How to Make Tie-Dye Shirts


Or, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch; Mr. Gould’s motto.
Recently, Mr. Gould and his Chemistry class (both AP and non-AP) created tie-dye shirts for a chance to earn extra credit in his class. When asked for the reason behind doing this activity, Mr. Gould says, “to link art and science, and to drive home the central teaching of my science classes, which revolve on the conservation of energy principles and tanstaafl!”

Students could get up to six extra credit points by wearing their shirts in school. Every teacher has to sign the sheet stating whether or not the student wore their shirt in class. Mr. Gould sold white shirts that say “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch” and on the back, there is an optional picture of him and his student teacher, Mr. Holthaus. These shirts were really fun to make because the allowed students to show their creativity with the colors and design they choose. If you are not taking Chemistry, and are interested in making a tie dye shirt for fun, here is how you do it:

• WHITE SHIRT (it must be white!)
• Dye
• Rubber Bands/String
• Gloves
• Plastic Bag
• Old Newspaper
• Bucket (to soak the shirt)
• Sodium carbonate activator solution

STEP 1: SOAK: Fill the plastic bucket with at least 2 L of sodium carbonate activator solution. Soak the t-shirts in the sodium carbonate activator solution for a minimum of 20 minutes. The ionization of cellulose increases the alkalinity of the solution. Above pH eight there is an adequate number of ionized hydroxyl groups in the fiber for it to hold the dye properly. Soaking the t-shirts for two hours will maximize the number of possible bonding sites. After the t-shirt has soaked, wear gloves and wring the t-shirt out over the plastic bucket. Add extra sodium carbonate solution to the bucket as needed.
STEP 2: Dye: Put your dye in a squeeze bottle for easier use. You have many colors to choose from! Be fun and creative with them.
STEP 3: Create your pattern: Shirts are now ready to fold and tie. A spiral pattern is created by laying the shirt flat on a surface protected by a clean dropcloth. The shirt is held with the thumb and fingers at the point where the center of the spiral will be located (see Figure 1). Use a twisting motion to coil the shirt and use your other hand to bring the loose ends of the shirt into the circle (see Figure 1). Take four rubber bands and slide them around the shirt so they intersect at the center where the twist began (see Figure 2). Make sure the rubber bands are very tight to prevent dyeing in these areas. The shirt now appears to look like a “pie” cut into eight pieces. The bound shirt can be turned over and dyed on both sides.

Photo courtesy: Mariam De Guzman
(Photo courtesy of Mariam De Guzman)

Figure 1.                                                           Figure 2.
STEP 4: Tie your shirt with a rubber band or string to prevent creating a mess. If you mix colors together without any type of divider, especially the colors that complement each other, you might create a brown shirt.
STEP 5: Put the dye on your shirt: Be creative with colors! Make sure that you put the dye in the shirts really well, Or else it will end up looking like a white shirt that has highlighter marks all over it. Like this:

Photo Courtesy: Mariam De Guzman
Photo Courtesy of Mariam De Guzman

STEP 6: Once you’re done, wrap your shirt with old newspaper to keep the dye from leaking and tie it again with rubber bands and a string. Then, put it in a plastic bag to secure it even more.
STEP 7: Let it rest: Do not open the bag until after 24 hours so that the dye will fully soak in
STEP 8: Wash it: Unless you like being stinky or smelling like chemicals, I suggest you wash your shirt. First, Rinse your shirt with the rubber bands/string still tied to it. After doing this, Take the rubber bands of and wash your shirt again. If you are using the washing machine, wash the shirt by itself for the first time to prevent getting dye on your other clothes. Dry it, and boom! Your tie dye shirt is good to go!

Photo Courtesy: Mariam De Guzman
Photo Courtesy of Mariam De Guzman

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