When you think of dying fabric, you probably imagine solid colors or rainbow tie-dyed t-shirts. While both of these are excellent dyeing methods, there are many other techniques for you to try! To help you explore, I’ve shared 12 methods that create different colors and designs, described how to do them, and rated how beginner-friendly they are. These recommendations are based on my years of experience dyeing fabric and clothes (including my wedding dress!) and teaching dyeing workshops in New Zealand.
The easiest dyeing techniques for beginners are tie dye, ice dyeing, and immersion dyeing. If you want to dye your fabric solid colors, do immersion dyeing. For an ombre look, use the ombre dip dye method. And to create patterns, try tie dye, ice dye, shibori, resist dyes, low volume immersion dye, marbling, silk painting, and vertical drip dye.
- Tie dye
- Ice dye
- Resist dye
- Ombre dip dye
- Immersion dye (solid colors)
- Low volume immersion dye (mottled colors)
- Silk painting
- Vertical drip dye / Vertical ice dye
- Solar dye
What is tie-dye?
Tie-dye patterns are made by scrunching, twisting, and tying fabric and then applying dye with a squeeze bottle and allowing the colors to blend. T-shirts are a popular tie-dye project, but you can try bedsheets, towels, or even socks.
Stages of tie-dyeing:
- Tie your item into the desired shape – a traditional spiral, a scrunch, or a bullseye are good places to start.
- Apply concentrated dye through a squeeze bottle (plastic mustard and ketchup bottles are perfect for this).
- Allow the dye to sit on the item as dictated by the dye packet, then rinse the excess dye out.
- You can remove the ties prior to rinsing, but I like to do this in the sink under running water because it decreases the chance that you’ll get dye on an area that was supposed to stay white.
Is tie-dye beginner-friendly?
Yes, tie-dye projects are beginner friendly. The process is quite simple. However, it’s best to do them with a group of people because they do require a lot of setup and some supplies. If your group gets too big, having an expert around is useful but not a requirement. I do recommend taking your tie-dye party outside into your yard to avoid wayward dye splashes if possible.
What is ice dyeing?
Ice dyeing is any process that uses ice as a resist to control color on fabric. Ice melts slowly so it allows some fun, organic color distribution to occur on fabric.
Stages of ice dyeing:
- Scrunch up your item to be dyed on a small platform (to allow for drainage).
- Cover it in ice.
- Cover the mound of ice and fabric in powdered dye.
- Allow this to sit outside on a sunny day for a couple of hours (or longer, if it’s winter and you use snow!). This is so the ice melts into water and allows the dye to be absorbed by the fabric below.
- After all the ice is melted, you can repeat the process with more ice or rinse out your dyed item to reveal the patterns.
Is ice dyeing beginner-friendly?
Yes, ice dyeing is a great option for beginners because the process is quite simple and it produces beautiful patterns. Choose a hot, sunny day and set your ice dye station up out of the way – it will need several hours of undisturbed time to melt. You can also leave it outside overnight, but I like to cover mine with a plastic sheet to keep anything that doesn’t belong in my dye vat from getting in.
What is shibori?
Shibori is a Japanese style of resist dyeing, with a couple of particular motifs that are traditional, though you can choose to use whatever elements you like. It’s traditionally also done with natural indigo dye, but again, this is up to you.
Stages of shibori:
- Tie the fabric into a couple of traditional methods – one striking example is pole shibori, where you wrap the fabric around a pole or pipe, then wrap a yarn around it in a spiral. Finally, push the fabric down to one end of the pole (like a compressed spring).
- Dip the entire object into your dye bath. The result is a striking tiger-stripe of lines that fades from the outer to the inner edge of the wrap. There are many traditional shibori tying techniques, all of which produce striking and unique results.
Is shibori beginner-friendly?
If you’re looking to accomplish a traditional shibori dye bath, you’re looking at the days-long effort of setting up and maintaining a natural indigo dye bath, which isn’t easy. You can, however, use shibori tying techniques with other types of dyes with great success, and this is a good option for beginners.
Related: The Best Fabric Dyes for 23 Fabrics
What is resist dye?
Resist dye is the blanket term used to describe any time a fabric or item is added to a dye bath, but certain areas of that fabric or item are blocked from absorbing the dye. Quite literally, some areas “resist” the dye. Technically, shibori and tie dye fall under this umbrella – they are both types of resist dyeing – but there are so many more! You can be creative in what you choose to create your resist.
Stages of resist dyeing:
- You can either dip (like shibori) or squeeze (like tie dye) to apply the dye, but the key thing to explore here is the type of resist.
- You could try mechanical resists – things like folding fabric and clamping it between washers or blocks of wood, tying it with string, or twisting it in knots.
- You could also try chemical resists – batiking, for example, is an Indonesian style of resist dyeing that uses wax to block certain areas of fabric from absorbing dye.
- Other styles involve the application of other substances, but the principle is the same. Explore your home for household items that could be used for a resist – just make sure you’re okay with them absorbing some dye!
Is resist dyeing beginner-friendly?
Yes, resist dyeing is a great introduction to the idea of using color as texture – especially if you’re familiar with immersion dyeing. It’s a fun, artistic way to let go of the way the finished item looks and allow yourself a bit of surprise!
Ombre dip dye
What is ombre dip dye?
Ombre dye effects fade multiple colors into each other. The result can look a bit like a sunset, with dye colors fading towards one side of a garment or piece of fabric. This can be done with one, two, or more dye colors for different effects.
Stages of ombre dip dye:
- The instructions for ombre dyeing are very similar to immersion dyeing (below) in that you’ll need a pot of water with room for your fabric to float freely. However, you won’t add the item to the dye bath entirely.
- Instead, suspend it above the dye pot so it dips into the pot. You can dip the hem and allow the item to absorb dye for a narrower ombre, or dip it in sections for a longer fade (eg. dip an entire skirt for 5 minutes, then remove ¼ of the skirt from the pot for 10 minutes, then remove another ¼ of the skirt, etc.).
- If you’d like to introduce an additional color, you can do this by folding the item in half and dipping the fold so that both ends stay out of the dye bath.
Is ombre dye beginner-friendly?
You can make an ombre dye bath as simple or as complex as you like. Simple projects, like a single color on the bottom edge of a t-shirt, would be easy enough for beginners. Introducing multiple colors would make the process harder.
Immersion dye (solid colors)
What is immersion dye?
Immersion dyeing creates solid colors. It involves totally immersing fabric or clothes in a pot full of water and dye.
Stages of immersion dyeing:
- Different dyes and fibers have different requirements, but in general, you’ll add your fabric to a pot or bucket of water,
- add the dye,
- and allow the fabric to swim freely in the dye for a designated period of time. Stir the fabric regularly for even dye absorption.
Is immersion dyeing beginner-friendly?
Yes, immersion dyeing is a straightforward process. Your biggest challenge will be stirring the item in the dye frequently and making sure to un-stick any creases and bunches to allow the dye to penetrate the fabric evenly. If you’re using a cold water dye bath, long kitchen gloves are a lot easier to use for this than spoons and tongs.
Low volume immersion dye (mottled colors)
What is low volume immersion dye?
Traditional immersion dyeing involves totally immersing fabric or clothes in a pot full of water and dye. The low volume method is similar but relies on using the bare minimum amount of water. The result is a mottled, multicolor dye bath that has soft color transitions, like dappled sunlight in a forest.
Stages of low volume immersion dyeing:
- Low volume immersion dyeing is best accomplished in a low-sided, large plastic bin, like those used for under-bed storage.
- Place your fabric in the bin, and add water until the item is mostly submerged but unable to swim freely.
- Add dye. You can mix it with water and pour it either in designated spots, or spread it over the surface.
- Allow the fabric to sit undisturbed, or gently agitate it (depending on the amount of blending you would like) according to the dye packet instructions.
- Then remove it from the water and wash out the excess dye.
Is it beginner-friendly?
Yes, low volume immersion dyeing is a great option for beginners because the process is quite simple. For your first project, stick to primary colors or those that mix well to avoid muddy results, and choose something where you’re open to a surprise rather than a particular result. A lot of the variation and pattern you get with this method is up to the dye!
What is overdyeing?
Overdyeing is the practice of layering multiple dye colors to produce more depth and variation in the finished object. It’s very common in yarn dyeing, and fairly common in some resist dyeing methods, but it can be used on any fabric to produce a stunning result.
Stages of overdyeing:
- You can select any of the dye methods here for overdye. Simply follow one round of instructions and then begin again with another round of dye for the next layer.
- In general, this technique works well with a resist component so that you get some of the base colors showing through, but this isn’t a requirement.
- You’ll also want to stick with primary colors or colors that mix well together so the dyed object isn’t muddy.
Is overdyeing beginner-friendly?
This technique is no more or less complex than a single dye bath method, so consider the beginner-friendliness of the method you’re interested in. That said, you can expect an overdye project to take longer since you’re doing twice (or three times) the work!
What is silk painting?
Due to the way silk dyes set in fabric, you can use dyes to paint directly onto fabric with a watercolor effect. This can be as abstract or realistic as you like, but finer details may require a dye thickener to keep them from running.
Stages of silk painting:
- To set up, stretch a piece of 100% silk fabric in a frame. There are traditional silk painting frames, but for an experiment, stretching it on a picture frame with some thick thread, or even using an embroidery hoop works well. You’ll need to make sure your silk, in its frame, is somehow suspended so the liquid dye can drip off rather than pooling under the fabric.
- Mix concentrated liquid silk dyes and apply them to your silk using a paintbrush.
- When you’re happy with the design, allow it to drip dye, then roll it in a few layers of newspaper, making sure the silk is completely flat and not touching itself.
- Roll this roll again (like a cinnamon roll) and place it in a steamer basket, allowing it to steam for 45 minutes.
- Finally, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool completely undisturbed.
- You’ll want to wash your silk piece at this stage, but it should not result in any excess dye bleeding.
Is silk painting beginner-friendly?
No, silk painting would not suit a complete beginner. I recommend having some experience dyeing silk before you tackle silk painting. If you’re familiar with silk dyeing using the stovetop method, silk painting isn’t much of a stretch from here.
- How to Dye Silk from Start to Finish (4 Ways)
- How to Dye Silk Fabric with Natural Dyes (Step-by-Step)
What is marbling?
Fabric marbling produces a unique swirled effect on fabric. This effect is created by suspending fabric dye (or paint) on a liquid called “Size” – a bit like floating oil on water – and laying the item to be marbled on top. It’s best reserved for small dye pieces and isn’t really achievable on large pieces without significant equipment expenses.
Stages of marbling:
- Most of the work is in the setup. You’ll need a deep pan large enough for your item to lay flat in (if it’s a small item, a cake tin works well), the Size, and either dye or fabric paint.
- Mix the Size to fill the tin, drip paint or dye over the top, and swirl it gently with a toothpick until it’s marbled to your liking.
- Carefully lay your item flat over the surface of the pan making sure to avoid trapping any bubbles.
- Lift it gently and take it directly to the sink to rinse.
Is marbling beginner-friendly?
If you’re new to fabric marbling, it’s best to have someone with some experience guide you along the process. But if you’re familiar with other types of dyeing, you may be able to get what you need by watching youtube videos. Either way, I recommend starting with a small, easy-to-handle item for your first marbling project.
Vertical drip dye / Vertical ice dye
What is vertical drip dyeing?
This variation of ice dyeing requires some rudimentary construction skills, but the result is cool and unique! In this method, the fabric is suspended from its top edge, and a length of gutter with holes poked in it allows dye to drip down the length of the fabric. The result is a stunning, vertical wave of dye that looks a bit like dripping paint.
Stages of vertical drip dyeing:
- You’ll need to construct a wooden frame that a length of gutter can be attached to, making sure that your frame is tall enough and wide enough for the fabric you intend to dye.
- Drill holes every 1” in the base of the gutter, loop zip ties through the holes, and use clothespins to attach the fabric to the zip ties.
- Fill the gutter with ice and sprinkle it with dye powder as you would for ice dyeing, and wait patiently as the ice melts, allowing the dye to drip down along the fabric.
- When you’re happy with the result, remove the fabric and wash the excess dye out.
Is vertical drip dyeing beginner-friendly?
While this isn’t a difficult technique, it does require a very specific DIY setup. A beginner dyer could tackle it if they were handy with a saw and drill! Otherwise, it’s best to try other dyeing techniques for your first project.
What is solar dyeing?
Solar dyeing uses a special, photosensitive dye solution that activates its color when exposed to sunlight. It most frequently comes in a deep indigo blue color but is also available in other colors like greens and reds.
Stages of solar dyeing:
- Soak your fabric in the photosensitive dye solution. It will look like nothing is happening as the color only appears after sun exposure.
- Lay the item out flat outside on a sunny day, covering any areas you wish to remain undyed (this can be lovely with leaves or flowers!).
- Allow it to sit in the sun for several hours.
- Wash out the excess dye.
Is solar dyeing beginner-friendly?
Yes, solar dyeing can be beginner friendly. Often the dye can be purchased in a kit with everything you need to get started, so just pay close attention to the instructions, and choose an item that can be laid completely flat (for example, a curtain or piece of fabric, rather than a t-shirt or dress) for your first project.
What to read next…
- The Best Fabric Dyes for 23 Fabrics
- The Best Fabrics for Dyeing – 11 Options Explained
- Will Fabric Dye Stain my Pot, Sink or Bathtub? & How to Fix
- How to Dye Silk from Start to Finish (4 Ways)
- How to Dye Silk Fabric with Natural Dyes (Step-by-Step)
- How to Dye Fabric & Clothes Black – 5 Methods
- How to Dye Jeans Black – Complete Guide for Beginners
- How to Naturally Dye Fabric & Clothes Black Without Dye
- Dyeing Fabric & Clothes with Turmeric – the Complete Guide
- 18 Realistic Things to Tie-Dye at Home (+ Tips from a Pro)
This article was written by Kat Waters and edited by Sara Maker.
Kat Waters (author)
Kat has been sewing since her feet could reach the pedals, starting with quilts she made with her mom and eventually graduating to garments. She now makes everything she wears, occasionally teaches classes, and shares her projects on social media. Highlights include her wedding dress, shoemaking, and a love for almost any fabric that comes in hot pink! Read more…
These sources were referenced in August 2022.