Tie dye, the fabric decorating staple of 1960s hippy chic, actually has roots going back to the first century. This is when written records of it appear in Japan, China, India, and Indonesia. You can bet a technique with that kind of heritage can offer us advanced tie dye patterns that do far more than just colorize tee shirts and Grateful Dead wall hangers.
ADVANCED TIE DYE PATTERNS APPEAR IN THE U.S.
Much more recently, tie dye initially became popular in the U.S. during the “roaring” 1920s (think flappers and speakeasies), then morphed into a low-cost form of Great Depression home decor when applied to re-purposed flour sacks decorated using spent coffee. Delightfully intricate monotone patterns created using coffee echo those from the ancient East.
This hidden history of tie dye intrigued us so much that we went looking for other examples to show us how a little inspiration and ingenious use of low-cost materials might raise the appreciation of this under-appreciated art form.
SIX ADVANCED TIE DYE PATTERNS
WAIT, THESE AREN'T QUITE INSTRUCTIONS
Though we are introducing a number of advanced tie dye patterns here, we are not providing a detailed how-to list. We give simplified instructions for each technique, but assume that the reader already has some knowledge about how to create basic tie dye. If you need them, the instructions are available online, as well as included with numerous dye kits that are sold in fabric stores and craft shops. Our “basic steps” instructions are meant to build on this knowledge.
SPIRALS SET THE ADVANCED TIE DYE PATTERNS BENCHMARK
- Everyone loves a classic. When people think of tie dyes, they most often think of multi-spirals. This tie dye is...
- Pale Pastel Ariel Rainbow Swirly Multi-Spiral Unisex Adult Tie Dye T-Shirt Tee
- Officially Licensed
When discussing advanced tie dye patterns, we don't necessarily mean more complicated or complex techniques. It is notable that the eye-popping spiral pattern popular on 1960s-era shirts is also one of the simplest designs to create. We can even short-hand the process in three basic steps:
- 1Choose a point in the fabric and twist the fabric around this point to create a disc shape.
- 2Secure this disc with rubber bands to hold it in place.
- 3Dribble dye (usually in powdered form) on this disc in pie-like sections.
By varying the placement of the spiral's center, adjusting the tightness of the rubber bands (or strings), playing with color choices, and varying the time the cloth remains in contact with the dye, we can create an infinite number of unique spiral patterns. Each of the advanced tie dye patterns we discuss here varies around this same notion: Use a basic technique and experiment with small changes in each step of the dyeing process to vary your results.
BLEACH AND STENCILS MAKE MONOCHROME MAGIC
To drive our “advanced tie dye patterns don't mean complicated technique” point, one of the most complicated-looking patterns is also the simplest technique. You can emblazon your shirts with a Zen mandala. Bonus: since you are using a stencil, you can replicate the design on multiple shirts. The basic steps:
- 1Use a tee that is already dyed a single color.
- 2Using a fabric “tacky spray” adhesive, temporarily secure a fabric stencil (you can find these on Amazon) on your shirt where you want the pattern to appear.
- 3Using a paintbrush, paint fabric bleach gel (Also available from Amazon) to apply the gel within the stencil.
The resulting pattern will have people asking how you did it. You can answer them with a cryptic, “I know some advanced tie dye patterns.”
ICE FOR A WATERCOLOR EFFECT
This technique uses melting ice to give a softer touch to vibrant dyes and hard edges. It works particularly well in conjunction with the classic spiral technique discussed earlier. The three basic steps are:
- 1Pile a layer of crushed ice on top of the surface you are dyeing.
- 2Drizzle powdered dye on top of the ice. (The most popular tie dye dyes, such as the Tulip bundle, come in powdered form. Normally, you add water. However, the ice takes the place of the water in this technique).
- 3Allow the ice to melt, which will add “organic” patterns to the coloring, as well as lighten the dye and soften edges between colors.
CAPILLARY EFFECT CREATES COLOR GRADATIONS
Have you ever set the edge of a paper towel in water and watched how the water seems to climb up the towel? That's the “capillary effect” in action and it works on cloth, too. This is another situation where you can create advanced tie dye patterns by harnessing a simple technique. Gravity causes the capillary effect to thin out as the water climbs higher. This means that a water-based dye will leave a gradually lighter color the higher it climbs. There are three basic steps:
- 1As with basic tie dye, twist or fold the fabric into a single column, then apply ties or rubber bands wherever you want to create a stripe.
- 2Pour your dye at the bottom of a cylindrical container, such as a vase for flowers.
- 3You want just enough that the bottom edge of your fabric sits in the dye. The higher walls of the container will help hold the fabric vertical while the dye climbs up.
- 4Place the bottom end of the fabric into the dye and affix the top end so that it will stay vertical in the container. Leave the fabric in place until it has soaked up all the dye.
RADIANT ARC DRAMA
An arc makes a dramatic variation on the basic stripe created by accordion-folding fabric and tying rubber bands or strings around the accordion. Most stripes are horizontal or vertical because that's the most straightforward way to fold fabric. However, a little magic with a ruler and a water-soluble marker (or chalk pencil that will wash out rather than stain the fabric) can make your dye job stand out. The basic steps are:
- 1Drill a hole in each end of your ruler so that you can fit the tip of the pen through the hole. (Some rulers come with a hole at one end, which makes it easy to hang the ruler on a nail above your desk.)
- 2Determine the pivot-point of your arc on your fabric. Place one end of your ruler there and hold it using the tip of a pencil or a nail so that it will not slip. Put the tip of your water-soluble pen through the hole at the other end of your ruler.
- 3Holding the pivot-end of your ruler in place, draw the arc with your pen.
- 4Use this arc as the center line for creating your accordion folds. Once folded, tie these folds as you would for straight-line stripes.
We have fit the basics into four “simple” steps, but most artisans find creating arcs takes some effort. This includes learning how to draw the arc smoothly, as well as learning how to position the pivot point of the ruler so your arc ends up in the right place. Remember, we are creating advanced tie dye patterns. Not all techniques are going to be easy. However, well-placed arcs create visual drama, especially when an asymmetric curve of radiant color appears.
THE SYMMETRICAL HEART
Similar to the process of creating a radiant arc, this pattern is used to create more complex shapes. We use it here to create a symmetrical heart shape, but it can also be used to create larger circles (think happy faces), stars, and butterfly shapes. The basic steps are:
- 1Find the vertical center line of where you want the heart to be on your fabric and fold the fabric back along this line.
- 2Using your water-soluble pen, draw one half of your heart so that the center line you drew is the exact center of your heart. (The divot at the top of your heart and the point at the bottom of your heart should both touch this line.)
- 3Keeping the fabric folded along the center line, make your according folds using the line you just drew. Then use your rubber bands or ties as you normally would with the resulting column of fabric.
Expect to experiment with this one. As much as the perfectionist in us wants to dictate the results, our mistakes creating heart shapes were often more beautiful than we had intended. Granted, great tie dye is much more about serendipity than it is about perfection.
(AND THE SECRET OF COMBINING TECHNIQUES)
We present here six advanced tie dye patterns that each create beautiful designs. However, the real magic happens when you begin combining the patterns. You can already see this trend in the way we have taken the straight-line accordion fold and adapted it to create arcs and symmetrical shapes.
In a similar manner, the bleach and stencils pattern can be added to a white shirt that was first dyed using the capillary effect to create a background color. The result is a startlingly organic feel to a mechanically dictated design. We highly recommend experimenting with pattern combinations. You will create some duds. However, the duds we've created often had one part that showed us the combined patterns' promise. Refining our efforts based on a dud's promise was often the stepping stone to a brilliant new result. There's a reason tie dye has stayed relevant for millennia.