How To Tie-Dye At Home
No longer just for followers of the Grateful Dead, tie-dye is now perfectly appropriate for serious adult men to wear on the regular, appearing in SS20 collections by everyone from AMBUSH® to The Elder Statesman. And if you’ve already sipped this hippy-dippy Kool-Aid, the obvious next step is a craft day at home. That’s right: we heartily recommend tying and, indeed, dying garments in your own abode or, more realistically, in the back garden.
The essence of tie-dying is quite basic. Garments are washed, soaked in a chemical agent, usually soda ash, to help the dye bind to the fibres, folded and twisted to create different shapes – spirals, stripes, bursts – tied tightly with string or rubber bands to create the bits of white that are protected from the dye and finally dipped in the aforementioned dye. After waiting a suitable amount of time, ties are untied and voilà! Your masterpiece is revealed. There are few things more satisfying than something your own hands have wrought. And there is nothing like boasting “I made this” to friends and colleagues while wearing a bonkers shirt.
As with everything, there’s good tie-dye and there’s, well, amateur tie-dye. If you’re giving this a go at home, don’t expect perfect results first time. To help guide you on this psychedelic DIY quest, we turned to one half of the duo behind Story Mfg., Mr Saeed Al-Rubeyi, who has been tie-dying since his days at university (“We absolutely ruined our bath”) and whose brand now produces some of the most thoughtfully dyed prints in the business. Read on for a beginner’s guide to getting funky from an expert in swervy swagger.
Choose your garment
Tempting as it may be to select a brand spanking new T-shirt for this experiment, Mr Al-Rubeyi recommends using a garment that’s been through the wash a few times already. “When clothing is made in factories, they put starch on the cotton, so it goes through the machines more easily,” he says. “That starch sits on the top of the yarns and stops the dye getting in properly.” If you simply must use a new garment, Mr Al-Rubeyi recommends boiling it first (Story Mfg. does this for two days, but a few hours will probably do the trick at home). NB: your chosen garment should also be made out of natural fibres (cotton, linen, etc) because they will take the dye best.
Select your colour palette carefully
Most tie-dying kits come with dyes in varying shades of neon and produce final products that are brighter than the sun. More subdued shades bring tie-dye into the 21st century and create garments that are potentially appropriate for work. “We use earth tones,” says Mr Al-Rubeyi. “They’re much more wearable.” Look for natural fabric dyes such as indigo before your start your project.
Pick your pattern
Tie-dying is all about resistance. The streaks, lines and splotches of white that remain once dye has been added are down to the resistance that is applied to the garment. To achieve the classic spiral, for example, pinch the centre of the shirt, spin the rest of the fabric around it and tie with strings or rubber bands. The fabric deep inside the folds and beneath the string won’t get dyed along with the rest. Story Mfg. uses clamps and blocks of wood to create its signature patterns. Experimentation is the name of the game here.
Mr Al-Rubeyi’s most salient advice is to take your time. “Enjoy the preparation and try to enjoy the wait afterwards,” he says. “It will be worth it.” As proof, the craftspeople at Story Mfg. spend several painstaking hours folding and clamping fabric to create their Sabai flower print. That’s on top of the days spent boiling the fabric beforehand and the days spent allowing the dye to rest and develop afterwards before unclamping. Beginners should wait at least 24 hours before removing the resistance from their garments.
Check the packaging before disposing of your dye because some substances shouldn’t go into household drains. If you’re going to wear something a tree-hugger would wear, go the distance and dispose of your tools responsibly.
Hot tip: wear gloves. If you don’t want your hands to look like they’re about to shuffle loose their mortal coils, don protective gear.
Illustration by Mr Simon Landrein