Everything You Need to Know About Tie-Dyeing With Your Family

A few nostalgic trends have worked their way back into our collective crafting conscious, but perhaps none as prominently as tie-dye. During the pandemic, many took to crafting to calm their nerves, soothe their souls, and take their minds off the uncertainty of the times. While crafting as a whole has been making a comeback, tie-dye has been front-and-center.

Brands like Starbucks (with a new tie-dye Frappucino) and Bombas (who released a DIY tie-dye socks kit) have jumped on the colorful bandwagon. Add in celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez and Ryan Seacrest sporting tie-dye pieces, and tie-dye has held its place as the craft king of the summer. Here's everything you need to know about the history, resurgence, and fulfillment of the craft. Plus, how to make it a festive activity for your family.

The History of Tie-Dye

The swirly, vibrant, and playful coloring technique we know today has been around for centuries.

What really kicked off tie-dye’s popularity in the United States is the invention of Rit, an all-purpose synthetic dye brand created over 100 years ago due to dye shortages during World War I.About 40 years after the invention of Rit, the product became the official dye of hippies and even paid artists to make tie-dye shirts to distribute at Woodstock.

Different cultures have their own take on tie-dye. In Japan, it's called Shibori. Instead of using knots or ties to break up color, Shibori employs precise folds.

A Craft For All Ages

Lynn Lilly, founder of Craft Box Girls and DIY expert says that tie-dye is especially great for kids. "It is inexpensive, fun for the whole family, and creates something that is unique and handmade,” she says. Her daughter loves creating styles where the outcome is different every time.

But it's not just school-aged kids who love it. “Now more than ever, teens and millennials are opting out of the mainstream to create their own unique fashion, decor, and more," Lilly says. "Kids love tie-dyeing because they get to infuse their personality into their design and show it off once it’s done."

Editor and stylist Laurel Pantin hopped on the tie-dye trend early. “Everyone has been looking for fun creative things to do at home, and tie-dye is so satisfying," she says. For her, it’s really about the process. “I love how unpredictable it is. I also love that you really can’t screw it up. It’s kind of foolproof," she adds

Pantin loves tie-dye so much that she even opened a shop online to sell her hand-dyed creations. “ "When I had my first kid I made him a ton of tie-dye clothes, and people kept asking me on Instagram where I’d gotten them," she shares. Her hobby bloomed into a small side business (her day job is being the Style Director at "InStyle" magazine).

How to Tie-Dye with Your Kids 

In light of tie-dye's growing popularity, here are some tips for making the most out of the art form.

Set Yourself Up for Success

The first step is to pick your pieces to dye. Opt for natural fibers like hemp, cotton, linen, or rayon, as these absorb the dye best. If you don't have any 100% natural fabrics on hand, a blend with at least 80% natural fibers will do. A blend with anything less than 80% natural fibers is at risk for runny dye.

If you're looking for the most straightforward tie-dye process, buying a pre-packaged kit is the best option. These kits can include everything from clean-up supplies, to fabric, dyes, and ties.

Just know a mess is unavoidable. Lilly suggests covering your work area with plastic and wearing gloves. Alternatively, she says working outside may lend an easier clean-up (and a less stressful dyeing session).

Tye-die is a form of resistant dyeing, which just means blocking off particular parts of the fabric to prevent dye from reaching them.

Tie and Dye

At its core, tie-dye is a two-part technique. First, you must tie (or add knots to) your garment. This will create the patterned aspect by ensuring some areas are un-dyed. If you're using more than one color, this will also help keep the colors separate and prevent them from mixing to creating an unwanted color. Rubberbands are a quick and reliable way to create these knots, but you can experiment with twine, or other materials if you're seeking more of a challenge.

Some tye-dye kits will provide instructions for tying if you want to create specific patterns. You can always choose to just freestyle it, too, depending on how your kids like to experiment.

The dyeing is pretty straightforward. When My-Cherie Haley—mother, founder, and designer at Viva La Silk—did a tie-dye party for her 7-year-old she found spray bottles to make it easier for kids to work with the dyes.

Many tye-dye kits come with dye applicators, and Rit bottles are made with application in mind. With or without a kit, simply pour or spray color onto your tied piece or submerge it in a bucket of dye. When you're done with the dye, wring out as much excess dye as possible.

Get Ready to Wear It

If you've chosen to do this outside, the sun will dry your items thoroughly. Lilly's pro tip is to lay the project flat (with the knots still intact) to dry on a protected surface to preserve the colors. “Once the shirt is dry, I then rinse it until the water runs clear,” she says.

Many modern-day tie-dye kits promise minimal fading, but to be sure—and if you’re using natural or vegetable dyes—you can set the color by soaking the garment in vinegar overnight before washing it.

Wash the dyed garments separately from your regular load, and separately from each other. Use hot water with a little bit of color-safe detergent.

Line dry or dry in the dryer, following the garment's specific instructions. It might take two to three washes before the dye is completely set, so take care before mixing freshly dyed pieces in the wash with your other garments. 

How to Remove Dye From Your Skin

Try washing your hands with an exfoliant like a body scrub, using a paste made with baking soda, or even very carefully try using nail polish remover. Do not use bleach when working with kids.

Below, we are sharing some of our favorite tie-dye kits to help you get started!

1

Native Shoes Jefferson Print Slip-On Sneaker

Native Shoes Jefferson Tie-Dye Slip-On Sneaker

Shop it: Native Shoes Jefferson Print Slip-On Sneaker ($40)

Little feet will look extra cute in these slip-on, tie-dye-printed, rubber shoes. A neutral outfit will help these shoes pop on the playground.

2

H&M Tie-Dye Patterned Shorts

H&M Tie-Dye printed shorts for boys with drawstring

Shop it: H&M Tie-Dye Patterned Shorts ($9.99)

Unisex, comfortable and stylish: these tie-dye patterned shorts go great with a plain white t-shirt and sandals for a sunny and bright look.

3

Lola + The Boys Rainbow Tie-Dye Denim Jacket

Lola + The Boys Tie-Dye Rainbow Denim Jacket with Patches

Shop it: Lola + The Boys Rainbow Tie-Dye Denim Jacket ($65)

This special tie-dye jean jacket is only made more fabulous by the rainbow patch it comes with. A jean jacket is perfect for transitional weather like fall, and this one holds on to summer a little bit longer thanks to the print.

4

Baby Steps Tie-Dye Pajamas in Zoe

Baby Steps Tie-Dye Pajamas in Zoe Print

Shop it: Baby Steps Tie-Dye Pajamas in Zoe ($40)

Style doesn't have to stop with street clothes. Tie-dye printed pajamas look great on all ages and sizes.

5

Kid Made Modern Rainbow Tie-Dye Craft Kit

Kid Made Modern Rainbow Tie-Dye Craft Kit

Shop it: Kid Made Modern Rainbow Tie-Dye Craft Kit $17)

An easy Do-It-Yourself kit, the Kid Made Modern Rainbow Tie-Dye Craft Kit comes with six colors and four sets of gloves so the whole family can get in on the action.

6

Tulip One-Step Tie-Dye Kit

Tulip One-Step Tie-Dye Kit

Shop it: Tulip One-Step Tie-Dye Kit ($21)

If you're unsure of what pattern you want to do, this kit from craft brand Tulip comes with a full inspiration guide, plus five super bright and fun colors of dye.

7

Rit Indigo Shibori Tie-Dye Kit

Rit Indigo Shibori Tie-Dye Kit

Shop it: Rit Indigo Shibori Tie-Dye Kit ($17)

The indigo dye in this kit from Rit works on a variety of fabrics such as cotton, linen, silk, rayon, and more. The only limitation is your imagination.

8

Shop ADroit Tumeric Dye Kit

Shop ADroit Tumeric natural DIY Kit

Shop it: Shop ADroit Turmeric Dye Kit ($42)

If you're looking for natural dyes, try this one from Shop ADroit, which uses turmeric instead of artificial dyes.

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  1. Dye R. Celebrating 100 years of color: then and now. Rit Dye. Updated 2021.