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Tie Dyeing - How to Do It

basic recipe for Procion MX dyes on cotton or silk

Ingredients: appropriate cloth or clothing; gloves; water; urea; Procion MX dyes; sodium carbonate (soda ash); Rubber bands, synthetic sinew, or dental floss for tying (optional). Plastic bottles with to hold the dye (4 to 8 ounces [125 to 250 ml] is a good size).


  1. Choose the right fabric, first. For class 100% white cotton is the fabric of choice.  Fabrics that are at least 80% cellulose fiber--cotton, rayon, linen, tencel, or hemp-- dye well. Cotton clothing is often sewn with non-cotton thread, which stays white, but this is not usually a problem. Avoid 100% polyester or nylon. Silk is the only protein (animal) fiber that can be dyed with this recipe.
  2. Next, wash your fabric in warm water. This can be done days in advance. Unwashed fabric may not dye well.
  3. Next, if you're planning to tie-dye, you can tie the dry garments in advance. It's easiest that way. (Tieing wet garments is a pain, and then you're committed to dyeing that day. But you do get better colors.)
  4. Mixing the dyes may be done up to one week in advance. (Longer storage requires refrigeration.)
    1. Dissolve urea in water....1 tablespoon (15 ml) per cup (250 ml). (Large volumes 650 grams / 8 liters) Urea is harmless, easy to measure, and it dissolves readily. Make enough at one time for every color you're going to prepare.
    2. Next, dissolve dye in urea solution. The best dye to use on cotton is a good fiber reactive dye such as Procion MX Fiber Reactive Dye (Do not use all-purpose dye such as RitŪ brand dye in this type of dyeing!) Use  4-6 teaspoons of dye per cup...unless the dye is or contains turquoise, in which case you must double the amount.

    Put the dye solutions into plastic bottles. Squirt bottles or plastic pipettes are used for applying the dye - buy plastic bottles specifically for this purpose.

  5. Pre-soaking the fabric. Before dyeing, pre-soak the fabric for fifteen minutes to two hour in a solution of sodium carbonate, mixed one cup per gallon of water (500 grams / 16 liters). Fabric can be pre-soaked overnight for convenience.
  6. Applying the dye. I like to lay the fabric nearly flat, or pleated loosely, and drip with pipettes or squeeze bottles directly onto the fabric, or spray it on with a spray bottle. Be sure to wear gloves! The sodium carbonate is slightly caustic and must be washed or at least wiped off of your skin immediately after contact.
  7. Reaction time. Make sure that the fabric stays wet, for the reaction to take place, no less than two hours, but preferably eight to twenty-four hours. To keep fabric sufficiently damp, use plastic bags or ziplock bags to store the dyed item.
  8. Wash the clothing. Rinse thoroughly in the sink with cold water, then warm. Then toss into the washing machine and wash using mild dish washing detergent like Dawn or Joy, and end by double-rinsing. They are 100% colorfast and safe to wash with anything, in my experience.
  9. Heat setting is NOT necessary with Procion MX dyes. The only reason to use a hot water wash is to rid the cloth of the last bits of unreacted dye. It is important to use cold water before using hot water, as hot water may, in the presence of the sodium carbonate, encourage some excess dye to become a little too closely associated with the fabric, resulting in dye that gradually rinses out over the course of many washings.