How To Tie-Dye In A Small Space

People with backyards shouldn't get to have all the fun.

To paraphrase a quote from “Hamilton,” tie-dye isn’t a momentit’s a movement. The resurgent trend has made a strong showing the past few summers, but in 2020 particularly, as tie-dye enthusiasts have made the most of their time at home during the pandemic.

All over social media, people with backyards seem to have dyed their entire wardrobes with ease and a frustrating amount of fresh air. For city dwellers, tie-dyeing is a bit more complicated. But, as it turns out, very doable.

Marisa Morrison Stein has built a career out of crafting. The Neon Tea Party, which she started as a lifestyle blog in 2016, has grown into a mecca for all things artistic, including tutorials, a supply shop, and, this year, a four-week virtual crafting camp. Stein often shares these projects from her New York City apartment and fire escape, including, of course, tie-dye.

Stein shared her tips with HuffPost for tie-dyeing in a small space ― no backyard required.

Split up the job

Once you have your kit, tie-dyeing begins with choosing your pieces, wetting them and tying them up with rubber bands (Stein has an entire section on her website devoted to tutorials for different methods and styles).

“You can break up the process into the clean half and the messy half,” Stein said. “You need a flat surface for tying up your pieces, so I usually use my kitchen table or even coffee table to do that since it’s just wet fabric, and then I dye in the tub.”

Stein stressed that no matter the surface, it’s always important to cover your workspace with either a plastic tablecloth, a cut-open trash bag or a tarp.

Size matters

As a warning, tie-dyeing can be a bit addictive, but in a small space it’s important to remember what is and is not realistic. Things like shirts, pillowcases and sweats are great ― bedsheets may not be. “You need enough space to lay out the item you’re drying, so keep that in mind,” Stein said.

Additional tools to have on hand

Aside from the obvious supplies, there are few other backups to have at the ready. While the idea of a tie-dyed tub sounds kind of fun, “sounds” is the operative word. Stein recommends keeping a bleach-based cleaning spray on hand for potential spills and splashes, wearing clothing you won’t mind getting stained, and always wearing plastic gloves. She also recommends using a tie-dye rack, which catches leftover dye as you work.

“A rack gives you some more flexibility if you want to dye, say, on the kitchen counter,” she said.

Take to the tub

Once your items are dyed, Stein recommends letting them set in either a plastic bag or in plastic wrap for between eight and 24 hours. “I recommend keeping them in the tub,” she said, adding that if she needs to use the shower (for actual showering), she just leaves them in there ― it’s OK if they get wet, since they’re wrapped up in airtight plastic.

Have a laundry plan

After your dye has set for the instructed number of hours, you’re ready to rinse your items in warm water in the bath tub until the water runs clear ― or as close to clear as possible. Then you throw your items in the wash.

If you live in a city and have a washer and dryer in your apartment, congratulations! For the rest of us with laundry rooms in the basement, if at all, figuring out what to do with your items once they’re rinsed is a little tricky.

“I recommend immediately washing with warm water and a little detergent and then drying, keeping like colors together if possible,” Stein said. “If you’re dyeing something a bit more special and want the color to be as vibrant as possible, you can hand wash and set up a drying rack as it’s better for the piece to lay flat.” This is to prevent dye from bleeding ― but when that’s not an option for space, Stein has another way.

“I don’t necessarily recommend this, but I do it because I don’t have a drying rack,” Stein said. “I set up a clothesline in my shower using twine, so I always have it attached between my shower head and curtain and use clothespins to hang the pieces. You’ll still have subtle-colored dye dripping into the white space, so it’s best to lay it flat, but it’s an option.”

Remember what you’re working with

Stein recommends avoiding bucket dyeing and instead sticking to squeeze bottles, which allow more precision, and to use a scoop to transfer powder dye neatly into the bottle. “If the powder gets loose, the moment any moisture touches it it will turn to liquid dye on your surface, so be really careful when creating your dye liquid,” she said.

For more tie-dye tips and tricks, visit The Neon Tea Party.

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