Tie Dye Patterns, Part 1 : Spirals


The amazing designs created in tie dyeing fall into three main categories: Spirals, Folds and Pleats.  Within each category are numerous variations and combinations of techniques.  Each tie dyer has his or her own unique method of producing the patterns.  There really is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.  As a tie dyer gains experience and confidence, more advanced methods can be attempted, such as using stitching, or clamps.  For now we are going to cover the basics of Spirals.  Future blogs will incorporate the other methods, as well as more complex techniques.

I have taught hundreds of people to tie dye in my career– three generations worth of budding artists. I always teach children and beginners the spiral first because it is the easiest pattern to attempt with the most dependable outcome.  One of the most frequently heard comments AFTER tying up the spiral pattern is “My shirt is going to be a heart” !  Or a peace symbol, or a diamond…..you get the picture.  The answer is “Not unless we tie it up that way”!  The manner in which the fabric is manipulated then bound PLUS the manner in which the dye is applied determine the outcome, not wishful thinking.

My preference is to tie up a garment while it is damp.  Why?  Water molecules are attracted to each other.  Have you ever removed a wet bathing suit?  It clings to itself and to your body.  Using the nature of damp fabric gives the tie dyer two advantages.

  1. The fabric clings to itself, holding the pattern in the desired shape until the bindings are put in place.
  2. The dye wicks more efficiently into bound damp fabric.

Many dyers prefer to dye on dry fabric.  After trying several methods, my experience taught me that damp is preferable to me.  Try for yourself, and determine which method works best for you.

The following techniques are described with the understanding that a cotton jersey knit Tee Shirt is the subject for the design.  The same process can be applied to other style garments, fabrics, bed linens, etc.

Using the pre-soak method outlined in a previous post, prepare the garment for dyeing. 

SPIRALS and their kin.

Step by step illustrations are below.  Click on picture to enlarge for details.

  1. Spread the garment out flat, front side up, on a clean surface.
  2. Smooth out any wrinkles, match up seams, and straighten the collar.
  3. Using a metal dinner fork, select the point at which you desire the center of the spiral to begin.  I usually select the chest area, about half way between the under arms of the shirt.
  4. Hold the fork perpendicular to the surface, apply a little pressure, and begin twisting the fork.  Twist the way spaghetti is wound onto a fork.
  5. Pleats will form around the fork in even intervals.  If the shirt starts to “climb” the fork, start over, using less pressure.
  6. Use your other hand to smooth the sleeves and hem into the same direction as the spiral.
  7. The fork should be able to stand alone in the center of what now resembles a cinnamon roll.
  8. Leave the fork in place.  With a large, thin rubber band, bind the shirt around the outside perimeter.
  9. Remove the fork.  DO NOT PICK UP THE SHIRT.
  10. Using three more rubber bands, slide each from the side, to make an intersection over the center of the spiral where the fork was.
  11. It should now resemble a sliced pie, with six equal wedges.

The bound shirt can now be moved without fear of ruining the pattern and is ready to dye.  In the event that you are tie dyeing several garments, place the bound items in a plastic bag to keep them damp (and clean) until you are ready to dye. If at any point in the tying phase, you are not pleased with the appearance, start over at Step 1.  A nice neat tie up means a better looking garment in the end.




Variation on the spiral include, but are not limited to, double and triple spirals, off-center spirals, and side spirals.



Double Spiral


Off center spiral

  1. Multiple spiral designs are made by first folding the shirt, then spiralling all the layers, creating mirror images.
  2. Starting the spiral at the hem, or shoulder, or waist for an off balanced appearance.
  3. Instead of having the shirt front up in Step 1, lay it out where the sleeves are on top of one another and the side of the shirt is facing up.
  4. Start the spiral on the collar for a fanned out design.
  5. Think up something else really cool and share it with us here at Up and Dyed!I hope this information is useful to you.  If so, please consider making a donation to help keep my blog ad free.




1 Comment

Filed under How to, Patterns

One response to “Tie Dye Patterns, Part 1 : Spirals

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