Dyeing fabric takes many forms, but one that can be done in your own backyard or kitchen is tie-dyeing. The younger generation seems to have rediscovered "their father's T-shirt" from the tie-dying craze of the 1960s. Everything that goes around comes around.

Project: Tie-Dyed T-Shirt or Cloth

Level: Easy

Age: 5 and up (with adult supervision)

Materials needed:

All-cotton white T-shirt (or soft cotton, rayon, or silk fabric), liquid fabric dyes (Rit© will work, although experienced tie-dyers prefer Jaquard's Procion dyes), a large enamel or stainless-steel basin, a wooden spoon, rubber gloves, old towels, heavy mercerized thread, string, rubber bands, squeeze bottles (the kind used for applying hair dye work well)

This can be messy, so work outdoors (a picnic table is great if you can manage it). Or create a table with two sawhorses and a piece of plywood. Wear old clothes.

To get a clear pattern when tie-dyeing, the tying and stitching must be very tight and firm. An adult may have to help with this if you are working with a younger child.


  1. Wash the fabric first to shrink it and remove any sizing. Read the directions on the dye packages to understand dyeing and rinsing instructions to obtain permanent colors.

  2. On the part of the fabric where you want to create a design, pull up the fabric (one way is to use a closed fist and pull it up through the center.

  3. Wrap thread or twine around the end of the fabric you've pulled up as tightly as you can and knot it tightly. The fabric under the tied area will remain white after dyeing.

  4. You can tie marbles, pebbles, bottle tops, or other objects into the fabric to create centers in your design. You can also stitch areas using a running or overcast stitch, gathering the fabric into tight puckers. This can even be done according to a traced design. Stitched areas will stay white. Try folding fabric in various ways, too. Experiment!

  5. Wet the fabric before dyeing. Squeeze out excess moisture and blot with a towel.

  6. Bring the dye to a boil and remove it from heat (or follow package directions if different). Dip the fabric in the dye solution. If you want sections to be more intense in color, leave them in the dye longer.

  7. To dye the shirt more than one color, start with the lightest colors and proceed to the darker colors. Light colors will mix with other colors to give new tints, but a darker color will usually cover a light color. To avoid muddy colors, don't mix colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel, like blue and orange or red and green.

  8. To distribute dye in more controlled amounts, use the squeeze bottles instead. You might also want to use color remover (a kind of bleach) in certain areas. You can purchase color removers in the same store where you got your dyes. Rit© makes one. Follow package directions.

  9. Rinse the fabric in cold water. Squeeze out excess moisture and roll the fabric in a towel. Let it partially dry, then untie it and remove the threads and stitching. Shake out the fabric and let it dry completely, then press the fabric.

These are but a smattering of the many needlework, fabric, and weaving crafts you might want to explore with your child. The traditions of weaving, sewing, and needlework have been handed down from generation to generation, from ancient societies to today. They provide creative possibilities and a connection with our history that's hard to match.

For more ideas for tie dyeing, consult your local library. There is a videotape available called "Tie-Dye Made Easy" and a book called Tie Dye, Back by Popular Demand. Tie dyeing is a simple technique that has a lot of complex and challenging variations. Have fun with it!

More on: Crafts for Kids

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Crafts with Kids © 1998 by Georgene Lockwood. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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