Tie dye prints are popping up everywhere, and they’re much cuter than they used to be, no? The simple and sometimes random patterns and limited color palates (usually only 2) feel much more sophisticated that the rainbow swirls of yore.
Since I’ve recently gone pattern-mad, I decided I wanted some tie dye pieces of my own. But since I also hate to buy when I can make myself, I hunted through my closet for some pieces to diy myself. The results? A scarf, a skirt, and some leggings. Only one problem: The scarf is navy, the skirt is maroon, and the leggings are dark grey. Dark colors don’t tie dye so well, and the idea of bleaching everything and then dyeing them didn’t appeal to me so much. The solution? Just use the bleach.
Discharge dyeing, also know as reverse tie dyeing, is when you use a dye remover to remove color from fabric (instead of adding dye to fabric). The technique works with all colors, but is definitely the most dramatic the darker a colored fabric you start with. Here’s how it’s done:
- A well-ventilated area
- Fabric (preferably all cotton, especially if you plan on using bleach since bleach doesn’t work on synthetics or other natural fibers like silk)
- Bleach or color remover (if you don’t want to use bleach, Rit Color Remover works)
- Spray/squeeze bottle, paintbrush, toothbrush – anything you want to use to apply the solution to your fabric
- Rubber bands (depending on the pattern you want, lots of them)
- A big, un-bleach-able workspace (I use the bathtub, but spreading a tarp down outside works,)
- A bucket filled with water with detergent and a bleach reducing agent (Oxyclean, etc.)
- Rubber gloves
Step 1: Thoroughly wet your fabric. I ran my navy scarf (the test fabric for this diy) under the tap to get all the material wet, and then rang it out so it was damp all the way through, but not dripping.
Step 2: Lay your material out flat on your workspace.
Step 3: Manipulate the fabric into the pattern you want. There are lots of tutorials on the internet about how to fold fabric for tie dying projects, and any of those would work just fine. Because I didn’t want too deliberate a pattern for the scarf, I decided to try the scrunching method (seen below). For my skirt, I’m thinking I’ll try horizontal stripes and I might do the leggings free form.
For the scrunch pattern, all you do is use your fingers to gather the fabric towards its center, making lots of little pleats, hills and valleys as you go. It’s hard to see in the photo because the lighting in my bathroom is so bad, but the end result should look sort of like a brain.
Step4: Put lots of rubber bands around your squished up fabric to hold the folds and pleats in place. Instead of trying to pick the fabric up, just stretch the rubber bands between your hands and wiggle them under the material. This works really well in the bathtub.
If you want to do a more tradition tie dye technique, you’d use the rubber bands to block off wherever you don’t want the bleach to come in contact with the fabric (when I bleach my skirt, this is what I’ll do).
Step 5: Mix 1 part bleach to 4 parts water in your spray/squeeze bottle, and shake well (before you do this, be sure you’re not wearing anything you don’t want to accidentally get bleached. I couldn’t find my good rubbish clothes, so I did this step in my unmentionables. What, overshare? I also took down my shower curtain and moved my bath mat, towels, and other dye-ables out into the hallway). Spray/squeeze the diluted bleach onto your fabric.
Because of how the material’s been crinkled, the bleach solution will only hit the tops of the brain wrinkles, leaving the valleys un-dyed.
Note: If you’re doing a more traditional pattern where you’ve bandaged everything up with rubber bands, you can spray the solution onto your material or even submerse it in the bleach solution.
Step 6: Wait. You should begin to see color change right away, and the longer you leave the solution on the more dramatic the change will be. The change is also more dramatic the stronger the bleach solution is, but since bleach does eat away at cotton material, you don’t want it to be so strong that you end up with holes in your garment.
Ideally, I was hoping for a navy and white pattern as my final result, but one of the risks of discharge dyeing is that you’re never sure what colors you’re going to get. Especially in darker colors, the color of the material is a composite of many other colors (one of the reasons it’s so hard to match black to black), so bleaching can uncover some surprising undertones. I got pink. Hot pink. And I love it.
After about 20 minutes, turn your material over and spray the other side with the bleach solution. Leave for 20 more minutes. (Note: you can leave the bleach solution on longer, but you do run the risk of breaking down the cotton fibers. Also, I found that after 30 minutes or so, the colors weren’t changing anymore. This is probably related to the strength of the bleach solution).
Step 7: Keeping the rubber bands on, dunk the material in a bucket (or bathtub) of water, laundry detergent, and a bleach neutralizer (the bleach neutralizer isn’t necessary, but it helps). Swish the fabric around for a few minutes, then remove the rubber bands, swish some more, and hold under running water to rinse.
That should remove most of the bleach, but it’s a good idea to run the material through a wash cycle just to be sure. Then you should probably run the wash cycle again with some old towels you don’t care about, just to make sure all the bleach is gone before you throw your other clothes in.
After the first round of bleaching, I decided the pattern wasn’t dramatic enough, so I folded the fabric in a lose accordion style, circled it back on itself, and rubber banded it. It looks like a caterpillar!
I sprayed it with the bleach solution again, waited, and…TaDa!
I like it.