Tag Archives: Tie-dye

Sticks and Stones


Kanoko Shibori

When tie dye first became popular in the US, it was a much less complex art form than it is today.  Artists have developed modern techniques that  have transported tie dyeing into a highly sophisticated artistic endeavor.  Looking back at those early tie dyes, as well as the methods used to produce them, has been an assignment for my apprentices and textiles students each year.  They get a real kick out of those 1960s and 1970s fashions and hair styles.  They also gain a first-hand view of how far the art form has evolved.

Modern tie dye is heavily influenced by an ancient  Japanese resist dyeing method known as Kanoko Shibori.  There are numerous different styles of shibori dyeing techniques, all traditionally using silk fabric as the base for surface designs.  In Kanoko Shibori, tiny puffs of material are tightly bound with  thread, making circles. Sometimes the circles are placed in an irregular fashion, sometimes they create an image, or more frequently, the fabric is folded into layers to create a repeating pattern.  The bound fabric is then dyed by immersion.  It is a time-consuming, painstaking process with beautiful, monochromatic results.


Silk bound into hundreds of tiny puffs, tied with thread.


 The elaborate floral result of the tiny puffs after dyeing.

When tie dyeing first came to the US, the fabric of choice became cotton. It was common to place small objects, known as inclusions, inside the fabric then tie around the object to mimic Kanoko Shibori.  Coins, dried beans, pebbles, marbles, and all sorts of items were used.  My personal favorites were checkers, or gambling chips.  The dyeing was still generally done by immersion.  A clever alternative was to use inflated balloons as the inclusions. Since the balloons would float at the top of the dye bath, the possibility of using different colors of dye was conceived.  Eventually, direct dye application became popular, opening the doors to even greater creativity.


Glass marbles bound in silk.

Recently, several dyeing artists  have been  melding  the old techniques with the more modern style of tie dyeing with some astounding results.  Nashville, Tennessee area tie dyers Mollie Martin and Jonathon Dixon, of Pieceful World Clothing, incorporate inclusions with pleating and spiraling into stunning creations of wearable art.  Mollie and Jonathon were kind enough to allow the use of their work as an illustration.


 Cotton tapestry, bound and stabilized.

Several different sized inclusions can be used as shown in the above photograph.  By binding tightly, a  fabric bubble is formed around the inclusion, making a perfect circle on the cotton fabric.  Notice how they have stabilized using bamboo skewers to prevent the risk of the  bound garment from buckling and to make handling easier. The coloration visible is washable marker the artists use to plan for dyeing by direct application.


 Cotton bound with inclusions, pleated, and spiraled, and dyed.


Cotton Sundress by Pieceful World Clothing, 2014

By combining spirals and pleats with the inclusions a whole galaxy can be represented in a single piece of stunning wearable art.

An interesting variation takes a bit of color planning, but can yield pleasing results.   Dye the fabric a single color by immersion, wash out, dry, then bind using inclusions.  A second dye bath results in circles of the first color against a background of the second color.  Binding a second time and using a third dye bath is another option worth exploring.

At a workshop recently, a question arose regarding the use of irregularly shaped items as inclusions.   My experimentation was inconclusive.  Oval objects made nice ovals, and rods made oblong shapes, but the irregularly shaped objects made irregular blobs, rather than  recognizable images.  It is my intention to investigate this concept further.  Stay tuned!

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Over Dyeing with Black


Heather models a Rainbow Spiral Black Over Dye by Up and Dyed

One of the most enduring color combinations that I have marketed over the years is the Rainbow spectrum with a black over dye spiral, and its cousin, the black over dyed rainbow fan.


Eric in a Rainbow Fan with Black Over Dye by Up and Dyed

Over Dyeing with black changes the entire dynamic of the rainbow spectrum, adding depth, contrast and motion to the eye-pleasing color sequence of the rainbow. It is common for patrons to ask if this process began with a black garment to achieve this end result.  No, it began life as a white garment. It is probably my most requested secret. If I had secrets.

Over dyeing with black is doing exactly that==  Applying black dye over fabric already dyed another color.  

  • Mix the black dye powder at the ratio of 1 Tblsp of dye powder and 1 Tblsp of table salt per 4 ounces of warm water.
  • Thickener can be added to the black dye to reduce spreading.
  • The garment is dyed to the saturation point on both sides in the 6 colors Yellow, Orange, Red, Purple, Blue, and Green.
  • Allow dyed item to batch for 10 minutes.
  • Apply a heavy over coat of black to ONE side of the garment.
  • Leave the item black side up on a drip rack.
  • Allow item to batch for 12 – 24 hours.
  • Wash out in very hot soapy water.

Another method for over dyeing with black is to dye or tie dye a garment, wash it out, re-pre-soak, then re-tie using arashi shibori resist techniques.  The over dye with black in shibori creates stunning contrast.

Recently, a patron requested an earth with a black over dye rainbow fan.  I took pictures along the way to share with you.  My camera is not the best and I am a poor photographer, but perhaps the lesson is illustrated well enough to follow.


  1. The globe was painted using thickened Turquoise and Kelly Green fiber reactive dyes on the waist of a pre-soaked tee shirt, directly below the sleeve.
  2. Shirt was allowed to batch for 48 hours or until the dye is completely dry.  
  3. Re-dampen garment with water in a spray bottle, protecting the globe image from the spray.
  4.   Accordion pleated around the globe.
  5. Place bindings about two inches a part, the length of the garment.


Dye in the rainbow spectrum repeating pattern.


Black dye covering one side.


Finished product.

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Filed under How to, Using Fiber Reactive Dyes

Color Blending with Procion Fiber Reactive Dyes

 color wheel

There is a point in every tie dye workshop that I ask the group to name the three primary colors.   The group members usually bumble around and eventually come up with the right answers, only mildly embarrassing themselves when someone says “pink”.   In the world of fiber reactive dye the primaries are lemon yellow, fuchsia red, and turquoise.  All the secondary and tertiary colors are blended from the three primaries.  In the Beginner Tie Dye Workshop this discussion of colors and their relationship to each other on the color wheel leads to an exercise with white paper towels.  We drip out the three primaries dyes in a triangle and observe the colors bleed together forming the three secondary colors.  Using that color wheel concept, the students dye rainbow spiral Tee shirts.  Nice lesson for the beginner.


Tie Dye Rainbow Spiral Tee Shirt in three primaries and three secondaries.

In the Advanced Level Workshop, we explore color blending in greater detail. Still using paper towels as  test palettes, we experiment by controlling the value, or depth, of color as  we blend.  Plan extra time when next you mix up a dye lot for the creation of a color mixing chart of your own.

  • Create a stock solution of the three primary colors of concentrated dye solution, carefully measuring or weighing the dye powder and measuring the warm water. Add salt or urea as needed. Use the dye distributor’s recommendations for yield to determine dye powder to water ratios.
  • Dilute the stock solution with water to one half strength for medium values of each color.
  • Lighten stock solution  in 4 ounce increments, making at least three values of each color, light, medium and dark.  Make cotton color swatches, or a paper towel journal.
  • Blend small amounts, 4 ounces at a time, until the desired ratio is achieved.
  • Write down the proportions!
  • Adding dye from lightest to darkest is the preferable mixing sequence when blending new colors.

 advanced color wheel

  • Adding black or weak black in small increments can deepen many dyes.  A light touch is required when adding black.

I found these color wheels by Googling “color wheel”. And you can probably find better ones, but I highly recommend you make your own, with your dyes.  Label with the formula you created.     Your own color wheel will become the corner-stone of your favorite color combinations.   Dye is too expensive to waste making mucky looking colors and odd combinations due to poor planning of color and color placement. Learn which colors provide harmony, blending well and which ones provide pleasing contrast.  Explore ‘warm’ verses ‘cool’ colors.  Practice for hours, all on the safety of  paper towels before making final selections  on a project.  A well recorded history of your dye mixing experiments provides a valuable reference for future projects and ideas.

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Filed under How to, Using Fiber Reactive Dyes

Up Cycling with Fiber Reactive Dyes


BedSpread Up Cycled with Dye

“Up Cycling is the art of transforming something old and funky into something new and funky”, said Ruth in 2009.

Have you been curious about the name of this blog and my business?  Since I am an up cycler, and a dyer, the two art forms are pulled together in a quirky name that also reveals my hill billy roots.  Growing up in Appalachia, the phrase ‘up and died’ referred to an unexpected, untimely, natural death,  such as, “Earl was out hoeing in the cotton patch and just up and died, leaving Earlene with the farm to run and all them younguns to raise.”  Or, the phrase can mean the sensation of a shameful experience, as in “When I saw Little Earl pickin’ his nose during his Pa’s funeral, I ’bout up and died!”  Or, the term might refer to the aftermath of a highly amusing incident, such as, ” Remember that time Earl Junior got stuck in the hay baler?  I laughed so hard I nearly up and died!” So a little mountain terminology history, a dab of humor, and three words that describe exactly what I do as a fiber artist.

Up cycling is a relatively new term for an old-time tradition of re-purposing discarded household wares into new usable items.  Some fiber related examples that leap to mind are patchwork quilting, rag weaving, braiding rugs, using feed sacks to make garments, and remaking clothes to fit a younger sibling or cousin.  Dolly Parton (another Appalachian) immortalized up cycling with her ballad  “Coat of Many Colors” about her mother making a winter coat from multicolored rags.  My Daddy tells of wearing under drawers his mother made from flour sacks in the 1930s.  The new era of up cycling stems, in part, from  artists seeking beauty and functionality in worn out, discarded items, and the Green Living movement.  I recently read that 85% of the clothing purchased in the USA is discarded EVERY YEAR.  What a wasteful society we have become!

There is a great deal of satisfaction for me as an up cycler and an artist in rejuvenating a stained or discolored garment with fiber reactive dyes.  The transforming of a “ruined” piece of clothing into a fun, colorful ‘new’ piece of wearable art is both challenging and exciting.  Patrons frequently bring me items they consider unwearable and I barter store credit with them.  Often after I have up cycled the clothing, those same patrons will buy their own clothes back!  Many up cycling tie dyers scour yard sales and thrift shops for items to revive with dye treatments.  Here are a few tips about what to look for, what to avoid, and how to deal with the unknowns.

Seek garments or linens made from plant fibers, including but not limited to:

  • Cotton
  • Linen/Flax
  • Rayon
  • Hemp
  • Bamboo
  • Viscose
  • Ramie
  • Modal
  • Pineapple
  • Sisal
  • Jute
  • Rattan
  • Raffia
  • Blends of any of the above list

Inspect all  snaps, buttons, buckles, and zippers for functionality.  Sometimes minor repairs can be made, such as replacing a missing button, or sewing up an open seam. But replacing a zipper, or broken snap is a lot of trouble and probably not worth the time and effort. Look for thin areas by holding the garment or bedding up to the sun or a bright light.  Check the collar and cuffs for frays.  Turn the garment in side out during the inspection and check all the seams, especially in high friction areas that are frequently stretched or stressed.  Do not be concerned about ink marks, stains, or discolorations, as those will be concealed under the dye application.

Check the fiber content on the label, as well as any other information offered.  All new garments and yard goods have a product sprayed on during the manufacturing process at the mill called ‘sizing’.  It is a starch- based substance that keeps garments and yard goods wrinkle- free on the rack or shelf.  Sizing washes away in the first laundering of the garment.  But there is another chemical substance frequently used in the garment, fabric, and bedding industry that is invisible and can not be removed called ‘permanent press’, also known as  dura-press, perm-a-press, no iron, and easy care.  Permanent press came into being in the mid 1950s and revolutionized the household chore of ironing.  It keeps garments and linens from wrinkling in the laundry.  House wives love it.  Dyers, not so much.  Permanent press creates a chemical barrier that is difficult to dye through.  Fabrics treated with permanent press dye very blotchy, and uneven, absorbing the dye poorly.  How can permanent press be detected, since it can’t be seen and is not always noted on the tag or label?  Machine wash and dry the suspect item.  If it comes out of the dryer mostly wrinkle free, it has been treated with permanent press and is therefore unsuitable for dyeing.  If it comes out in a big wrinkly mess, it is suitable for dyeing.

Often the fiber content label or tag is missing, or illegible, from a used garment, leaving the tie dyer unsure if the item is appropriate for dyeing with fiber reactive dyes.  A simple burn test might help in the determining fiber content, thus, dye-ability.

Snip or pull a strand or two from an inside seam or hem.  Not the thread with which the item is constructed, but part of the woven material.  You might have to use a needle to pick out a strand from within the stitching.  In a shallow metal container (I use a retired metal lid) burn the strand of fibers taking note of the residue remaining after the burn and the odor as it burns.

  1. Plant based fibers that are suitable for dyeing with fiber reactive dyes will burn very quickly, leave a whitish ash residue, and smell like burning paper.
  2. Synthetic fibers not suitable for dyeing will almost flash burn, leave a hard bead-like residue, and smell like burning plastic, or chemical-like.
  3. Animal origin fibers suitable for dyeing using ONLY acid based dyes will burn more slowly, leave a substantial greyish ash, and smell like burning hair.

I recommend conducting some trials until you are familiar with the results of burn testing.  Blends of natural and synthetic fibers generally burn as synthetic.

Now that you have ascertained that your second-hand find is suitable for dyeing,

  • Machine wash and dry, adding 1/2 cup sodium carbonate to the washer load.  Omit any fabric softeners or dryer sheets.
  •  Pre-soak in a sodium carbonate solution  for 20-30 minutes, as described in an earlier blog.
  • Tie and dye with fiber reactive dyes, as desired.
  • Batch for 12 to 24 hours.
  • Wash out excess dye and machine launder.

Please note that although previously worn and laundered items will cause the pre-soak solution to discolor and become smelly, the performance of the pre-soak solution is not affected.

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Tie Dye Patterns, Part 3: Folds


Vee Fold

Many of the popular patterns in tie dye are started by folding the garment in halves, thirds, or quarters, either vertically, or horizontally, or both.   What happens when a garment or piece of fabric is folded, then tie dyed?  A mirror image results on each of the layers in the fold.  One fold creates two images, two folds create four images.  And so on.  Most folds are also accordion pleated to complete the design.  Geometrical accordion pleating is very similar to the technique learned in a previous blog about pleating a symmetrical image.  Instead of forcing a curved chalk line into a straight one, pleats are either uniform, or angled.

Let’s walk through a few folded, then pleated designs, step by step.


  1. Fold a pre-soaked tee-shirt, or other garment, in half vertically, smoothing out any wrinkles, matching all the seams, and hem, and sleeves.
  2. Using colored chalk and a yard stick, make two parallel line at an angle to the shoulder.
  5. Pleat against the chalk lines, creating a graduated angle the full length of the garment.
  8. DO NOT pick up the garment, but slide the bands on from each end.
  9. Band tightly at about two inch intervals the full length of the garment.
  11. Using the bands as guides, dye the area between the bands, fully saturating each section.

Pyramid–this fold and pleat is the same as the V-fold, just going the opposite direction.

  1. Fold a pre-soaked tee shirt, or other garment, in half vertically, matching all the seams, hem, and sleeves.  Smooth out any wrinkles.
  3. Using colored chalk and a yard stick, make two parallel lines at an angle to the hem of the garment.
  4. Pleat against the chalk lines, creating a graduated angle the full length of the shirt.
  7. Band tightly at about two inch intervals the full length of the garment.
  8. Using the bindings as a guide, saturate the fabric between the bands.

One of the tie dye patterns I have my apprentices master first  is the diamond.  It is such a simple fold.  Yet through mastering the diamond fold and its kin the tie dyer begins training the mind to anticipate the outcome of various more complex folds.



  1. Fold the garment in half vertically, then again horizontally.
  2. The center of the shirt is now in a fold at one corner.
  3. Using that corner as the first pleat, pull up a ridge in the fabric from corner tip to shoulder.
  5. Continue pleating until the entire garment is pleated.
  6. DO NOT pick up the pleated garment.  Slide bands from each end at evenly spaced intervals until the entire length is banded.
  8. Saturate with dye between the bindings.

X Fold is the same as a diamond, but pleated in the opposite direction.



Zig Zag

  1. Fold the garment horizontally three or more equal folds.
  2. Fold the sleeves in towards the center of the garment.
  3. Starting at the shoulder, pull up the first pleat ridge at an angle to the long folded side.
  5. Continue accordion pleating at the same angle until the entire garment is pleated.
  6. NOT picking up the garment, place bindings at evenly spaced intervals.

In this tie up, six or more layers are folded together, creating a strong resist to the dye application.  Therefore apply the dye with a heavy hand in order to reach the inner most folds.


Eric modeling a rainbow zigzag.

Unlike the spiral patterns, folding and pleating require a great deal more precision to produce a crisp, distinct pattern.  Good dye penetration into the tightly bound folds takes a little practice, as well.  Practice and patience are foremost in creating geometrical designs.

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Filed under How to, Patterns

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.

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Filed under How to, Patterns