How to Tie-Dye Using the Bucket Method
Tie-dyeing is based on the traditional art of folding or tying fabric to create resists that stop the dye from being absorbed into parts of the fabric, thereby forming unique patterns of color. Often people use tie-dye to create a design on white fabric. Using the bucket method is a quick way to tie-dye several items at one time.
- Item(s) to dye, usually something white
- Rit Dye, liquid or powder
- Hot Water
- Rubber Bands
- 3-gallon container for each dye color
- Salt or white vinegar
- Large metal spoon
- Rubber gloves
- Paper towels
- Plastic table cover
- Old towels
- Cleanser or Bleach
Step by Step
Protect your work surface with a plastic table cover.
For best results, prewash and dry item to remove any finishes that may interfere with dye absorption.
Select your dye colors. One to three colors can be used. When using more than one color, it’s usually best to start with the lightest color.
When tie-dyeing with two or more colors, it’s best to put adjacent primary colors (red, yellow, blue) or secondary colors (orange, green, purple) next to each other. In the areas where they run together, they will create a third, great-looking color. For instance, Scarlet and Golden Yellow will produce Orange; Royal Blue and Kelly Green will make Aqua; Fuchsia and Royal Blue will create Purple.
There are many ways to create tie-dye patterns and designs. For example, to create a basic marbleized tie-dye design, scrunch fabric into a ball and wrap it with rubber bands in different directions. The tighter the fabric is wrapped, the more white areas there will be. To make stripes, fold the fabric vertically or diagonally, like an accordion or fan, in 2” to 3” wide folds. Wrap with rubber bands every 2” – 3” or as desired.
Prepare all the dye baths before starting to tie-dye. Wear rubber gloves before handling dye. They prevent colorful fingers and offer protection from the hot water in the dye bath.
Shake all liquid dye bottles before pouring the dye. Measure and mix ½ cup liquid dye in about 2 – 3 gallons very hot water (at least 140ºF). If using powder dye, dissolve 1 box in 2 cups very hot water; stir well before adding to water. If water is not hot enough, heat water in a tea kettle or the microwave. The hotter the dye bath, the stronger the colors will be. For dark or bright colors, double the amount of dye used. Note: If dyeing multiple items at once, the amount of dye and water should be increased based on the weight of the shirts. As a guideline, 1 bottle of dye or 2 boxes of powder will color up to 2 pounds of dry weight fabric (about 6 – 8 size small t-shirts).
For cotton fabrics, add 1 cup of salt to each dye bath to help intensify the color. For silk, wool or nylon, add 1 cup white vinegar. Stir well to be sure salt or vinegar is dissolved.
To begin, immerse your wrapped fabric in the lightest color dye bath for 4 to 10 minutes or as long as 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The longer the fabric is in the dye bath, the darker the color will be. Remove when the color is a little darker than desired (color looks darker when fabric is wet).
If desired, continue dipping wrapped fabric in another color or unwrap fabric, cutting rubber bands. Rinse well in cool water, squeeze out excess water and wrap again. Then immerse in the next darkest color. Repeat until you have used all your colors.
Remove fabric from dye bath. Using scissors, carefully cut away the rubber bands. Rinse in cool water until water runs clear.
Wash garment in warm water with mild detergent. Rinse thoroughly in cool water. Gently squeeze out excess water by rolling shirt in a clean old towel. Machine dry or hang to dry.
Clean-up work surface and dye utensils using soap and bleach or cleanser.