The New Modern Tie Dye

Oh, how I love blue!?! ‘Not quite sure why, but I don’t really think this should be considered as ‘tie dye’. Visions of a full rainbow colours is not my idea of a sophisticated design dyeing. Think of this as the ‘cousin’ of Shibori; The New Modern Tie Dye Instructions

The Marvellous Colour:

When I first embarked on tie-dye projects I sadly used some department store dye before I discovered the awesome ‘Fibre Reactive Dyes‘! It has been my ‘go to’ dye when I want ‘easy’ use and super permanent results. Be careful when buying tie dye kits as well.

My duvet cover and pillows are still my favourite and have held colour perfectly for years. I look at the colours available from Procion and Dharma and still end up with my favourite dark rich blue; navy.

Blue becomes a tint (lighter) without looking wimpy as red would. It always looks fresh and clean, probably since it is such a cool colour. No one has ever really found a better colour for blue jeans in all those years so I am going with that!

The small jars do yield a lot (3/4 ounce) of dye powder but 1 pound will make me happy for quiet a long while!

Be aware that this dye can only be used on natural cellulose fibres like cotton, rayon, hemp, bamboo, linen, tencel. (wool or silk (protein) can be used under acidic conditions) It will not dye polyester fabric, however it will dye a lighter colour if it is a blend of cotton and polyester.

My Unique ‘Hot’ Application:

This one-step method is different than the usual method of making diluted dye mixtures, it involves applying a hot diluted solution of soda ash that has been heated to activate the dry dye.

To apply the solution a tool like a plastic syringe or bulb syringe can be used to siphon the hot liquid and apply it to the fabric and dye.

The Amazing Sinew:

At firs I used elastic or rubber bands but have since given up on that. They break too easily and can not be tight enough to get some strong definition in prints. Get yourself some Sinew, as it is the absolute best way to get really tight ties. It is waxed and artificial but can also be reused.

Some sort of ‘bar’ or handle is best to aid in pulling as tight as possible. If you pulling the sinew with your fingers they will be hurt easily. The pulling handle gives the leverage needed.

The Hot Modern Tie Dye Setup:

  • Since this method uses a supply of heated solution a small Crock Pot will be convenient.
  • At mesh or wire rack over a tray will catch any extra drips.
  • Soda Ash (Washing Soda) aka Sodium Carbonate from the laundry aisle.
  • Fibre Reactive Dye or dye kits
  • Your Fabric (natural cellulose) and tieing Sinew
  • Temperature Gun
  • SAFETY- *Gloves* *Dust Mask*
  • Protected table/work surface

The ‘Secret’ to the Tieing:

The most important thing; tie tight! I have been tieing many many things (bedding, fabric, t-shirts, scarves) and hate it when I can not get it tight enough or when my fingers start to get cuts! My fingers get so tired of knots as well. Let me tell you that ‘Sinew‘ is the answer! Nowadays you will only find the artificial one but it works great! As a way of applying leverage use a small strong rigid piece of pipe or dowel to be able to grip and pull like ‘mad’.

Pull the section of fabric (circle or random sections) and wrap the sinew around 3-5 times. At that point you can now pull it very hard using the ‘pipe’ (wrapped around the pipe few times or rolled on it) as your leverage ‘gripper’. The wax on the Sinew will stick to itself and not uncoil. Depending on the brand give it a few more wraps and pull super tight. Once it stays put it is good to go. I usually err on the side of caution and give extra wraps. It is these tight wraps that will give the best resists of colour for white lines.

To continue on to the next wrap I leave a long extra ‘tail’ and do not cut it. Start another wrapping, spiral and repeat. When done it will have extra lengths between ‘ties’ to allow manipulating of the fabric.

I take inspiration from nature’s geodes so I like the random look, I twist more sections to tie; each creates a geode ‘ring’.

The Hot  Dye Solution Application:

The soda ash to water ratio is 1/2 cup to 1 gallon water. Heat it on high until it hits the temperature between 160 degrees F and 180 degrees F and then turn to medium. The temperature gun is great for keeping an eye on it.

Fibre reactive dyes use Soda Ash as an aid in adhering the dye to the fibres. In this case it is also mixed with the powdered dye. Mix 2 parts soda ash to one part dye together. If you are concerned that they will react, mix them just before use.

Small glass vials allow better control of application and less dust. **Do wear a dust mask when working with open dye powders.

Wetting Out the Dye:

Here we go… colour! The garment/fabric does not need to be wet. If it is wet the patterns will be slightly softer edged than if it is a dry fabric.

Using the siphon action of the syringes pull the solution from the crock pot and apply immediately over the dry dye areas.

There really is no wrong or right here. The patterns will be quite forgiving so don’t be too concerned. It will dilute; lighter colour with more solution and stronger colour with less solution. I like dark definition of the ties so add the dye next to the ties and then wet out. (see the small stream from the syringe above)

Keep adding dye and wetting out. Keep in mind that there is much fabric that is not visible since it’s tied very tight. My first tie dyes were quite light since I was fooled at how much the dye had really penetrated the fabric.

To get an idea use a gloved finger to separate folds to see how deep the colour has wicked. Squeeze the dye through the layers as well.

Once you are happy with one side, carefully flip the piece and fill in any extra white as desired. Any excess will collect in the tray below. Wipe up spills with rags/paper towels immediately.

Since the solution is hot you may skip the waiting of the batching (letting it sit for 24 hours or less if heated) Depending on the size I will sometimes give myself extra reassurance by popping it in a plastic bag and microwaving for a couple minutes. Once cooled it is good to go…


If you want to keep a major section un-dyed make sure to wrap it carefully before starting in a bag or plastic wrap. It is too easy to get a drip of dye!

Get ready for the Magic:

Place the tied piece under running cool water until it runs clear and excess dye is washed out. Once clear you can find the end tail of the sinew and begin the untieing (wrap back around your pipe if you want to reuse it). Wear rubber gloves!

This is the magical part! It has somewhat of a mind of it’s own so there can be some amazing surprises! See the defined lines of these ‘Blue Geodes’! You can only get such white lines if you tie ‘crazy-tight’ with sinew! After rinsing wash in a hot soapy water to make sure any residual/excess dye gets washed away. It’s hard to stop looking at the great patterns… and looking through your closet for anything close to white…

This is a thin rayon scarf. Thinner fabric wicks better since takes less dye and penetrates better. The designs are more detailed as well.

I’m in love… and my wardrobe may become totally blue. That’s ok, it will all match and will be great with my jeans and Upcycled Jeans Jacket. Nope I’m not a hippy, and this doesn’t really look like tie dye… What do you think?

Sometimes it’s better to keep it simple. There’s many of my ways to dye

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    1. That would depend on a few things. Is it thick? does it have a coating? can it ‘squish’ enough to tie? will it get flat again? Can it take some heat? You do have me intrigued… I do love a shibori leather and was hoping to eco print it as well. Best way to tell is to do a tiny test. I would not get it too hot, as I have done that by accident it and it completely puckered and shrank! I know hide is a protein fibre so it may need different prep. Fibre reactive dye can be used on silk and wool but with an acid like vinegar. Hmmm… need to find me some leather (maybe an old jacket)

  1. Hi

    I love what you are doing. I am looking to do two different tie dyes for the women’s World Cup. I would love one to be light multi color so to see the graphic. The other I want to do American red white and blue but in a cool faded not so patriotic way. Could you help me? If so please email me at


    1. Sounds like fun! Maybe you should try on a piece of cotton sheeting until you get the colours you want. Light red is pink and light blue will make it more baby-like. You may also consider ice dyeing. Depending on the fabric thickness the amount of dye and spreading will vary. You can always go darker in a second though… Good luck!

  2. If you put any dyes in a microwave, you cannot use it for food purposes again! Also, use a respirator when applying dye, not just a dust mask.

  3. This is amazing! I was going to ice dye cotton drop cloth and recover the dinette cushions in our ’91 micro motorhome using Dharma moss green and plum. It’s a 10 ounce canvas. I just happen to have some sinew left over from my dream catcher days! Is this fabric too heavy? Do you have any words of wisdom about color distribution or anything else?
    So, so cool! Thanks for sharing your brilliance!

    1. Well, tieing that will be very tough! The thinner fabrics get better lines of resist. It might be better to cut pieces smaller (with enough excess) and then tie. It is somewhat unpredictable so may do a small test on one piece. I have also used the Dharma dye & drop cloth canvas to make a shibori chair

  4. Barb, I’m confused with the directions. You discuss mixing the dye with the soda ash before applying but then the photos show direct dye application. And the same image shows areas that appear to be liquid dye application. It is the 2nd paragraph in the The Hot Dye Solution Application: section. Can you help me out here? Thanks!

    Wait, I may have figured it out – please confirm or set me straight. Are you mixing the dye powder with the dry soda ash? And then wetting with the hot solution? That seams like a lot of soda ash but now I am intrigued!

    Thanks a million for your help – Ann

    PS. It just occurred to me to tell you that I really appreciate your mitten pattern. My Uncle has Parkinson’s and it has really affected his hands. (and the rest of his body – AWFUL, awful disease) Some days his hands kind of work, some days they are a bit of a gnarled mess. We live on The Tundra where it gets damn cold and as we purchased a wheelchair van so we could get him out to go ‘check the crops’ when he wants, we knew we needed something pretty warm. I took your pattern, enlarged it by 25% (?) and then just worked to customize it from there. (first run was AWFUL!) But we got there. He now has a pair of boiled wool, slick cotton lined mittens with a ‘sash’ to tighten them at the wrist once his hands are in them. I had originally envisioned a wind proof outer mitten but the boiled wool seems to do the job. Many, MANY Thanks for sharing your pattern!

    1. Yes, You guessed right. The soda ash is mixed with the dye and then the hot solution liquifies it and makes it permanent. The Fibre reactive dye is very strong and it doesn’t take much to make the colour. Best thing is to do a small test run on a remnant first to see how much/strong the colour is. ‘Glad the mitten pattern worked out! I’m happy it helped him!