How to tie dye a shirt with food

Written by b.t. alo
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How to tie dye a shirt with food
Tie-dye T-shirts (tie-dyed shirts image by Jim Parkin from

Using food items and garden plants to make dyes is an age old tradition. Plants are collected and boiled until the desired colour is reached, and then any number of materials can be dyed in the solution. Making a tie-dye shirt with dyes made from food and plants is a great activity to do at home, and can be fun to do with kids. There are many different colours that can be made from common food items like beetroot, onion, tea, spinach and strawberries.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • 1/2 cup table salt
  • Water
  • 1 white cotton T-shirt
  • 2 large pots
  • Food items
  • Rubber bands
  • Rubber gloves

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  1. 1

    Prepare your T-shirt for dying. In a large pot, mix a colour fixative solution of 1/2 cup of table salt and 8 cups of water and bring to a boil. Put the shirt into the solution and let it simmer for an hour. Rinse the shirt and let it air dry, or if you want to speed up the process put the shirt into your clothes dryer until completely dry. If you are machine drying your shirt you can start on Step 2 while the shirt and solution are simmering; if you are air drying the shirt, then go onto step 2 while the shirt is on the line.

  2. 2

    Choose your colour. The colour you want will determine the kind of food items you need for making your dye. For red use beetroot or sumac; yellows can be achieved with saffron, onion skins, marigold blossoms and dandelions. For blues and purples try blackberries and mulberries and woad. Pinks are achieved with strawberries, cherries and raspberries.

  3. 3

    Boil your chosen foods and plants (combinations are fine) in the other large (preferably old) pot with enough water to completely cover the plant or food items. Simmer this concoction for about an hour, then strain.

  4. 4

    Using the rubber bands, tie off sections of the dry cotton T-shirt. Tying rubber bands in a sequence one after the other in a section of the shirt will achieve concentric circles; tying across the width of the shirt will achieve a striped look. There is no right or wrong pattern, just be sure to tighly tie the rubber bands so the dyes do not leak into the tied section that you want to remain white.

  5. 5

    Put the dye solution on simmer and add the T-shirt. The dye will take to the cloth instantly, however, in the beginning it will only show a light shade of colour. The longer you leave the shirt in the dye solution, the darker the colour will become. Let it simmer until you reach your desired colour.

  6. 6

    Put on a pair of rubber gloves and rinse the shirt before untying the rubber bands. Rinse in cold water until the water runs clear when ringing out. Cold water helps to set the dyes into the cloth. Untie the rubber bands to reveal the tie-dye pattern achieved.

Tips and warnings

  • Cottons, silks, muslins and wool work best with dyes made from food and plant material as they are natural fibres that will take dye easily.
  • Wash all home-dyed clothes separately in cold water to avoid dye run off onto other clothes. The cold water will help to preserve the colour.

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