So many of us have fond memories of tie-dye parties at school, summer camp, or birthday parties! In addition to frequent dyeing myself, I’ve run several group tie-dye projects in the past (most recently at summer camp) and they’re always a hit.
Here’s a list of everything you need to tie-dye with a group, with more details below on what to look for.
Necessary items in your tie-dye kit:
- Dye additives
- Large bucket
- T-shirts or dyeable items of choice
- Rubber gloves
- Squeeze bottles
- Plastic cups
- Mixing implement
- Measuring teaspoon set
- Dust mask
- Large table or flat work surface
- Plastic tablecloth or large trash bags
- Rubber bands or strong string
- Dye-catching container
- Cleanup supplies: Sponges, towels, or old newspaper
- Large Ziploc bags
- Cookie drying rack or similar
- Post-dye fixative
- Textile detergent
- Large, airtight-sealing jars
- Description: You have a few options for dyes when tie-dyeing with a group. The best option for vibrance and longevity are fiber-reactive dyes (this is assuming that you’re dyeing a cotton t-shirt or item of clothing). You can also use box dyes like iDye, Rit, or Dylon. The best way to ensure a good result with a beginner group is to provide only primary colors: One red, one yellow, and one blue. This way, any colors can mix together to create a full rainbow, and reduce the risk of muddy browns. If, however, you’re looking for something more advanced, or your group has a specific theme color, you may wish to add that as well. If you’re not dyeing cotton, check out my guide on the best dyes for different fabrics.
- Amount needed: You’ll be mixing concentrated dyes, so you’ll need more than what’s on the packet. A teaspoon of most fiber-reactive dyes per squeeze bottle, two tablespoons of rit dye per squeeze bottle, or a tablespoon of iDye or Dylon powder is a good place to start, although you should read the instructions for the dye you choose and measure accordingly.
- Where to buy: Dharma Trading’s fiber reactive dye, or Rit, Dylon, or iDye from a source like Amazon or Joann Fabrics
- Approx. price: Dharma Trading’s small jars of fiber reactive dye are around $2 each (this will be plenty for small to medium sized groups) – remember, in most cases you’ll need 3 colors, if not more. $3-$5 for iDye, or $7 for Rit.
Related: The Best Fabric Dyes for 23 Fabrics
- Description: Depending on the dye you choose, you’ll need some additives – like soda ash and salt for fiber reactive dyes, or vinegar and/or salt for various box dyes. These will be added to your bucket (below) with some water to pre-soak your tied-up items before you apply the dye.
- Amount needed: This will depend on the number of people you’re dyeing with. In general, a one-pound bag (450g) of soda ash and two pounds (900g) of salt will be plenty for a school group or summer camp using fiber reactive dyes.
- Where to buy: Dharma Trading Company is my preferred source for dye supplies like this.
- Approx. price: $1.69 for a pound of soda ash, and a few dollars for the salt.
- Description: get a 2 to 5 gallon (9 to 23 liters) bucket to mix the dye fixative in. You’ll also use the bucket to pre-soak items in the dye additives (see above). The larger the bucket or container, the more you’ll be able to soak at once, so you can choose your volume and quantity requirements based on your group.
- Amount needed: As a general rule, I’d go with one 5 gallon bucket (23 liters) for every 10 people, assuming they’re dyeing 1 t-shirt and one small item (like a bandanna or a pair of socks) each.
- Where to buy: I find home improvement stores to be a great source for buckets, but a plastic bin will also work. Something like this, from amazon, is great too.
- Approx. price: Under $20.
T-shirts or dyeable items
- Description: T-shirts are a beginner-friendly object to dye, but here are some other ideas if you want to try something different. Tie-dye is best done on natural cellulose fibers like cotton, linen, hemp, or bamboo. You can tie-dye wool and silk, but these dyes often require heat to set them, which adds an additional layer of complexity to standard tie-dye projects. If you’re dyeing a blended item (such as a cotton/polyester t-shirt) you may need to use dyes that are formulated for blended fibers or synthetics. Be sure to read the dye packet first to ensure that heat isn’t a required step in the process.
- Amount needed: Atleast one item per person. You can do more, but things do get tricky if partygoers try dyeing too many things.
- Where to buy: Walmart, Amazon, or any shop that sells plain white t-shirts.
- Approx. price: it varies depending on the items you choose. You can also ask your guests to bring their own items to be dyed.
- Description: Dye will stain your hands, so it’s important to keep them covered with gloves.
- Amount needed: One pair for every party attendee – plus spares in case they can’t be taken off cleanly and reused. I prefer to get the nitrile disposable ones when working with a group, as it’s easier than confirming that nobody has a latex allergy.
- Where to buy: Amazon is a great source.
- Approx. price: $14.
- Description: These tube-shaped bottles with nozzle tops are perfect for applying dye. You’ll use your funnel to get the dye from the mixing cups into the bottles, and then your guests can apply dye easily without getting it everywhere! As a bonus, some types come with handy caps to keep them from spilling when not in use. If you can, get the translucent plastic kind so that it’s easier to tell what color is inside. In a pinch, Walmart sells yellow and red bottles in the condiments section designed for ketchup and mustard – if you get opaque ones like these, they’re easy enough to label. Remember not to reuse the bottles to store food after they’ve touched dye.
- Amount needed: One per color of dye, per set. If you’re working with a group under 6 or so, one set of bottles would be fine, but for larger groups you may need multiples of each color to speed things along.
- Where to buy: Walmart, the grocery store, or these from Amazon are a perfect option.
- Approx. price: $13.
- Description: You’ll use the funnel to pour the mixed dye solution into your squeeze bottles, so it should fit into the mouth of the squeeze bottles. It should not be a funnel you intend to use for food ever again, as it will touch dye.
- Amount needed: one is plenty in most cases. You’ll need to wash it out before mixing different colors of dye so if this is an issue, get one for each color.
- Where to buy: Cheap and cheerful is the name of the game here! The funnel doesn’t need to be special – a dollar store, grocery store, or Walmart will have what you need.
- Approx. price: under $5.
- Description: These will be the vessels you mix dye in. Clear cups make it easier to see whether all the dye has been mixed, but they’re definitely not required. They need to hold at least one cup of water.
- Amount needed: One cup for each color of dye.
- Where to buy: Walmart, your local grocery store, or anywhere that sells party supplies will work.
- Approx. price: under $15 (you may have to buy a large pack, but you can use the unused leftover cups for party drinks too).
- Description: Something to mix the dye with – this could be some old chopsticks, a plastic knife or spoon, or even sacrificial silverware from your kitchen or a pen that doesn’t work anymore. Just don’t plan to use the item to eat with once you’ve used it for dye.
- Amount needed: One mixing tool if it’s washable, or one for each color of dye if it’s something like a chopstick that would absorb color.
- Where to buy: Consult your junk drawer for this item!
Measuring teaspoon set
- Description: This set of spoons will help you measure the dye for consistent results. Since they’ll be used for dye, you can’t just grab the ones from your kitchen, but they don’t need to be special.
- Amount needed: one set is plenty.
- Where to buy: Your local grocery store, walmart, or dollar store with a kitchen section. This set from Amazon would work as well. Stainless steel is easier to clean, but plastic is also fine.
- Approx. price: under $10.
- Description: Dye particles in powdered dyes are very dangerous if they enter your lungs. The dye will be harmless once it’s mixed (still not for drinking though – watch younger kids with this!) but you need to take special precautions when it’s in its powdered form. In large volumes, a respirator is a smart idea but for one-off parties, just use a dust mask in a well ventilated area.
- Amount needed: Only the person mixing the dye needs a mask, and you only need to wear it until the dye is safely mixed in water. This is usually only one person, but you may need a second mask for your assistant if you’re working with a large group.
- Where to buy: In the last couple of years, it’s been remarkably easy to find masks! Anything that covers your face and mouth will do.
- Approx. price: a few dollars.
Large table or flat work surface
- Description: You need a surface to dye on! This might be a picnic table (dyeing is a great outdoor activity) or a large folding table like you might set up at a market. Don’t worry about getting dye on it – you can protect it from dye using plastic (discussed below).
- Amount needed: It takes about the same amount of space to tie dye as it does to eat dinner – imagine how many place settings your table has and plan from there.
- Where to buy: If you don’t have a suitable table – don’t go out and buy one – you can just as easily do tie-dye on the ground in your backyard. You’ll just need plastic sheets to cover the ground (see below).
Plastic tablecloth or large trash bags
- Description: The purpose of this item is to protect your surface from dye. You can also buy large, heavy duty trash bags and cut them open to use as a plastic table covering, or use any other type of waterproof plastic tarp. If you’re working on the ground (outside at a summer camp, for example) you can use these plastic sheets as ground covering as well.
- Amount needed: one per table, or one per work area if you’re working on the ground.
- Where to buy: You can get plastic tablecloths at walmart, a dollar store, or a party store. These ones on Amazon would also work well.
- Approx. price: $11.99 ($4 each) for tablecloths.
- Description: Any type of tape will do here, so long as it adheres to your plastic table covering. We just need to adhere the plastic to the table for complete coverage to keep it from flying away (especially if dyeing outside) and tuck the edges in so they don’t get caught.
- Amount needed: Just a few pieces per table. Consult your junk drawer for this item.
Rubber bands or strong string
- Description: You’ll need something to tie up that tie dye! Some folks prefer rubber bands, while others prefer twine or thick yarn. It pays to have a few options on hand for a group so individuals can decide what works best for them. Also, be sure to get a pack of rubber bands with a variety of sizes so you have a range of options for different tying patterns.
- Amount needed: for a traditional spiral, you’ll need about four rubber bands, or four lengths of tied string (one to go around the outside to hold the spiral, three to separate the slices). Keep in mind you’ll need an allowance for breakage, and the chance of retrieving rubber bands intact after a dye day is pretty low.
- Where to buy: Your local office supply store should stock variety packs of rubber bands, but this variety pack from Amazon and this twine will last for quite a few dye days!
- Approx. price: $6.99 for rubber bands and $6.49 for a spool of twine.
- Description: A shallow, plastic container works well for this – the type of container you’d use for storage under the bed. You’ll hold your item to be dyed over this container while applying dye, and excess dye can drip into the container – safely away from your table, floor, and shoes!
- Amount needed: One for every four people actively dyeing will work. You could provide each person with their own station using a large bowl, if you like.
- Description: Tie dyeing is a messy job, especially if your party consists of kids or people who are less experienced with these sorts of crafts. It’s best to determine the cleanup supplies required for your own group, but a few of my favorites include newspaper or old towels (to soak up excess dye), paper towels, sponges, and a bleach-based spray cleaner for stubborn stains.
- Where to buy: Supplies can be found around your house, or at your local walmart, target, or grocery store.
- Large Ziploc bags: Leaving dye to set in your tie dyed items overnight can help increase vibrance and make colors last longer. Depending on your gathering, this may not be possible, so you can send dyed items home with attendees in a ziploc bag with instructions to wash them the following day.
- Cookie drying rack or similar: A grate like a drying rack, sheet of chicken wire, or old window screen can be used to elevate tie-dye items off the tabletop surface to allow excess dye to drip without pooling on the bottom of the item. Not necessary, but it’s easier to keep your colors from going muddy this way.
- Post-dye fixative: If you’re using box dyes like Rit, a rinse in dye fixative can help colors stay brighter for longer. You’ll need to follow the instructions on the fixative that is specific to the dye you’ve chosen. Fixatives aren’t necessary if you’re using fiber-reactive dyes.
- Textile detergent: Your regular household laundry detergent is just fine for washing tie-dyed items, but if you decide to get into tie dye seriously, you may choose to invest in a detergent like Synthrapol. It is uniquely formulated for washing excess dye out of fabrics, while keeping dyed areas vibrant and white areas white.
- Large, airtight-sealing jars: If you’re planning to mix dyes to use over a number of days, you can preserve the dyes in an airtight jar in a cool place. Dyes tend to lose vibrance over time if left in this mixed state for more than a couple of weeks, though, so if your dye days are spread far between it’s best to mix up a fresh batch.
What to read next…
- The Best Fabric Dyes for 23 Fabrics
- 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…