations.

Updated March 23, 2021
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Read step by step instructions after the video.

Tie-dyeing is a "resist" technique: Fabric is cinched so that when it's immersed, certain areas resist the dye. The undyed areas form decorative patterns against the dyed ones. This simple technique requires minimal equipment and supplies that are available at any supermarket or hardware store. Simply set out bowls of rubber bands, clothespins, marbles, and garments (for best results, use 100 percent cotton) and experiment with a variety of expressive patterns. Below learn how to tie-dye and explore four popular tie-dye patterns, although the possibilities are limitless

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What you need

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How to do it

Part 1

Step 1

To begin tie-dyeing, choose a pattern and gather fabric accordingly. Don rubber gloves, and mix dye (following manufacturer's instructions). Add a cup of salt to deepen the color if you like.

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Step 2

Immerse a garment in dye and gently swish it around with a spoon. Remove when the color is slightly darker than desired; this should take five to 20 minutes. Rinse the fabric in warm and then cool water until the water runs clear. Remove clothespins or rubber bands.

Step 3

Hand-wash with a mild detergent and warm water, and rinse with cool water. Or launder alone in a washing machine. Wring in a clean old towel and then line-dry, or machine-dry on the coolest setting. 

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Step 4

To create a pleated stripes tie-dye pattern, lay a T-shirt flat, and fold in its sleeves. Accordion-fold the shirt from the bottom up in the desired stripe width. Cinch one end of the folded shirt with a rubber band; repeat every inch or so. Dye fabric following our basic technique described above, and remove rubber bands to result in a striated pattern.

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Step 5

To create a band bunches tie-dye pattern, push one finger up inside the shirt front, and with your other hand pull the fabric into a long point. Bind the fabric point tightly with rubber bands. Repeat this process in a random pattern over the front and back of the shirt. Dye fabric following our basic technique described above, and remove rubber bands to result in a bunched pattern.

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Step 6

For a marble sphere tie-dye pattern, decide on a layout for your pattern. Lay a marble inside the flat T-shirt, and cinch fabric over it with a rubber band. Repeat this process with additional marbles to create your desired pattern. Dye fabric following our basic technique described above, and remove rubber bands and marbles to result in a circular pattern.

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Step 7

For a triangle folds tie-dye pattern, fold a T-shirt in half lengthwise twice; fold sleeves so they're facing outward. Fold up one bottom corner of the fabric at a 90-degree angle, and repeat until you are left with a triangle of fabric. Bind with rubber bands. Dye fabric following our basic technique described above, and remove rubber bands to result in a triangular pattern.

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