What do the free-spirited '60s, temporary yin-yang tatted '90s, and fashion week runways of 2019 all have in common? Two words, one hyphen (and looks pretty groovy on a T-shirt): tie-dye. The colorfully patterned technique has made its style mark over several decades, and we're currently living for its most recent resurgence just in time for summer. We not only love the nostalgic technique for making us feel like carefree camp-kids again, but also because it's an easy and affordable trend to DIY on just about anything. To prove it, we rounded up the best tie-dye kits with matching what-to-dye buys that Amazon has to offer and consulted an expert on beginner tie-dyer advice. Shabd Simon-Alexander, designer, activist, educator, and author of Tie-Dye: Dye It, Wear It, Share It, shared just how easy it is to do at home.
Aside from wetting fabric, tying it, and then dying it, more specific tie-dye techniques can be broken down into two categories: bath dying or applying to fabric. "Dyeing clothes in a bath is best when you're going for a monochromatic look — think the strong contrast indigo and white Japanese shibori look. Applying color directly is best when you want a multi-colored effect. When you do that, you can use squeeze bottles, paint brushes, spray bottles, any tool to get the color onto the fabric," Shabd explains.
She suggests sticking with natural materials (like cotton, linen, or hemp) for a consistent end result and staying away from harder to dye polyester fabrics. Shabd also recommends opting for the cold water and fiber reactive MX dyes commonly found in craft kits, because while still non-toxic they are ultimately less involved than going the more "romantic" natural dye route. "You can use anything to bind the fabric - rubber bands are easy and reusable, string has a different effect," Shabd shares. "You can also tie the garment in knots, sew patterns into it, fold it, clamp it in between boards, anything to create a design!"
"There's a lot of different techniques, materials, and aesthetics — tie-dye has been practiced all over the world for hundreds of years — but the basic concept always remains the same." And according to Shabd, the basic concept of tie-dying looks a lot like the easygoing pattern itself: "Experiment. Have fun. The accidents are always the greatest successes." Scroll on to embark on your own tie then dye adventure with our top DIY essentials for summer ahead, from breezy clothes to Shibori kits and Shabd's instructional guide.
At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.