This weekend I passed a tie-dyed milestone—my 100th shirt. I wish I could say I’m getting better at it, but what’s happened in my year of making tie dyes is that I’ve become more knowledgeable about basic chemistry, the handling and mishandling of chemical solutions and I’m no longer reticent about entering crafts stores when they’re having sales on scrapbooking supplies.
One of the most important parts of tie-dying is learning to make the water based chemical solution that you mix with Procion MX fiber reactive dyes. I dissolve about 8 ounces of urea pellets (which is almost pure nitrogen) about four ounces of Calgon water softener with 1.5 gallons of water and vigorously agitate the mixture to make sure the Urea and water softener are fully dissolved. I then add the powdered dyes I plan to use the next morning into quart canning bottles. I thoroughly mix the dyes being careful to make sure there are no clots. I keep my mixed dyes in a storage bin I keep in a cool dark place (having learned how quickly some dyes--particularly reds and yellows--oxidize and change colors when stored any place where it’s hot).
The other lesson in tie dye chemistry I’ve learned is never to be miserly with Soda Ash when I soak t-shirts or other material prior to dying. I dissolve about 10 ounces of soda ash in a five gallon bucket and let my shirts and material soak for up to 10 minutes. To save time, I run the soaked items through a shortened spin cycle in my washing machine. My best results have been with fabric that’s still wet to the touch. Soda Ash is the chemical that causes Procion MX dyes to react, so I don’t skimp on this chemical when I prep my shirts.
I carefully lay out my shirts, making sure the surface is flat and use the handle of a large serving spoon to twirl the fabric into a flat spiral. It helps use one hand to keep the fabric from bunching up as it’s twirled. I then make sure the bundle is as neat as I can make it and use three pieces of string to tie the shirt, creating six panels for dying. It’s taken me a while to learn how to tie the string so that the connecting knots are in the center of the pattern, but when you tie dye it’s fun to wear your mistakes.
The most common mistake I’ve made in the last year has been not putting enough dye in the folds of the patterns, resulting in spotty colors. To correct this I visited a local cosmetic supplies store and bought goose neck applicators for my dye applicator bottles, which will allow me to more easily apply colors to panel folds, thus also cutting down on the amount of dye I need to apply to the back sides of my shirts.
Oh, in case you’re wondering: I normally use up about all of the dye --six quarts--I’ve made the night before when I create seven to ten shirts.
The swirl pattern is probably the most common pattern used in tie-dyes, but it’s not the only one.
I’ve recently begun creating designs such as crosses, moons and stars, by folding the shirt in half along its horizontal axis, tracing the design in place on the half fold with a washable marker, and then folding the pattern along the marked line so that when you’re done your pattern appears as a straight marked line on the fabric. Once that’s done you can pleat along the edges of the folded design and then tie off the long fabric train using tied string placed every three or four inches. The resulting effect after dying creates a colored outline of the basic pattern that’s repeated on the front and back of the shirt. With a little experience and confidence, it’s possible to create shapes within shapes, which gives the tie dyer the opportunity to experiment with color patterns that compliment a shape or theme.
Tie Dying is a fun craft that lets you harness your creativity. It’s cheaper and has fewer rules than golf and it yields distinctive clothing that’s fun to wear and never looks like it came from any store’s rack.
Some simple rules: always wear gloves when you work with Procion MX or other dyes, soda ash solutions, eye protection is recommended if you’re mixing dyes in a ventilated space or pouring dry soda ash into a tub. Also, pay attention to the amount of dye you add to chemical water (some shades such as hot pink or other pastels require twice the amount of dye as basic colors).
There are numerous books and DVDs on how to create tie dyes. Some of the ones that have helped me include the tie dying 101, 201 and 303 DVDs from www.TrueTieDye.com and basic crafts books such as “Tie Dye and Batik” by Doug Otten and Doug Feltus.
I now purchase most of my dyes in bulk from www.dharmatrading.com in San Rafael,
In the one year I’ve been working this hobby, I’ve supplied most of my friends and all of my loved ones with selections of tie dyed clothing, And that definitely doesn’t harsh anyone’s vibe.—Jim Forbes 08/30/2009.