Just for Fun

Why Kids Love Tie-Dye (What it Represents, How to DIY, Products, and More!)

JoAnna Schwartz


Nov 12, 21

Have you noticed you see a lot more tie-dye out there? Kids have discovered tie-dye and are going crazy for it. We’re not afraid to admit that we love it, too. What’s not to love about the retro charm of tie-dye and the fact that it can be a fun DIY project at home? Frankly, we’re in!

What Is Tie-Dye

Tie-dyeing is a “resist” dyeing technique. People twist, fold, pleat, or crumple fabric in its simplest form and then use rubber bands or string to tie it up and add dye.

While tie-dying was most popular in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s and is often associated with the Hippie movement of that era, it’s become a popular clothing pattern today and now has a boho vibe. But that era wasn’t the birth of the tie-dye technique.

Tie-dyeing can be traced back to China and the 5th century AD. There are also some pre-Columbian samples of tie-dyeing from Peru that date to 500 to 810 AD. Tie-dyeing was also developed and used long before the 1960s in Asia and Africa. Not to burst the bubble of those trendsetting hippies, but this technique has actually been known in the States since the early 1900s. However, the 1960s defined a new genre of tie-dye with the addition of rainbow colors and a psychedelic vibe.

How to Tie-Dye with Kids

That’s enough of the history lesson; let’s get to the fun stuff. Tie-dyeing is an excellent activity for a group at a birthday party or school event, but it’s also perfectly suited for a small group or individuals.

The real trick is to keep it simple. You can go crazy and get as creative as you want once you’ve perfected the simple method. But we’re giving you the most straightforward tie-dye technique here, so it’s not too messy or stressful. It’s all about having fun!

Tie-Dye Supplies
  • tie-dye paintsFabric. T-shirts are the most popular, but you can use any cloth item – make sure it’s 100% cotton.
  • Tie-dye kit. The old standby was Rit dye, and you can still use this method if you want, but there are now many kits on the market that make it a little less messy and give you a lot of color options. Tip – look for a kit with squirt bottles, so you don’t need buckets of dye – this cuts down on the mess.
  • Rubber bands. We suggest a huge bag of rubber bands because they’re what provides the resist effect. Kits will come with some – you’ll want to get more.
  • Gloves. Usually, the kits include gloves so you might be covered there, but they’re not always sized for adult or tiny hands, so you might want to pick up some latex gloves.
  • Bucket and water. This might not be necessary. It depends on if you’re washing the fabric before or you want just to wet them in the bucket of water. Also, a bucket helps if you’re using soda ash (which helps set the dye), but that can be omitted.
  • Plastic bags. You will want little bags and you might want to have a big garbage bag, too.
  • Drop cloth. You can use a plastic drop cloth or an old sheet.

Tips for Tie-Dyeing

Before we dive into the instructions, we have a few tips we’ve collected to help your process go more smoothly.

  • Wear old clothes or something to protect your clothing and your kids’ clothing. You are working with dye, after all.
  • Have old towels or rags handy, especially if you’re wetting the fabric outside in a bucket and making the soda ash mixture.
  • Put the nozzle of the dye bottles right into or against the fabric when applying dye. Squirting from a distance is messy and doesn’t deliver great results.
  • Double-check the rubber bands to make sure they’re as tight as they can be.
  • Mix the dye right before you use it. It’s strongest and most vibrant right away, and then it fades.
  • Using all colors - something your kids will be tempted to do - can result in brown (not too appealing) dye. Suggest they keep them separated or only mix two.
  • Label each item so the artist knows which is theirs. You can use safety pins of different sizes or beads attached, or use Name Bubble Labels – more on this below.

How to Tie-Dye

Now, let’s get into it. Again, using a kit rather than individual dyes and separate buckets is the best approach, and it creates more vibrant results, so we’ll give you those instructions. Make sure you check with the kit you bought for the actual and specific tie-dye directions.

    1. tie-dye shirtDamp fabric. Whatever item you’re dying, it needs to start damp. You can wash it first and then not dry it completely, or you can have your kids wet it in a bucket and then wring it until it’s damp.
    2. Technique. Let your kids decide what they’re going to do for their technique(s). You can watch videos or research what the methods look like before or let them be creative. Remember, the more twisting, folding, and crumpling they do, the more dynamic the pattern.
    3. Rubber bands. Work the rubber bands onto their fabric and make sure they’re secure. Use lots of them to get more white spaces.
    4. Soda ash. If you’re using soda ash, this is when you soak the fabric in it.
    5. Mix the dye. To make sure your dye is fresh, this is a great time to mix it.
    6. Dye. Now, take the little banded bundles and dye them. Place them on the drop cloth and squirt the dye directly into the fabric. The nozzles make it easier to direct the color and control the amount that’s released. Make sure everyone has their gloves on, or their hands will get stained.
    7. Plastic bag. Put each garment into its plastic bag. You can double bag them in grocery bags or seal them in zip locks. We then recommend putting all of the projects into a garbage bag for the next step.
    8. Wait. This will be the hardest part, but it takes the dye somewhere from 12-24 hours to set. There’s nothing to do here but wait.
    9. Rinse. It’s best to rinse the fabric in warm water, so you might want to do this step inside, in the sink. Start rinsing with the rubber bands on and when they’re running clear, you can cut off the bands and continue to rinse until it runs clear.
    10. Dry. Hang fabric outside to dry and to show off your artwork.
    11. Wash. To ensure the dye is completely rinsed out, wash clothing (only with other tie-dye items or rags) using a warm/cold setting.
    12. Enjoy!

      Labeling Your Tie-Dye Items (and Other Stuff Too!)

      In the tips above, we suggested labeling your items before tie-dyeing. This is the best way to prevent fights over whose is whose, unless you’re going to keep them separate the whole time. They tend to look similar in the end. You can do this in various ways, but we love the idea of using our tie-dye-themed labels. They’re waterproof and washer and dryer safe, so they’ll stay put. They also keep the theme of tie-dye, so they’re perfect!

      If you’re thinking about getting tie-dye labels, even if they’re not for a tie-dye project, we have a few options you might want to try.

      • Tie-Dye Iron-On Fabric Labels
        We think these are the essential accessory for tie-dying. Our Tie-Dye Iron-On Labels featuring a vibrant and exciting tie-dye print to keep the theme you’re going for. They can also be customized for each child, so they can label their projects beforehand. Believe us, this will save squabbles later.
      • Tie-Dye School Labels Pack
        The Tie-Dye School Labels Pack comes with various labels so your boho-chic little one can label their art projects and make sure everything they bring to school this year has a funky tie-dye theme.
      • Tie-Dye Camp Labels Pack
        Is your little one headed off to camp or prepare for family camping adventures with fun tie-dye camp labels? There are various labels so you can use them on clothing, tents, swimwear, food containers and cooking tools, sporting equipment, and just about anything else you bring camping.

        We think our labels are also a bit of a lifesaver – or at least a style saver. If your child wants everything tie-dye but you’re not willing to commit them to a wardrobe of this trend, consider the tie-dye label a compromise so they can always have tie-dye with them, but they won’t look like they just came from a Woodstock reunion.

      Thank you again for joining us for another edition of The Weekly Bubble!

      We’ll talk to you next week!

      JoAnna Schwartz

      I’m the Vice President here at Name Bubbles and have had a chance to work in many different areas of the company since I joined in late 2011. I graduated from SUNY Oneonta with a Bachelor of Arts in Art History and Studio Arts in 2010. I naturally...

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