Summer Activity: Tie-dye!

I’m always looking for ways to upcycle old clothes, and tie-dye is the perfect way to bring a new, colourful lease of life to an unworn T-shirt. It’s a fun activity to do with kids too, so it’s a great way to spend an afternoon during the long summer at home we have stretching out ahead of us. Here is a simple tutorial to tie-dye your own clothes.

child wearing handmade tie-dye tee and reading a book with a floppy sunhat on.


You don’t need much to make the tie-dye T-shirts themselves:

  • T-shirts (ideally 100 per cent cotton, plain, and white or light-coloured)
  • Fabric dyes and paintbrushes or a tie-dye kit (kits typically come with dye in squeezy bottles with narrow nozzles, so you apply them straight from the bottle)
  • Rubber bands (to tie around your T-shirts – this is what creates the tie-dye patterns)
  • Water (to mix with the fabric dye)
  • Plastic bags (for the dyed T-shirts to set in)

You’ll need a few extra things to help protect your skin/clothes/work surfaces:

  • Aprons or old clothes (wear something you don’t mind getting messy)
  • Newspaper or plastic sheets (to protect your table)
  • Rubber gloves (so your hands don’t get covered in dye)



  1. Start off by washing the T-shirt with laundry detergent and fabric perfume conditioner to remove any stains (on old T-shirts) or any chemicals (on new T-shirts). 
  2. The fabric dye instructions will explain how to make up the dye – you’ll probably find you need to mix it with water. 
  3. Some dyes require the fabric to be dry, while some need the fabric to be wet, so double-check the instructions and prep your T-shirt accordingly.
  4. Use rubber bands to hold your T-shirts in interesting shapes – twist them, fold them, scrunch them, spiral them – whatever you fancy in. Make sure the bands are very tightly wrapped around the T-shirts. 
  5. Put on your rubber gloves. Then, using either your paintbrushes or squeezy bottles, apply fabric dye onto the T-shirts, working it right into the nooks, crannies and creases. Place different colours in different areas, or stick with one colour.
  6. Place each T-shirt in its own plastic bag while the dye sets.
  7. After 24 hours, pop your rubber gloves back on and rinse your T-shirts with cold water in the sink or under the shower – try to remove as much fabric dye as possible. Keep going until the water runs clear.
  8. Then carefully remove the rubber bands by cutting them off. 
  9. Open up your T-shirts and rinse again in cold water, until it runs clear.
  10. To set the dye in place, you’ll then need to wash your T-shirt in the washing machine at a particular temperature (the instructions will direct you). More fabric dye will come out, so make sure you wash the T-shirt on its own!


Tie-dye T-shirt maintenance:

It’s important to wash home-dyed clothes on their own for the first few washes, in case any more dye leaks out. To help your tie-dye creation stay bright and colourful for as long as possible, wash it on a low temperature moving forwards. Use gentle laundry detergents and fabric perfume conditioners that are designed for coloured clothes, not whites. 


Now you know how to upcycle an old T-shirt and bring a burst of colour to your wardrobe. Have fun with your tie-dye projects this summer. And if you want to dye yarn with Kool-Aid, I have a separate post all about that!


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