It’s a rainy day and the kids are at home – a parent’s nightmare. What do you do with them? How do you keep them from each other’s throats? In short, how do you preserve what little sanity still remains to you?

“Keep them occupied” is well-meant, but relatively pointless advice. Keep them occupied with what? You need specifics! You need a defined activity that will consume a few of those brain-frying hours before you can pack them off to bed.

A Choice of Activities

There are many to choose from – papier mache, face painting, making your own Play Doh… But here’s one that will grab your kids’ imaginations, occupy them long enough to prevent them setting the sofa on fire and give them an end result they’ll get pleasure out of for months afterwards. It has the added bonus that you, too, may enjoy the process.

Foster Your Child’s Creativity

Tie dyeing a t-shirt is a simple process that produces a colourfully unique result every time. Simple or not, though, the act of creating an item of clothing, something usually so much the province of the adult world, helps to give your children a sense of their own potential and, in its own small way, helps build confidence in their own abilities.

As well, the artistic element inherent in tie dyeing demands very little technical skill and allows your child to experience the thrill of creation without the off-putting need for little fingers to master brushstrokes or delicate manipulations. This kind of artistic endeavour, experienced as a sense of fun, can often be the entry point into more complex and demanding art forms later in the child’s development.

Convinced? Want to make some wearable art with your kids? Here’s how:

The Tie Dye Principle

It’s simple. When you tie something tight enough around part of a garment then drop that garment in a pot of dye, the dye can’t get to the areas you’ve bound. When the garment is removed and the ties undone you get…patterns.

What You’ll Need

  • A t-shirt. It doesn’t need to be new, in fact tie dyeing is a great way to give old shirts a new lease of life, but it does need to be at least 50% cotton and either white or a pale colour.
  • Fabric dye – available from most craft shops. You may find dye that can be used in cold water, but most dyes will require heat to permanently colour fabric.
  • Material for ties – you can use almost anything for this – cords, shoelaces, string, rubber bands, strips of material ripped from old sheets or tea towels…
  • A pot or container in which to perform the dyeing.
  • Rubber gloves to prevent colouring your hands along with the t-shirt.

No Rules

One of the beauties of tie dyeing is that there are no rules about how you can pattern your shirt. You can make it as simple or as complex, as structured or as freeform as you like.

As a simple example, let’s take that classic tie dye design, “the bulls eye”. You think of tie dye, you think of a set of wiggly concentric circles on the front of a shirt, right? To make it, follow the steps below.

Classic Tie Dye – Step by Step

  • Lay the t-shirt out flat, front up.
  • Pinch up a little of the fabric in the centre of the shirt and bind a tie around it (don’t include the material at the back of the shirt in your “pinch”). The thicker the tie you use, the wider the outline of the resulting circle will be.
  • Raise your “pinch” higher and place another tie a few centimetres below the first.
  • Continue until you have as many rings as you want. This phase, especially, allows children to express their creativity.
  • Prepare your dye according to the manufacturers directions.
  • Pre-soak the shirt in warm water for a couple of minutes before removing and lightly squeezing out excess water.
  • Place the shirt in your dye – generally this will be simmering on the stove – and ensure complete coverage by regularly pressing down with the handle of a kitchen implement.
  • After about twenty minutes (or according to the manufacturers directions) remove the shirt from the dye.
  • Rinse until water runs clear.
  • Cut the ties – it’s magic time!

Progressing Further

By following the steps above you’ll end up with a t-shirt that has concentric white rings on it. In tie dyeing, however, you don’t need to restrict yourself (or your children) to one colour. By dyeing a shirt more than once and carefully sequencing your colours you can create multi-coloured masterpieces. For instance:

  • Make your “bull’s eye” ties and dye the shirt yellow.
  • Rinse until water runs clear.
  • Remove the ties (you have white rings) and add new ties over yellow sections of the shirt.
  • Now dye the shirt light blue (you don’t need to let it dry first).
  • Rinse until water runs clear.
  • Remove the second set of ties.

You now have a green shirt (yellow and blue make green) that has blue and yellow rings!

When using multiple colours think carefully about the effect each successive colour will have on the one before it. You don’t want to end up with a murky brown mess.

Other Variations

As well as playing with colours, you can get your children to experiment with different tying techniques, for example:

  • Tie the shirt in knots.
  • Scrunch the shirt randomly and tie at intervals.
  • Twist the shirt from the neck and hem then tie it in a knot.
  • Tie round objects all over the shirt – glass marbles or smooth stones work particularly well.
  • Fold the shirt like a concertina and tie in place.

A Rewarding Experience

A session of tie dyeing with the kids will burn up a good couple of hours and help you get through that rainy day. But it will also provide a rewarding experience for all who participate, stimulating creativity, enhancing self-worth and producing an item of clothing which is not only attractive but sentimentally valuable as a memory of time spent together.



Learn more about tie dyeing a t-shirt in this video.

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