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Patterns to Dye For

Make a summer fashion statement by taking a hands-on approach.

Photography: Tosca Radigonda

Source: Martha Stewart Living, August 2007


Wet, wild, and, yes, a little messy, tie-dyeing is the perfect way to keep kids (and even adults) entertained on a summer day. For this simple "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.

The 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 are four popular designs. Both you and the kids will be thrilled with the results!


  • Rubber gloves

  • Dye

  • Large nonreactive bowls

  • Nonreactive spoon

  • Salt

  • Fabric

  • Rubber bands

  • Marbles

  • Mild detergent


  1. Gather your materials, don rubber gloves, and mix dye (following manufacturer’s instructions). The bowl should be made of nonreactive material, such as glass or enamel; choose a nonreactive spoon made of stainless steel or wood (don't use again with food). Add a cup of salt to deepen the color if you like.

  2. Bind fabric with rubber bands. (See Variations in Tie-Dye, below.)

  3. Immerse the garment in dye, and gently swish it around with a spoon. Remove when the color is slightly darker than desired; this should take 5 to 20 minutes.

  4. Rinse the fabric in warm and then cool water until water runs clear. Remove rubber bands. 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.

  5. The following four tying techniques produce wildly different results. Experiment with one technique, or try several on the same garment.

  6. Create stripes of varying width by accordion folding and binding your fabric.

  7. Lay T-shirt flat, and fold in its sleeves.

  8. 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.

  9. Bunching exposes only a minimal amount of the fabric's surface to the dye, creating a soft, more random design.

  10. Push one finger up inside shirt front, and with your other hand pull the fabric into a long point. Bind the fabric point tightly with rubber bands.

  11. Repeat process in a random pattern over front and back of shirt.

  12. Try this technique to create a range of circular designs on the fabric. Use different sized marbles for larger or smaller circles.

  13. Decide on a layout for your pattern. Lay a marble inside the flat T-shirt, and cinch fabric over it with a rubber band.

  14. Repeat with additional marbles to create your desired pattern.

  15. Folding the fabric into a layered triangle will create a web of star shapes across the garment.

  16. Fold T-shirt in half lengthwise twice; fold sleeves so they're facing outward.

  17. Fold up bottom corner of fabric at a 90-degree angle, and repeat until you are left with a triangle of fabric. Bind with rubber bands.

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