The past few months of quarantine brought back a 1960s fashion trend that has been making the rounds on Instagram, YouTube and TikTok: tie-dye. Wardrobe staples like hoodies, sweatpants and T-shirts were zhuzzhed up with a range of vibrant colours. But if you can’t get hold of coloured dyes, don’t worry: common household bleach comes to the rescue.
Where coloured dye adds colour to exposed fabric, bleach removes it. By protecting certain areas of the fabric by folding it into a pattern, and holding the fabric tight with rubber bands, you can create patterns in a lighter colour than the original clothing.
It’s best to use black clothing, as the bleach will turn the black orange or brown. Colours like blue, pink and green work, too, but the bleach will affect those colours in different ways. Obviously, don’t use white clothes (nothing will happen), but it’s interesting to know that orange doesn’t work that well, either (unless you pick a dark shade).
Here’s how to get started You will need: clothes, rubber bands, bleach, water, a mason jar, a bucket, a timer, rubber gloves and a well-ventilated area.
Step 1: Choose what to dye
It’s important to use cotton because bleach will not affect synthetic fabrics like polyester. I went for an old black cotton T-shirt that I didn’t really wear any more.
You could technically bleach anything else made of dark-coloured cotton; don’t feel you have to restrict yourself to T-shirts.
Step 2: Pick a pattern
There are a number of tie-dye patterns to try.The most iconic is the “pinwheel”: lie your T-shirt flat, pick a point on it (I chose the middle), and twist until the shirt starts to spiral. When the whole shirt is twisted up like a cinnamon roll, tuck in any loose ends and secure with rubber bands
Another eye-catching pattern is the “bull’s eye”, a series of rings inside each other that gets bigger from the centre. Pinch the shirt, pick it up and secure it with rubber bands all the way down – you can put them at regular intervals for equally spaced circles, or at random, for a less predictable design.
A third method is to randomly crumple the fabric and fasten it with rubber bands at irregular intervals for a surprise pattern.
Step 3: Set up your workshop
Set up the area where you are going to bleach your clothes. Your bathroom or an outdoor area are best, as they are easy to clean and well-ventilated. Cover the floor and anything that could get splashed with newspapers or bin bags – again, doing this in your bedroom risks damaging things you don’t want bleached.
If you’re indoors, make sure you open a window, because the smell of bleach can be quite strong.
Put your clothes in a bucket (and if you are in the bathroom, put that bucket in the bathtub or shower).
Step 4: Start bleaching
Put on the rubber gloves. Mix equal parts bleach and water in a mason jar, being careful not to splash. I made up a total of 500ml, but you can adjust this depending on how many items you are bleaching.
Pour half of the mixture over the clothes, then flip the clothes over and pour the remaining mixture over them.
Set a timer for 5-10 minutes and leave the clothes to soak. The timing will vary depending on the individual items, so peek into a fold to check how much the bleach has developed.
Step 5: Time for washing
When the timer goes off, remove the rubber bands and be amazed by what you have created.
It’s important to wash these items as quickly as possible to stop the bleaching process, so put them into an empty washing machine immediately. Add laundry powder or liquid, and put on a short, cold laundry cycle. Make sure you don’t leave any other clothes in the washing machine, or the bleach could affect them. (It’s a good idea to do a rinse cycle after washing so that your parents’ work clothes don’t accidentally come out lighter.)
You can also wash the clothes by hand if you don’t want to do a whole load of laundry for a few items.
Hang your items to dry.
Step 6: Enjoy
Congratulations! You have made something very cool with minimum effort.
If you made a T-shirt, pair it with shorts and trainers for a casual look, or trousers/skirt and sandals for something dressier.
There are endless possibilities for bleach tie dye, so get creative and recycle old items, or buy something newand bleach it to make a thoughtful gift for a friend.