If you follow along with my Instagram, you probably know that I recently started an Etsy shop! My roommate and I started WKNYC during COVID-19 lockdown, and it is still going strong–and growing. In addition to selling my art, we also take clothing that we’ve thrifted in NYC and given makeovers to (“upcycled”), giving them a second life!
One of our big sellers lately has been upcycled tie-dye! We’ve experimented with different colors, but my favorite dye method by far is “reverse” dyeing with bleach. Remember in college when you started doing your laundry yourself for the first time and stained your favorite t-shirt with bleach and it left a giant pink or orange spot? It’s like that…but on purpose. You really never know what effect the bleach will have on various materials & colors, and that’s part of the fun! Every piece comes out a bit different, making everything one-of-a-kind, which I love.
After months and months of experimenting with bleach dyeing, I finally have it down, and want to share my method with you all, as I’ve gotten a ton of inquiries!
I recently got a custom order for a painted tie-dye black denim jacket, and decided to use this piece as the example in this post! I’ll explain how denim can react a little differently compared to other materials, but my biggest piece of advice would be to test out and experiment with a couple scraps of fabric before committing to a piece you care about!
Here is what you’ll need:
Step 1: Fold your garment.
This is by far the most important step! The way you fold your garment can really make or break how your tie-dye comes out. Here are the different types of folds that you can choose from, each resulting in a different pattern/design:
- Spiral: Pinch the middle of your garment and twist your fingers clockwise (you can also use a fork to grip the middle of the garment while twisting). As you continue to twist, the garment will spin into a spiral–use your other hand to guide loose pieces into the spiral until it forms a circular ball, with the spiral in the middle.
- Scrunch: Starting any place on the garment, use the tips of your fingers to begin tightly scrunching the material into balls of crinkled material, eventually creating one ball.
- Stripes: Starting at one side of the garment, fold a small strip of material over onto itself. Next, fold that material in the other direction onto itself. Keep alternating the direction of the folds until you have a long, skinny strip of folded material.
- Bursts: This method uses the spiral or scrunch method in random “bursts” on your garment. This creates more of a random pattern, varying the different parts of the garment.
**In this denim jacket example, I used a combination of the scrunch method and the bursts method.
Step 2: Tie your garment with rubber bands.
Go crazy with rubber bands–you can’t overdo this step! The more/tighter the rubber bands, the more precise your pattern will come out. Depending on the size of your rubber bands, wrap it until it feels tightest around your garment. Keep tying off sections of your garment until you have a small, tight ball of fabric. See below for step-by-step examples:
Step 3: Soak your garment in warm water.
After doing some research, I found that this step is optional, but trial and error has shown me that soaking your garment in warm water helps the bleach absorb quicker and more precisely than pouring onto a dry garment. Be sure to squeeze a majority of the water out of the garment once it is soaked.
Step 4: Apply the bleach.
For bleaching, I like to set up a cooling rack (used for baking) in the bathtub. After trying a few types of bleach, I found that this Clorox cleaner with bleach wields the best results (some fabrics won’t react to regular bleach). The process of applying the bleach can be pretty random. You can either soak the entire thing with bleach, or pour it in random blotches. In this case with the denim jacket, I poured bleach to soak the entire garment.
Step 5: Let your garment sit.
I usually let my garment sit for a few hours, but for this denim jacket, I decided to wrap it in plastic wrap (to be sure the garment remained soaked) and let it sit for 24 hours. Watch your garment as the colors change, and when it reaches your desired color, you can consider it done.
Step 6: Rinse, unfold your garment & let it dry.
Once your garment is done sitting, you’ll want to quickly rinse the excess bleach out. I like to keep my garment folded at this time to keep the pattern intact. Squeeze out any excess liquid, remove the rubber bands, and lay flat to dry (if you hang it vertically, the bleach can drip and bleed, changing the pattern of the dye).
Once your garment is dry, you’re all set to wash it and wear it!! If your first garment doesn’t come out exactly how you wanted, don’t give up! This process takes a lot of trial and error, but that’s part of the fun!
PS. I ended up customizing this jacket for a customer by hand painting the back of it, and it turned out beautifully!
Denim jacket season is coming up, and I’m accepting orders for custom-painted jackets like these!! Check out my WKNYC Etsy shop for available jackets!