Tie Dye Patterns, Part 2: Pleating a Symmetrical Image


Have you ever made a paper fan by folding back and forth repeatedly across a piece of stiff paper?  That  style of folding is called accordion pleating.  Accordion pleating is the basis for many tie dye designs.  Any symmetrical,  smooth- sided shape can be accordion pleated on a garment or piece of fabric.

1. Create a reuseable template.

Begin by drawing the desired shape on poster board or card board.  If you are insecure about drawing skills, download an image of the shape, enlarging it to the size needed to create the image on a garment.  After you are satisfied with the image,  fold it in half and cut it right down the center for vertically symmetrical images or straight across for horizontally symmetrical images.

Water-poof the half image by covering it on both sides with contact paper, or tape.  I generally use clear packing tape or duct tape.  This creates a reusable water-resistant template of the desired image.

2.  Fold the garment in half, either vertically or horizontally, as the design indicates. Smooth out all the wrinkles.  Match up all the seams, the hem, and the sleeves. Lay the template on the fold.  Using colored chalk, out line the image.  Turn the folded garment over and repeat. Why not just draw the image, then fold the garment in half?  By folding the garment first, the image will be centered on the shirt.  This method also allows for the few millimeters of fabric involved in the fold itself, so the resulting image is not distorted.   Below is a heart template to illustrate.



Please note:  I am left-handed, so for the 85% of humanity who are not left-handed, much of what I do looks backwards.  Follow the procedure using the direction that feels natural and comfortable to you.

3.  Select a point on the chalk line a few inches from the fold, lifting a ridge in the fabric to create the first pleat. Using the nature of damp fabric, and the hard surface of the table, push the first pleat, creating further pleats.


Try to keep the height of each pleat equal.  Continue pleating, forcing the curved line into a straight line.

Pleat the rest of the garment at the same angle below the chalk line.  GE DIGITAL CAMERA

Pull the cleft of the heart into the straight line.  My straight line is not so straight, but that will be remedied as the bindings are put in place.


4. Leaving the garment flat on the table, slide a rubber band ( or the binding of your choice) onto the end where the fold starts. Bind the image, using the chalk line as a guide.  Pull the binding as tight as possible, so it will have to be cut off later.  Tight bindings are what prevents the dye colors from bleeding together, keeping the image crisp.  DO NOT PICK UP THE GARMENT!  Leave it flat on the work surface, or the pleats will fall apart, causing bad words to be said  and forcing you to start  over.


Now that wonky line can be tugged into submission, by holding the unbound shirt against the table and pulling the image the opposite direction.


5.  Continue binding, at evenly spaced intervals, until the whole garment is tied up.  It is easiest to work from the folded image end to the half way point, then slide the garment around and begin binding from the opposite end.


Once all the bindings are in place, the garment can be safely moved and handled.  At this point, check all the bindings for tightness, pulling any slack to tighten fully.

Sometimes, a line of pleats will buckle under the pressure of the bindings, causing much distress to the tie dyer— again with the bad words!  Two techniques can help eliminate this horrible occurrence.  Creating deep pleats, rather than shallow ones, greatly reduces the risk of buckling.  Even more security can be obtained by placing splints on either side of the bound item, stabilizing the pleats.  I use retired chop sticks, retired popsicle sticks, or as in the illustration, bamboo skewers with the sharp tips nipped off.


Secure the splints in place by wrapping tightly with rubber bands.  Place bound item in a plastic bag until ready to dye, if desired, to maintain dampness.

A word or two about bindings.

There are many materials suitable to use in tying items for dyeing.  Every tie dyer has his or her personal preference.  In my 25 years of  tie dyeing, I have experimented with a wide variety of bindings, stitching, and clamping techniques.  It is my belief that the beginner is best off using rubber bands, then exploring other options as confidence is gained.

Even though  I am a frugal soul, I never save and re-use washed bindings.  Tiny, hidden bits of dye reside in the stretched elastic, or in the binding material’s fibers that will transfer to the next project, potentially mucking up the color pattern or design.  My bindings are so tight, they must be cut away during the washout process, thus rendering them un-reusable.

I hope this information is useful to you.  If so, please consider making a donation to help keep my blog ad free.



Filed under How to, Patterns

6 responses to “Tie Dye Patterns, Part 2: Pleating a Symmetrical Image

  1. Cynthia

    Great blog, love the stories as I am also from the south and had to wear hand me downs from a sister who was six inches taller and a bunch heavier. Good info as well. My friends and I have an upcycling business, dyeing, sewing and weaving from used products. Currently making hand bags from feed sacks and used material as well as tie dyeing thrift shop garments to sell at music festivals.

  2. I made 20 shirts using this technique for our Heartwalk. I was so nervous that it wouldn’t come out right and just be a big blob in the middle of the chest! But they ROCKED!!! Our team shirts were the envy of all other teams. Our company leader told me she should have given me all 50 shirts to do…yeah, not without a lot of help!!! But still, it was worth it. THANK YOU!!!

  3. Ayres Allende-El

    Is there a video by chance for this would like to make one for a walk I am walking in honor of My daughter who lost her life to suicide.

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