HOW TO TIE DYE


  • Photo: Luis Valdizon
  • Text: Theo Mohamed
  • Most people don’t need to make things anymore. With the advantage of well established physical retail spaces and now the possibility to shop without leaving your bed, it is easy to think of the things we buy as just that, things that we buy. The fact remains, however, particularly in the case of apparel, that someone, a person, made each piece of clothing you own.


    The detachment from the products we consume has made it difficult to appreciate them in the same way we used to. Connection is what breeds passion and the lack thereof detracts from the overall experience that is life.


    Making things brings the ultimate joy; it is a chance to take control and do something exactly how you want to. Regardless of medium, be it culinary, pictorial, or otherwise, the choice is always yours when it comes from your own hands.


    Below you will find a guide for making your very own tie dye and your very own natural dyes. These are both very easy ways to dip your toes into the waters of making your own clothing. Have a stained white shirt? Make a dye that matches the stain and… presto, it’s gone.


    Making the dye is easy enough, all you need is water, a pot, and a stove (preferably outside, making dye can get stinky). You can achieve an astonishingly wide array of hues from natural products that you may otherwise discard. Avocado pits for example can be used to create a soft pink hue and onion and garlic skins, as you will see below, create a beautiful, soft golden yellow. All you need to do is fill your pot with water (I recommend using this pot only for making dye from now on) put your dye stuff in, set it, and forget it.

    The tie dyeing process is also very simple. You’ll need a few things but they are all inexpensive.

    1. Alum Powder

    This is an aluminum powder, often combined with other compounds, that works as a fixative for the dye and ensures it adheres to the fabric. Note: Alum powder is used only for natural dyes as they have no other chemicals that allow them to adhere. If using store bought synthetic dyes you can use a carbonate salt called “soda ash” which is readily available at craft stores.


    2. A white garment

    T-shirt works great, socks are fun too, just make sure they have a high content of natural fibers like cotton or linen.


    3. Rubber bands

    These are for securing your garment of choice to make sure you get some nice dye patterns.


    4. Squirt bottle(s)

    This is optional and most important if you are using more than one colours of dye so you can control the placement of your colours.


    5. Dye

    You can buy dye at most crafts stores but if you’re going to put in the effort to do the tie dyeing you might as well just make it yourself. Also, you’ll avoid the surprisingly harsh chemicals that are found in most non-natural dyes.

    For natural dyes, begin by setting your dye pattern. Classic swirl? Or maybe something of your own design, the choice is yours. Use your rubber bands to hold the pattern secure and to make sure the dye doesn’t penetrate evenly throughout.


    Once the piece is ready to colour, bring the dye to a boil and combine it with the alum. Then submerge it in the dye and let rest. Leave it for several hours for the best results, hang to dry.


    With synthetic dyes, simply combine the soda ash with water as the box directs, set your dye pattern, soak the garments in the ash water (10 minutes), submerge (15-20 minutes), ring out, and hang to dry.


    The most interesting part about this process is that every single time it will turn out differently. Because natural dyes don’t use the same intense chemical pigments as synthetics, the colour that stays is often far softer and more subtle. It feels extremely different each time and the variables add an element of mystique to the practice that increases the satisfaction when the final result arrives. From the dye itself to the pattern you achieve, the true beauty is in the journey it took to get there.


    This is an opportunity to reconnect yourself, in some small way, to the things you buy and remember that they don’t come from nowhere, it all takes work.


    Please, explore and enjoy yourself; summer is the season to be smiling in the sunshine wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt of your own design.

  • Photo: Luis Valdizon
  • Text: Theo Mohamed