How to Tie Dye – at the Lair of the Bear Family Camp


One of our annual Camp Blue Art Grove activities at the Lair of the Golden Bear – University of California at Berkeley family camp – is tie dye. This craft is particularly associated with the 1960s hippie youth movement, and with U.C. Berkeley. After vacations at the Lair for 21 years, I have developed a reliable system for producing vibrant tie dye results in a camp setting. Tie dye is messy, so you may want to wear old clothes and wear gloves. Or, you can enjoy the mess – like my husband who paints “Lair socks” on his bare feet.  This is a good craft for all ages – with little kids getting as good results as adults.

Camp Blue provides:

  • Rubber bands
  • Plastic bags
  • Soda ash in a tub
  • Dye in tubs – with squirt bottles
  • Instructions

You need to bring:

  • Cotton shirts, pillowcases, socks, underwear or anything else you want dyed from home.  100% cotton works best. Wash and dry in advance.  This year, I brought a white Coldwater Creek dress blouse that had a unremovable stain – it came out a nice plum color with white bands on the sleeves. Walgreen’s sells good-quality plain and patterned t-shirts ($12 for three). I brought shirts that said California, San Jose, and Willow Glen and worked the words into my pattern. Note that the white stitching may not absorb dye, so design around that.  You can buy white t-shirts at the Camp Store but be sure to wash them before starting your project.
  • Clothes line and clothes pins
  • Plastic clothes hangers
  • Laundry soap

My tie dye process:

  1. Follow posted camp instructions to create patterns using rubber bands on the dry cloth.  The fabric squeezed by the rubber bands will absorb the least dye.  There are many tie dye projects and patterns available on the web if you want to plan in advance.  Starting with a simple bull’s eye pattern is easiest. Place the pattern center mid-chest (not mid-tummy) for better results.
  2. Soak the rubber banded cloth in the soda ash tub to help it absorb the dye.
  3. Dip, soak, spray, or otherwise color the cloth with one or more dyes. Go from light to dark (yellow then blue, not the other way) and plan for dye colors to interact.  Use the dyes on the first day they are available – dye that has been sitting out does not work as well.
  4. Put the dyed cloth in a plastic bag (one item per bag). Tie the bag at the top and poke a small hole in the bottom. Hang the bag on a clothes line out of the sun – so that the excess dye can drip out the hole. Leave the bag closed for 24 hours. Do not walk under where the dye is dripping – it is still potent!
  5. After a day, use scissors to cut the top off each bag and snip each rubber band to remove it. Touch the cloth as little as possible. Immediately hang each item on the clothes line before going on to the next.  (Pick up all of the plastic bits and throw them away!)  You can use clothes pins or hangers – hangers are better.  Keep the items separated so that they do not drip or brush together.  Do not wring or rinse at this time. Leave hanging for 24 hours.  If it rains, bring everything inside and be resigned to having pale colors.
  6. Once the items are dry, wash in cold water. At Lair Camp Blue, you can run a washer load of dark laundry (jeans and items that will not show any dye) with the tie dye. If you use a camp washer, be sure to run it again (on empty or with another load of darks) so that no dye remains to surprise the next user. Alternatively, you can rinse by hand in the laundry sink but this is tedious and does not work as well.  Dry everything on a warm setting.

I have dyed shirts with this process that have not faded after five years.



Images Copyright 2013 by Katy Dickinson

1 Comment

Filed under Home & Family, News & Reviews

One response to “How to Tie Dye – at the Lair of the Bear Family Camp

  1. I was glad to read the process, but especially like the hand images. This would make a great poster for the Lair!

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