Tie Dye Folding Techniques

Baby wearing tie-dyed shirt

Tie dye folding techniques vary depending on whether you are dying a garment or a piece of fabric and on the colors and design that you have in mind for your finished product. You can create simple circles or elaborate designs. Browse tie-dye galleries online for ideas, or just experiment. Be sure to try your techniques on discarded fabric or clothing before committing to your design on your final piece.

Key Folding Tips

Keep the following folding tips in mind as you plan your project:

  • The most important element in folding your tie-dyed fabric or clothing item is to fasten the fold securely with strong rubber bands. If your folds are not tightly wrapped, too much dye can leak onto the wrong portion of your piece and ruin your design.
  • It's tie dye--a little color bleeding is acceptable and adds character to your piece.
  • Sharp folds produce striped effects, and bunching your folds creates more random, marbleized patterns.

Supplies

You'll need the following supplies:

  • Several sturdy rubber bands. The width of each band will determine the definition of your separated or uncolored areas.
  • Washable fabric marking pencil available at most fabric and craft stores. Alternatively, you can use a regular pencil. Don't use a permanent marker, because you will only mark half of your design before folding.

Specific Tie Dye Folding Techniques

Designs can be surprisingly well-defined if you plan ahead and fold carefully. This is where experimenting on scrap fabric can come in handy.

Random Colored Design

Use this approach on your experimental piece of fabric to get a good feel for each of the basic tie dye folding techniques:

  1. Make small, even fan-shaped folds in one section and wrap it at the top of the section and again about two inches from the center of the folded area.
  2. Grab a small bunch of fabric and wrap it with a rubber band about two inches from the center of the section. Then wrap one or two other rubber bands at random intervals over the same section.
  3. Take a larger section and alternate the size of your fan folds, then wrap it with a rubber band a few inches from the center of the section.
  4. Fold your fabric in half and draw a half circle that meets the center fold at the top and bottom. Start at the top of the circle and trace it with your fingers by grabbing small folds, gathering them into your hand and pinching and securing them along the line you drew.

Basic Spiral

To create a beautiful spiral design, try the following technique:

  1. With one hand, take a dinner fork and push it into the center of a large section of fabric. Twist it in a circle.
  2. As the fabric winds around the fork, guide it into small, even folds to resemble a coil.
  3. Wrap a large rubber band loosely over the entire coil, and add two more rubber bands in the same fashion at widely-spaced intervals. Your folded piece should resemble a coil with rubber-band spokes.

Turn the fabric as you dip it into your dyes. Instead of a fork, you can use your hands to begin the twist for a similar, less structured spiral tie dye design.

Stripes

Try this technique to make a cool striped pattern:

  1. Take a t-shirt or plain piece of fabric and fold it like a fan. Try to fold the top and bottom edges evenly.
  2. When the entire piece looks like a closed fan, wrap the top and bottom edges tightly with rubber bands.
  3. Find the middle of the piece and wrap that with a rubber band. Then evenly space additional rubber band wraps toward the ends until you finish. Remove the top and bottom rubber bands so they will be colored and the piece will look more finished.

Try alternating or varying the width of the rubber bands to vary the thickness of your stripes.

Rainbow

This is a simple tie dye folding technique that creates a rainbow at the bottom of your shirt or piece of fabric:

  1. Fold your fabric or shirt in half lengthwise and draw half of the rainbow's arch from the center top, down to the bottom outside of the rainbow.
  2. Follow step #4 above as you did in creating your random designs, then fold and evenly divide the half-circle section with five more rubber bands. Leave the bottom center unsecured.
  3. Use a pointy-tipped squirt bottle with dye to paint each of your sections with rainbow colors.

Hearts

While tie-dye hearts are a little more challenging than many other techniques, they are very do-able.

  1. Fold your shirt in half vertically.
  2. Along the fold, draw half a heart (as if you were going to cut out a Valentine) in pencil (don't worry, it will wash out).
  3. Following your pencil line, carefully pleat (accordion fold) from one end of your heart line to the other.
  4. Once your pleat is complete, secure it with a rubber band or rubber bands.

No Need for Perfection

If you use narrow applicator tips on plastic bottles (clean hair dye or mustard bottles work well), you can create very precise designs. Likewise, tight, even folds and rubber band wraps will ensure well-defined areas in your designs. Remember that tie dye is a fun craft where perfection can ruin a design, so experiment a bit before you commit a valuable piece of clothing to the dye bath. You will have a wardrobe full of fun in no time at all!

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Tie Dye Folding Techniques