I fully admit that I’m not the most creative person out there – not by a long shot. I can follow a pattern when it comes to something like knitting, but to be able to visualize how a project will turn out, to design something or even to think of new ideas using existing techniques… Those are the kinds of things that I admire about my friend, Mary. Whether it’s creating birthday party piñatas solely from stuff she had around the house, to amazing cake designs, I am always in awe of what her mind comes up with. So when we decided to try tie-dying t-shirts with the kids for the Fourth of July this year, I knew it would involve something other than simple rubber bands and dye.
Yep, I was right.
Mary and her two younger kids arrived last week for an extended visit (four nights – the kids were all ecstatic) and immediately brought up an idea she’d heard of for tie-dying. Something called batik, but other than the fact that it involved wax patterns on the shirts, she wasn’t sure how to do it.
This is where I come in – she comes up with the ideas, I have the technology at-hand to figure out how to make it work. After a quick Google search, we discovered that it’s possible, and even easier, to do the batik method with Elmer’s blue glue gel instead of wax. And definitely more kid-friendly too. So we tried it out, to make red, white and blue shirts for us all to wear on Independence Day.
We discovered several things along the way, so I thought I’d share some tips here. These are based on nothing more than our own experience trying this method – some things that didn’t work for us may work for you, and vice-versa. But here’s what the two of us learned:
1) With tie-dye, it’s best to go large in terms of shirt size rather than small. If you’re at all in doubt, go with the bigger size. Cotton t-shirts are best – and they do shrink. Pre-wash your shirts so the dye will have the best chance to adhere to the fabric. We used handkerchiefs as well as t-shirts – the batik process worked much better on the thicker cotton shirts, but the scarves tie-dyed just fine.
2) Blue glue gel can be hard to find so if you see any, you might want to stock up. We were out of luck at Target, Walmart, Office Max and Meijer – the only store we found it at was Hobby Lobby. Back-to-school season might be a good time to grab several bottles if you see them.
3) If doing the batik method, dry the shirts beforehand. Put something in between the front and back of the shirt to keep the glue from bleeding through both layers. Something plastic or with a plastic coating works best – we used cardboard cereal boxes (the plain cardboard side stuck horribly to the glue and although it washed out fine later, it was a pain), poster board (worked ok except where the glue was thick and then was the same as the cardboard), and gift bags that I didn’t need anymore. These worked the best – the shiny coating on the bags didn’t stick at all to the glue, even where it soaked through the fabric. Plastic bags would probably work even better.
4) Speaking of soaking through – in order for this method to work the best, use a good, thick line of glue. Just remember to tell kids not to fill huge areas with glue – one of our kids tried to create American flag stripes and used about half a bottle of glue on one stripe. Keep in mind that you’re putting the glue wherever you DON’T want the dye to show up, just like using crayon on an Easter egg before you dye it. Your glue pattern will show up as white against your tie-dyed shirt.
5) Although you need a thick line for the best results, it can take the glue a long time to dry. Ours didn’t dry overnight down in my basement, but a couple of hours in the summertime sun did the trick the next day. By the way – this is NOT a quick project! It took us three days overall, although much of that time was spent in waiting for glue to dry or dye to set.
6) When you’re ready to tie-dye, dampen the shirts but only right before you’re ready to dye each one so the glue doesn’t get too runny and ruin the design. Tie-dye methods that put a lot of dye on the shirts seem to work best – our designs showed up the strongest when the shirts had been scrunched up and dyed or freehanded with the dye. The traditional spiral or center pull-through methods don’t always put enough dye in the right spots. Darker colors of dye work better too, to offset the white designs.
7) Finish your tie-dying as you normally would – just make sure to rinse out the glue as you’re rinsing the dye after it sets. If you don’t get all the glue out with the rinse though, it’s fine – the rest will come out when you wash the shirts. Wash them on the hottest possible setting.
8) Enjoy your one-of-a-kind t-shirts! Whether for July 4th or any other day.
My favorites out of our batch? Definitely Mary’s stars-and-stripes shirts – created with batik stars on the top half (tie-dyed using the scrunch method in a dark blue), then vertical red-and-white stripes on the bottom half (straight tie-dye by folding that portion of shirt in an accordion shape and rubber-banding, then using red dye only on the front half of the accordion strip).
My other favorites were Hannah and Emma’s firework batik designs tie-dyed using the scrunch method (red on the top half, blue on the bottom), and Becca’s blue and red tie-dyed stripes with her batik design showing up best along the bottom. Abbi’s and my shirts with the traditional tie-dye spiral showed the least of the batik patterns, although the shirts are definitely still festive. Mary’s firework batik shirt (blue and red tie-dye using the scrunch method) turned out pretty cool too.
I think we’ll definitely be showing our patriotic spirit in a couple of days for Independence Day! And they’ll certainly be unique.