It’s tough to bring employees together while keeping them 6 feet apart.  But with so much uncertainty outside work, it is more important than ever to focus on employee retention by creating opportunities to build camaraderie and give an outlet for creativity.  Tie-dye t-shirts are a fun and inexpensive way to stage some socially distanced team building for your employees during COVID-19.  Teammates can enjoy the sunshine,  stay adequately distanced, use their creativity, and come home with a cool piece of company swag that they will wear with pride.

MSP Design Group took to our parking lot to host a tie-dye t-shirt workshop, and we lived to tell the tail!  Check out our quick guide on how to host a safe and successful team building day creating tie-dye t-shirts.

What type of shirt do I need for tie-dye?

Before you dive into the process, make sure that you have selected the right type of t-shirt to tie-dye.  It is highly recommend to select a white shirt, which will allow the individual colors to show brilliantly and will help the pattern stand out.  We also recommend using a heavy, 100% cotton t-shirt over any other fabric.  Choosing non-cotton apparel might risk the color to fade quickly or not stick at all.

We ordered heavy cotton t-shirts and then screen printed them with black ink

What supplies do I need to tie-dye?

  1. Table
  2. Tarps or plastic sheeting
  3. Soapy water
  4. Paper towels
  5. Cotton t-shirts
  6. Soda ash (a dye fixer, comes with a tie-dye kit)
  7. Squirt bottles
  8. Rubber or plastic gloves
  9. Tie-dye colors
  10. Rubber bands
  11. Gallon size plastic storage bags
  12. Permanent markers

Rather than gathering all these items individually, we ordered pre-made kits.  Tulip products came highly recommended, so we went with these kits available on Amazon and these kits from Joann Fabrics.   Be sure to order enough to cover all employees.  We went through about 3 kits for about 60 people.

Now you are ready to get started.

Step One: Set Up Your Space

Choose a preferably outdoor area, or an indoor space that’s totally covered in plastic or tarps. We placed two tarps on the ground, and then chose to work on some metal picnic tables that could be cleaned easily.   Remember that you are working with actual dyes meaning they will stain extremely easily! If you don’t have a table that is easily washed, we recommend covering the table with a tarp as well.

Place the bucket of soapy water and paper towels nearby. You’ll want this close so you can easily wash your hands or clean up any spills before the dye has a chance to set in.

Step Two:  Mix Your Dye Kit

Safety first! Tie dying your hands might sound cool, but any contact of skin with chemicals—even if non-toxic—is never a good idea. Now is the time to put on those plastic or rubber gloves.

To help the dye adhere better to your shirts, you will need to soak the tied up tees in a mixture of soda ash and water.  This mix should be made in big buckets nearby to your dying station.  Though you should follow the specific instructions on the soda ash, the ratio is usually about ½ cup soda ash to every gallon of water.

Now mix the tie dye colors in the squirt bottles as recommended by your kit.

Step Three:  Soak Your Shirt

Before getting into the color dye, each shirt needs be soaked in the bucket of solution.  Most kits recommended that we soak the shirts for between 5 and 20 minutes, but we only soaked these shirts for 1-2 minutes each and it still held the ink fine.

Step Four: Choose Your Technique & Tie Up Your Shirt

To create different tie dye designs, use one of the many different dyeing techniques out there. The key is to twist and spiral your shirt around itself and then use the rubber bands to hold the twists in place.

There are all kinds of different ways to do this, but here are the three basic techniques for beginners:

Spiral
Starting in the middle of the tee, twist the shirt until it’s tightly wrapped up into dense, a spiral shape. Place 3-4 rubber bands around the wound-up shirt so they create 6–8 pie shapes of equal sizes. Add a different ink color onto each “slice” of the pie. Do this on both sides ensuring each side of the “slice” is the same dye color.

Crumple
Start at one end of your flattened shirt and slowly scrunch up the fabric. Messier is better, but try to keep it more fat pancake-shaped—not ball-shaped. A balled up shirt makes it harder for the ink to reach the inner areas of the shirt.

Add one color of ink on one side of the shirt. Make sure not to overdo it or risk losing that tie dye texture. Flip the shirt and repeat with the same or a different color.

Bullseye
Pinch your shirt where you want the center of the bullseye to be and pull upwards. Place a rubber band about 3–4 inches below where you’re pinching. A few inches below that, add another rubber band. Continue until you run out of shirt and basically make a long, fabric tube. Within each section, add a different ink color.

Step Five: Start Dying

Once you have twisted your shirt into it’s tie dye shape, you can start the fun part.  Take the different color bottles of dye and start decorating!  Using the squirt bottles, apply your desired colors to the shirt and rubber bands.  You don’t have to keep the colors in any specific pattern, but be careful not to let the colors overlap too much. When a shirt becomes too over-saturated with colors, it can start to look brown.

The key is to cover as much of the visible part of the shirt with dye as you possibly can.  The twists in the shirt and the rubber bands are what is going to create the white areas of your tie-dye, so you want to make sure that you cover all the visible areas with dye colors.

Step Six: Let it Sit

Once the shirt is covered in your desired dye colors, leave it alone!  The shirts need to stay in their rubber-banded format for at least 24 hours.

To help employees keep their shirts organized, we brought gallon zip-lock bags and sharpies so that each shirt could be bagged up and marked with a name to go home and ruminate.

Step Seven: Wash it Out

Once the shirts have sat for 24 hours, employees should wash them separately with no other clothing.  They can either be run by themselves in a washing machine on a normal cycle, and then dried as usual, or they can be hand-washed in a sink with some detergent and laid out to dry.  Whatever you do– make sure it is not washed with any other clothing, and that you rinse out the washing machine or sink before using it again for a regular load.

Step Eight:  Celebrate!

Now that each employee has his very own hand-made company shirt, choose a day for all employees to wear them to work.  Whether it’s on a special occasion or for a casual Friday, be sure to have cameras on hand.  Taking candid photos of team members in their tie dye creations will come in handy when it comes to some recruitment marketing pieces!

Want help?

We can help kick off your team building activity by designing and printing your shirts and delivering them right to your front door.  Shoot us a message– we are happy to help. Happy tie-dying!

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