Fun Tie-Dye Projects for Kids

Artist and tie-dye expert Shabd Simon-Alexander shares her secrets to creating beautiful shirts with little mess and no stress.

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Let's Tie-Dye!

Photograph by Allie Cottrill

Let's Tie-Dye!

Here's a project that should top your family's summer to-do list: tie-dye. It's a perfect activity to fill a lazy afternoon in the yard, culminating with a "wow" moment when the tied shirt is unfurled. If you're worried it's too complicated or messy to tackle with kids, don't be. It's virtually impossible to tie-dye incorrectly, and with these single-color designs, it's easy to keep things tidy. I've been teaching tie-dye classes for years and selling my creations in stores all over the world. Here, I've included tying and binding ideas for five patterns. I've also given my formula for a fabric dye bath that creates more durable and longer-lasting colors, but if you'd rather keep it simple, you can always use a premixed dye and follow the package instructions. Most of all, don't forget to have fun. Try to see mistakes as opportunities. Some of my favorite designs have come from happy accidents!

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First, Tie Your Shirt

Photograph by Allie Cottrill

First, Tie Your Shirt

For the best results, use a prewashed and dried 100 percent cotton T-shirt. Gather up some rubber bands and follow the directions for your chosen design to prepare a shirt for the dye.

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Choose a Design: Nebula

Photograph by Allie Cottrill

Choose a Design: Nebula

Even very young kids can help make this cosmic design.

For the best results, use a prewashed and dried 100 percent cotton T-shirt. Gather up some rubber bands and prepare a shirt for the dye.

First, wet the shirt and lay it flat. With your fingers, scrunch and wrinkle the fabric, gathering it into a tight disk.

Wrap several rubber bands around the disk. The tighter you bind it, the more white there will be in the final shirt.

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Choose a Design: Dotty Dots

Photograph by Allie Cottrill

Choose a Design: Dotty Dots

The size of the polka dots on this shirt depends on the size of the beads or beans you use to make them.

For the best results, use a prewashed and dried 100 percent cotton T-shirt. Gather up some rubber bands and prepare a shirt for the dye.

Gather a handful of plastic beads or dried beans. Cut plastic wrap into squares that are about four times larger than the beads or beans. Place a bean or bead inside the shirt, then place a piece of plastic wrap on top of the shirt. Working with just the front layer of the shirt, wrap a rubber band tightly around the plastic- and shirt-covered bead or bean, as shown. Repeat to make more dots. Wet the tee before dyeing it.

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Choose a Design: Sunburst

Photograph by Allie Cottrill

Choose a Design: Sunburst

This spiral pattern (shown on the yellow shirt) will have you and your kids doing the twist.

For the best results, use a prewashed and dried 100 percent cotton T-shirt. Gather up some rubber bands and prepare a shirt for the dye.

Soak a shirt with water and lay it flat. Choose a spot in the center of the shirt, between the armpits; with your thumb and forefinger, press down and twist the fabric clockwise. Try to keep the resulting folds at approximately the same height, creating a shape like a flat cinnamon roll.

Wrap the shape tightly with rubber bands, as shown. The tighter you bind the shirt, the more white there will be in the design.

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Choose a Design: Sailor Stripes

Photograph by Allie Cottrill

Choose a Design: Sailor Stripes

Tie-dye doesn't always mean groovy spirals and circles -- you can make straight-line stripes, too.

For the best results, use a prewashed and dried 100 percent cotton T-shirt. Gather up some rubber bands and prepare a shirt for the dye.

Wet a shirt and lay it flat. Starting at one side, gather the tee to create accordion-like folds that run vertically from neck to hem.

Wrap a rubber band tightly around the shirt. For more stripes, add rubber bands as shown.

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Choose a Design: Ringer

Photograph by Allie Cottrill

Choose a Design: Ringer

This circle shirt couldn't be simpler to create.

For the best results, use a prewashed and dried 100 percent cotton T-shirt. Gather up some rubber bands and prepare a shirt for the dye.

At the center of the tee between the armpits, pinch just the top layer of the tee. Pull the fabric up into a point, letting the rest of the shirt fall away. Smooth the fabric down evenly from your pinched point, creating a skinny cone shape. Wrap a rubber band tightly around it. Move the rubber-banded ring up or down to make the circle smaller or larger. For a wider line, wrap a few bands around the same spot. Or create a bull's-eye by adding bands above and below the first one. Wet the tee before dyeing it.

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Then, Dye It!

Photograph by Allie Cottrill

Then, Dye It!

This is my favorite formula for creating bright, vivid, colorfast clothing.

You will need:

  • Plastic tarp
  • Bucket
  • Glass jar with tight-sealing lid*
  • Rubber gloves
  • Measuring spoon*
  • Fiber-reactive dye, such as Jacquard Procion or Dylon Permanent
  • Soda ash fixative (This and the dye can be found online and at some craft stores.)

*Use only items that you will not be using again for food.

  1. Tie the T-shirt in your desired design before you mix the dye; the dye bath starts losing strength after about an hour.
  2. Cover your work surface with the tarp.
  3. Fill the bucket with 1 gallon of cool water.
  4. Fill the jar halfway with cool water. Put on the rubber gloves. Depending on how dark you'd like the color, measure 2 to 4 teaspoons of dye powder into the jar. Close the lid securely and shake the jar until all the powder is dissolved. Pour the dye into the bucket and stir.
  5. Fill the jar halfway with hot water. Add 6 teaspoons of soda ash. Close the lid and shake vigorously. Pour the mixture into the bucket and stir.
  6. If your shirt has dried out since you tied it, wet it again with water. Place the shirt in the dye bath and let it soak for one hour.
  7. Put on the gloves again. Rinse the shirt in a sink with cold water. Remove the rubber bands to reveal the results. Wash and dry the shirt by itself and wear it proudly!

Originally published in the August 2015 issue of FamilyFun magazine.