Backyard Arts and Crafts

For me, summertime has always been about projects. As the school year winds down, I begin to make lists in my head of all the ways I want to spend my time: I will read nothing but Jane Austen novels, I will photograph something every day, I will teach myself to sew. Sometimes I accomplish these things, and sometimes I don’t – but every year, I begin the summer with a hopeful bunch of plans and although I’ve never managed to complete them all, I’ve also never ignored my list completely. I may not do everything, but I always do something, and the break is a little more interesting because of it.

This summer, the project at the top of my list was tie-dye. I don’t know what possessed me. I’ve always been sort of indifferent to the aesthetic. I have owned exactly two pieces of tie-dyed clothing in my life: One was an oversized t-shirt I dyed at summer camp when I was seven, and the other was a pink and purple shirt I bought on sale on a family vacation last summer. I’ve neither loved nor hated either of these pieces of clothing. Sometimes a shirt is just a shirt. Multicoloured swirls and I had no real relationship – happy, sad or otherwise.

So how, on a Saturday evening in June, did I find myself crouched in my backyard, soaking a white t-shirt in a container of purple dye? I have no idea. But it happened, and it will probably happen again. I had so much fun.

The whole process was pretty basic. I took a cotton t-shirt, wrapped pieces of it in rubber bands, and then stuck it in a container full of RIT clothing dye. I ended up dyeing a few other things as well – the most exciting of those being a set of pillowcases, although I have yet to use them because I have a fear of waking up with my face all splotched with yellow and red and blue. I did my dyeing the cheap and easy way, but there are a lot of ways to get really serious about your hand dyeing, too. The best website I found while researching was this one which provides really detailed explanations of different dyes and fabrics and techniques (including one called Batik, which is a resist dyeing technique that uses wax).

I ended up with a pretty great shirt – and maybe by the end of the summer, I’ll have dyed a few more. But even though the clothing was kind of the point, the t-shirt feels like more of an added bonus to the whole tie-dye experience. I am happy to have a new shirt or two – but I am even happier to have had an evening sitting in the grass, my hands covered in dye, excitedly unwrapping freshly-coloured fabric and anticipating the results. With this project, I wasn’t in it for the clothing as much as I was for the sunshine and the laughter and the clothesline full of brightly coloured fabric strung up from the fence.

But, the clothes are cool, too.

- Hailey Siracky

7 thoughts on “Backyard Arts and Crafts

  1. Yay! I’ve been meaning to do this as well! Though I’d like to do very soft transitions of colour. I wonder if it’s possible? I’ll check out that handy link, thank you!

  2. Oooh – I’m seeing a way to salvage awesome thrift finds. You know, those cute white dresses/shirts with little stains on them. Very cool. Also, I just paid top-dollar for a pair of tie-dye jeans. Should have come to you first…

    Hey – can you do this with bleach?

    The possibilities are endless!

  3. @secretariat:
    I have done a similar technique using Thiox, which is slightly less harmful than bleach, but yes, you can do it with bleach – it’s called discharge dyeing. Basically you want to tie up larger sections than you would when you are dyeing – the fabric which is on the outside gets the treatment while the inside gets the least. Use part water and keep adding a little bleach until you get the desired effect – wait about 15mins to see what it is going to do, and gently stir. Bleach can weaken the fibres and isn’t the best for then environment, so only use what you need, and don’t forget gloves/apron/ventliation, eyewear might not be a bad idea, etc. My favourite tie technique for discharge dye is to twist the fabric and tie it in knots. Oh, and it works best to wet the fibres first, and remember that different fabrics work in different ways! Rinse the fabric before and after you untie it (not everyone rinses it before, but I like to because small droplets can splash about…I like my safety precuations).

  4. I have to say, I’ve been more judgemental against tie-dye, although I loved when some designers did a preppy, upscale take on it a couple years ago. If you take away the granola stereotype, what you’re left with is pretty interesting patterns.

    Also, I love the ‘journey not the destination’ lesson of this post!

  5. i’ve actually really been liking the look of some tie dyes lately (maybe its linked to summer in my mind) – i personally like single colour dyes (just white/1 colour), so that its more about the look and pattern of the dye than an overload of colour. i definitely think its a cool possibility for white thrift store dresses!

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