Here are the photographs first, then the directions. These photographs are a year old and don’t show the full extent of our dyeing, but they’ll give you an idea of what the possibilities are.
I first got the great idea of dyeing fabric with Sharpie markers from one of my favorite kid’s science catalogs, Steve Spangler Science. [For reference, my other favorite kid’s science catalog is Edmund Scientifics.]
As a long time clothing dyeing experimenter (I’ve dyed over half the clothes in my closet), I was intrigued with the idea of “tie dyeing” with Sharpies (here is the link to this experiment on the Steve Spangler Science site — it has a great how-to video and an explanation on how/why this works). We had lots of Sharpies around the house for crafts, and several blank t-shirts and a sheet of 3 or so yards of 100% cotton jersey fabric from Dharma Trading Company (the company I buy all of my dyeing supplies and many of my clothing “blanks” from), so we were able to start immediately. We practiced on t-shirts, then took the large piece of fabric to Girl Scouts. I later cut that fabric into squares and the Girl Scouts made pillows with it (see tomorrow’s post for directions).
This is a great activity for all ages (even toddlers). It can be done for just a few minutes if you don’t have much time, or all day if you do. I was surprised at how many of the Girl Scout’s parents wanted to join in on the fun (I was thrilled).
- Sharpies (the more colors the better, but the metallic ones won’t work properly for this)
- Glass (and/or disposable) cups (at least 4 per person)
- Rubberbands (1 per cup)
- Rubbing alcohol in cups with straws — drip bottles work best (1 per person)
- Fabric to dye (we’ve done t-shirts and sheets of fabric)
- Lay out the material you are wanting to dye.
- Put the cups under the fabric — open end up — and secure with rubber bands on top of the fabric.
- Put dots and squiggles in the center of your circle.
- Slowly drip the rubbing alcohol (one drop at a time) in the center of the circle. You won’t need much, so go slowly. Watching the ink spread and mix is the fun part, don’t rush it.
- Allow it to air dry for a few minutes. By the time you are done with four or so, your first circle will most likely be dry enough to take out the cup.
- Repeat until you are satisfied.
- Prewash and dry fabric.
- Don’t use plastic cups you want to keep, as the markers will permanently stain them.
- Heat set the material, after it has air-dried, for at least 30 minutes longer than you think you should. The Sharpies fade a lot quicker if you don’t heat set for long enough. We’ve found that a dryer works better than an iron. Setting with vinegar seems to make no difference in the longevity of the colors.
- Have fun and experiment with color combinations you normally wouldn’t try. Don’t freak out if it spreads “incorrectly” — there is no right or wrong!
- Try dripping the alcohol from the side, rather than the center. It won’t spread in the same way, but you might like those results better.
- Don’t be afraid of drawing actual pictures. These can look really cool!
- When in doubt about a color combination, add a little black — WOW!
- We tried to do this same experiment on card stock for ATCs (art trading cards). It didn’t work, but try it on other papers and fabrics. Experimenting is really important and fun! You never know when you’ll happen upon the next great idea that everyone will be talking about.
- If you don’t like an area of the fabric, put a cup under it and draw something new (or just drip alcohol on the spot and watch what happens). Some of our least favorite areas turned into our favorite spots this way.