First rule: When tie-dyeing with kids, cover EVERYTHING you don’t want dyed.
Second rule: Work outside and be prepared to explain the blue forearms and colorful fingers you’ll all be sporting following this craft.
Third rule: if you don’t like messy, this craft is NOT for you.
That said, it’s a heck of a lot of fun for everyone.
This is a craft that is timeless and practically ageless. Grandparents and parents have been passing this craft to their offspring for decades — and that’s because the outcome is so satisfying and makes you feel happy. It’s a surprise and wearable art all in one and fairly easy if you follow the three rules at the top, as well as a couple of suggestions included here.
My tie-dyeing adventures began way back in the hippie era. At that time, there was basically one choice of dye and the process was even messier. Since then, dyes have become far more intense in color and the process is much, much easier.
Looking for a kid-friendly summer craft last year, I thought of tie-dyeing.
We set up a long table in the garage, covered everything in dollar-store vinyl tablecloths and snagged our next-door neighbors’ children, ages 6 to 16. Everyone was pleased with the shirt they ended up with, and several have dyed additional shirts since.
This time, we got brave (or possibly just foolhardy) and tie-dyed with two 4-year-old children, Kane and Emery. The results were just as satisfying, and everyone had a great time. Were more young children participating, I would try to have one adult to help each child.
Tulip makes an excellent kit with lots of dye in five vivid colors. Better yet, it comes with everything you’ll need except the apparel you’re dyeing. Included are the dye in squeeze bottles (just add water to the fill line and shake to mix the dye), rubber bands, plastic gloves (not very heavy duty; you may want to use more substantial rubber gloves) and even extra powdered dye in each color.
The instructions are excellent and easy to follow and even show you some suggested ways to fold your shirt for various patterns. The mixed dye is only good for about 45 minutes, but you can dye about 20 full-sized shirts, it says on the box. You might want to try dyeing white cotton shoes, bandanas or aprons, too.
If you don’t use a kit and use pre-mixed liquid dye, I would suggest getting squeeze bottles for each color; it makes the process so much easier. Just follow the dyeing instructions on the bottle.
Although most instructions suggest washing your cotton T-shirt prior to dyeing, I never have.
We did dampen the shirts and then helped the children twist and bunch the shirts while they assisted in putting the rubber bands on the shirts to hold the bunches, scrunches and folds in place. I then explained to them that their shirts would be a surprise for them to open TOMORROW, like a present.
Both of them seemed to understand and, possibly because they were forewarned, were not upset about seeing how the shirts turned out immediately. I also explained so that the colors didn’t get dark and yucky, they shouldn’t mix every color together — that it was good to still see some of the shirt undyed (in this case, white.)
The children were very involved in choosing their colors and applying them. The tapered tip makes it easy to get into the folds. The squeeze bottles made it easy for them to put the color (usually) where they wanted it.
With older children, you can explain monochromatic and faded dyeing to them (also explained in the Tulip instructions) as well as how to scrunch the shirt to get various effects. But with the smaller children, a free-for-all pattern using nearly every color seemed to work best to hold their interest. (Kane was very careful NOT to use pink.)
After the shirts are dyed, if they are very saturated, gently squeeze the extra dye from them and wrap them separately in clingy plastic wrap. I then put them all in plastic bags. The colors should soak in for 6-8 hours or longer.
Then, using your gloves, unwrap the shirts, remove the rubber bands and one at a time, gently rinse under warm running water until the water runs clear. Using gentle laundry soap, wash the shirts either by hand or in the washer separately.
I always hang mine to dry, but you can put them in the dryer if you are certain the shirts are no longer bleeding any color.
I guarantee you’ll be feelin’ groovy as you sport your new colorful T-shirt.