Tie dye tips from pros for creating contemporary looks with any piece in your wardrobe
Helpful videos and advice from Canadian designers and DIYers
Tie dye has been experiencing a resurgence in fashion for several years now, for everything from workwear to loungewear. And it's a trend that is not going anywhere soon. Throughout this past spring and summer, matching dyed sets became a WFH fashion statement, and a variety of resist-dyed fabrics appeared on several Fall/Winter 2020 runways and in designer collections for Resort 2021.
A quick, versatile fabric-manipulation technique that has been around for many centuries, tie dye has also become very popular with creatives and the do-it-yourself fashion set these days. It's a craft that requires little equipment, can be done quickly at home, and can give a second life to many existing garments and accessories that you already own. And, this fall, it's not just t-shirts and sweats that look great tie dyed in a cheerful rainbow of hues. I've spotted fabulous dye jobs on socks, tote bags, collared dresses, oxford shirts and even face masks.
Here's how to get started
Whether you want to do it in a sink, in the washing machine, or on your patio, there are many detailed how-to tie dye tutorials available online featuring step-by-step instructions from dye manufacturers, crafting experts, fashion designers and experienced hobbyists. It's simply a matter of finding the right set of instructions to get the look that you're going for, and making sure that you have the proper materials on hand (for example, a dye packet designed for synthetic fabrics won't work properly on your cotton-blend t-shirts and socks).
Toronto-native Letitia Kiu transforms two hoodies, a logo t-shirt and a pair of socks in this style-minded video, which covers both colour and bleach-dyeing techniques.
There are many different Shibori tie-dye techniques; it's an ancient Japanese textile art, after all. This short how-to by the Vancouver-based sisters behind the Treasures & Travels blog demonstrates a simple folding technique that you could try at home on scarves, t-shirts and even tote bags.
Popular Canadian YouTube star Lauren Riihimaki (aka LaurDIY) tries her hand at the trendy ice dyeing technique in this tutorial.
More ideas and tips from the pros
Vibrant colours and unique textiles are key components for Delhi, India-based fashion label NorBlack NorWhite, which is run by Toronto-raised designers Mriga Kapadiya and Amrit Kumar. Their latest collection features hand-dyed shirt dresses, t-shirts and masks, and the design duo often share the techniques and stories behind their fabrics on the brand's blog.
This DIY video covers the basics of using onion skins as a natural fabric dye (the list of materials and written instructions are available here). Just keep in mind that the results may differ from batch to batch. "Natural dyeing is an organic process, this means that there are a lot of variables that affect how the final dye colour which keeps things real and not perfect," says Shirlie Rana, NorBlack NorWhite's textile designer. "Factors like the PH levels in water, temperature of the dye bath or even the soil that the dye extract (e.g. onion) is cultivated in will play a major role in the resulting colour." Rana recommends experimenting a bit and keeping detailed notes of the measurements you use each time, if you want to try to replicate the results. Besides onions, the team at NorBlack NorWhite is also experimenting with dyes made from pomegranate rind and madder roots.
Once you're done dyeing an item, be sure to heat-set it so the dye stays put, and do some after care—it will all help with longevity. "It is best to hand wash the textile, or gentle machine wash in cool water, using PH-neutral detergent followed by line drying the fabric away from sunlight, as a lot of the natural dyes tend to fade away in direct light," says Rana.
Almost every item sold by Masha Apparel is tie dyed by hand in Toronto by founder Masha Ruginets — that's a lot of bamboo socks, cotton hats, sweats and tees! In this video, she layers dye on the garment and lightly splashes water on it, to create an ice dye-like effect quickly and with more control over the result.
For at-home dyers, Ruginets has two main tips. First, try to work with 100 per cent cotton or all-natural fabrics. "Many craft dyers will use garments that have a low content of cotton which results in too much of the dye washing off," she says. "Most tie dye uses MX procion dye which adheres only to natural fabrics, and when the garment has only 50 per cent cotton the result has a faded look, and will likely continue to wash off." Secondly, be sure to prewash new garments or accessories to remove any manufacturer finishes, and pre-treat them with soda ash or washing soda unless you're dyeing with a pre-made kit.
Founded in 2002, Victoria, BC's Wildflower Dyes offers beautifully hand-dyed clothing, accessories and bed linens for adults and children. Owner Valerie Montgomery uses Procion MX dyes — which don't require any heat during the dyeing process — and usually uses either a low water, immersion dyeing method or a direct application technique (as shown here).
"If you want super vibrant colours, start with white fabrics and use twice as much dye powder to water than is recommended," advises Montgomery. "Also, don't forget to soak the item in a soda ash bath (dye fixative) first or the colours will wash out." She also puts the dye-soaked garments in a warm room for 24 hours, so that the fixative and dye can better react to each other and create more vibrancy.
Wildflower Dyes offers many overdyed garments (where you're tie dyeing pieces that already have some colour). "I love to bleach black or coloured clothing and then overdye them using Procion MX dyes," says Montgomery. "The result is a little more muted than working with white garments, but the effect can actually be a lot more wearable to some [customers]."
Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.