Sunday, March 9, 2008

Review of Tulip Tie-Dye Kit

At one point I was planning to teach a regularly-scheduled tie-dye course for a local craft store. That didn't work out, but the plan was that I was going to have to use the products they carried in the store. You know, teach classes at the store to encourage students to buy the store's products (dyes, white stuff) . Sounds good, but the store doesn't carry the products I usually use! So some trials were in order to see if I could come up with a class worth teaching using their available products. The short answer is "yes, but..."

The Adventure Begins

The store carries a line of Tulip "One-Step Tie-Dye Kit" brand kits made by Duncan. It comes in several different groups of colors , such as "Classic" (yellow, fuchsia, turquoise), "Vibrant", and so on. I used the Classic colors.

The kit consists of three teeny little plastic squirt bottles, each containing about half an inch of dye powder, a pair of really cheap plastic gloves that appear to be made of plastic wrap, a small handful of rubber bands (maybe a dozen), and an instruction sheet (which contains English, Spanish, and French instructions, so only about 1/4 of the glossy page is useful to me).

Nowhere on the package or instruction sheet could I find any mention of what type of dye the kit contains, but the website says it's Procion dye. There is no soda ash packet in the box, so I assume the soda ash fixer is mixed into the dye powder in the bottles. The extra little paper notice tucked into the box says to make sure to use the dye within 30 minutes of adding water (the glossy instruction sheet says 45), so I take that as confirmation that the soda ash is in the bottles with the dye. Normally I would have the soda ash separate, because then you don't have to use all the dye right away. But at least it's the right kind of dye!

Next comes the white stuff. I'm used to getting a wide variety of cotton things from Dharma, but the challenge is to get stuff from the craft store! Well, they have a line of t-shirts from Jerzees. The shirts are fairly cheap, about $2.50 on special sale, but they are made of 50% cotton and 50% polyester. Wait, I find a 100% cotton shirt mixed in with the others, also from Jerzees. But it's from a different part of the rack, and costs about 7 dollars! Ouch. I get one of those and a few of the cotton/poly blend shirts.

Now the Work Starts

I washed and dried all but one of the shirts in detergent with no softener or dryer sheets, as is my usual habit. I wanted to dye one shirt (a cotton/poly shirt) unwashed to see if that made any difference. I folded and banded all of the shirts (dry), to make an X, two diamonds, and a swirl.

I added the water to the 3 bottles as directed and shook them up. I then took about half an inch of dye from each of those bottles and used it to make up three more bottles (same sized bottles, which I already had around) of those colors, diluted with more water. This second set of diluted dyes is not part of the kit instructions, but I figured that since I tend to go through a lot of dye I should stretch it as best as I could.

I usually dye pieces while they are wet from being soaked in soda ash. In this case, the shirts were all completely dry, and the dye had a tendency to bead up and roll somewhere I didn't want it. I had to jam the tip of the bottle onto the fabric to get the dye to stay put. That's not so much because of the particular kit so much as it's the particular process with the soda ash mixed into the dyes. Next time I'd try it with damp shirts from the washer.


I managed to dye four t-shirts with the six little bottles of dye, and I had enough left over to dye a pair of socks (okay, so those weren't from the craft store!). Here they are:

Can you spot the cotton shirt? It's the X. The colors are definitely more vibrant and "popping" on the cotton shirt than they are on the cotton/poly shirts.

[Lacey, tie-dye hound that she is, can't resist pointing out the cotton shirt... she sees me laying out tie-dye on a blanket to take pictures, and she's right there in the middle, posing!]

For this X, I folded the shirt in quarters, then accordion pleated diagonally from the center to the outer corners. I used the full-strength dyes in sections on one edge of the pleats, and the diluted dyes in the same sections on the edges of the other side. That's what gives it the dark-light-dark effect, which is especially noticeable in the turquoise stripes.

It's hard to see in these photos, but the dyes spread differently on the cotton than they did on the cotton/poly. Remember that I applied the dye to dry, washed t-shirts. On the cotton, the dye tended to stop spreading and not blend quite so much. On the cotton/poly, the dyes tended to spread out more and blend more, giving a more "smeared" effect as seen in the diamond shirt below. Close up, the cotton/poly also has a more "heathered" appearance because the white polyester fibers don't pick up the dye. This diamond shirt is the one cotton/poly shirt that I did not wash before dyeing.

The diamond pattern is folded the same way as the X, except the pleats are folded on the other diagonal, from the underarm to the neck.

Here is the other diamond shirt (cotton/poly). It looks more faded mostly because the majority of the shirt (the outer sections) were dyed with the diluted dyes. That's the opposite of what I did with the first diamond, which is more faded in the middle.

The only difference I can see between the pre-washed and unwashed cotton/poly shirts is that the pre-washed shirt is pilling more than the unwashed shirt, having been through the washer an extra time. That's one reason I usually avoid cotton/poly blend shirts--they pill like crazy, so they just don't feel as good to wear.

Here is the swirl shirt (cotton/poly). Notice again how the colors sort of smear together. I like the visible difference between the full-strength and diluted yellows here.


I liked the fact that the water-adding instructions were printed right on the bottles. Once I had gloves on, it was hard to handle the instruction sheet.

The instruction sheet provided lots of good ideas, but not enough "meat" on how to actually do some of those ideas. A lot of the space was taken up with the Spanish and French versions, so there wasn't much space left in any of the languages for more in-depth instructions.

Since there is no measuring and almost no mixing for the dyes, it's really easy to use. And because the soda ash is right in with the dye, you don't need a separate bucket or container for soaking the shirts before dyeing (and no dripping mess from moving the wet shirts around).

Like many craft kits, the actual quantity of materials (dye) provided is pretty limited, so it's not good for more than one or two people (and definitely not the hardcore "let's-dye-the-couch" types that I hang out with!). At about $10 for the three-color Classic kit I got, this is definitely not the most cost-effective way to do tie-dye (see my blog entry on resources). The box says the kit is good for "up to 8 projects", but I didn't even get close, even after diluting some of the dye.

These tie-dye kits are marketed towards young teenage girls, as shown by the picture on the boxes. For one or two girls doing a kit session on an otherwise dull afternoon, this is a great kit to have on hand (along with a couple of cotton t-shirts). It's also good for a first try at tie-dye on your own. For anything more than that, get a bigger tie-dye kit from Dharma or put together your own.


Anonymous said...

I purshased a Tulip Tie-Dye kit in Classic colors about a week ago. My family of four wanted to have maching tie-dye shirts. We stared dying the shirts one at a time, after we got done with the secobd shirt we started running out of dye. When we were done with all four shirts, the last two shirts had barely any dye on them. The box said "can make up to eight T-shirts" You can really ohly make two. Now the last two shirts look ike they are 6 years old because they are faded froj not having enough dye. I would NOT recommend this product!

Anonymous said...

i purchases the 3 bottle one and the 5 color one for art club. we managed to get 9 shirts done, this with a whole bunch wasted we didnt bother opening the other packets to refil the bottles, but i think this was good. I recommed it

Sara said...

Thanks for your comments! These two comments point out that everyone's technique is a little different in how much dye they use per shirt. Also, there is a big difference across shirts as to how much dye they soak up. For example, a toddler t-shirt is about a quarter of the fabric as an adult XL or XXL. And even for the same size, a thin men's Hanes undershirt (size M t-shirt) is not going to need nearly as much dye as a much thicker size M Hanes Beefy-T (which would also be cut a little larger since it's meant as an outer shirt). Since there isn't any standard here, the dye manufacturer can say pretty much whatever they want, and "your mileage will vary". Note that Dharma and other vendors of bulk dyes talk about how many _pounds_ of fabric you can dye with a particular amount of dye (much more accurate), though even that will vary somewhat.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for an excellent and clear review. I'm looking for something to tie-dye shirts with my 5-year olds for "school spirit" day, and this sounds like it will be perfect.

Chris Johnson said...

I purchased the Ultimate kit with 5 colors. The end results were extremely disappointing in that my t-shirts come out very faded and no where near the vibrant colors that the box showed. The instructions were poorly written and vague. I had prewashed my 100% cotton t-shirts as perscribed. I would not recommend this product.

Anne said...

Thanks for the details of what you did! I am a little stumped by the 100% cotton recommendation (that I see everywhere, not just here). I tie-dyed shirts using both 50/50 and 100% cotton using the same type Tulip kit, and the 50/50 colors were much more vibrant. Started out with damp shirts both times, and I don't know why mine are the reverse of what everyone says.
Question for anyone: has anyone ever started with a colored shirt instead of white? I bought some lime green ones, and am planning to tie dye with blue and turquoise, and maybe yellow. . . not sure how this will turn out.

Sara said...

Anne, I can't tell you why your cotton blend shirts came out more vibrant. The reason for the 100% rule (80% cotton usually works fine too) is that polyester fibers are, when you get right down to it, plastic (think about that fleece they make now from soda bottles, and you have the idea). The Procion dyes used in the Tulip kits (as well as Dharma and Jaquard) wash right off of plastic (gloves, table covers, etc.). So that's what happens with your shirts. If you look closely at the cotton/poly, you should be able to see white fibers after washing the excess dye out. That's the polyester.

As for dyeing over other colors (colored shirts), I've done it a fair amount, but it's a little tricky. You have to remember that the colors are ADDITIVE. So if you start with a yellow shirt and put blue dye on it, you get green. Purple on yellow gives you brown, and so on. Also, the colors you put on may seem a little dull compared to how they would look on white. So it's worth trying, because you can get some interesting effects (blue and purple on a pale blue shirt looks good), but you may not get the results you expect or hope for.

Hope that helps! --Sara

Anonymous said...

I purchased a tulip tie dye kit, and dyed some wonderful t shirts! Unfortunately, a few drops of dye got onto our wooden deck, and we didn't notice them until the next day. Any ideas on how to get out the color?

Anonymous said...

My daughter and her friend used this kit to tie dye a couple of shirts and when they were dry they looked great, but the dye ran when they were washed. what went wrong?

Sara said...

Sorry, I've never tried to get stains out of a wood deck. As with stain treatments on clothes and fabric, whatever you try you should do in a hidden area first. You may just have to hope it doesn't show much, or sand it out and refinish.

Sara said...

Regarding the dye running when the shirts are washed, my guess is that they weren't washed enough the day after dyeing (assuming you let it sit overnight), and there was still a lot of excess dye in the shirts. The darker colors especially will have a lot of excess dye to wash out, since the goal is to have as much of the cotton fiber come in contact and bind with dye molecules, so the formulas provide extra dye molecules to help that, but it also means that a lot of dye is left over in the shirt.

I try to let my washing machine do most of the work, but for me the rinsing and washing still takes about three hours (depends on batch size). I run for several cold rinses with rubber bands still on (only leave rubber bands on in a FRONT-LOADER machine--you don't want stray bands to get stuck under the agitator in a top-loader). Then I remove the bands and wash warm/hot with detergent, then several more rinses with cold water.

The Tulip kits have the soda ash fixer right in the dye bottle, so forgetting to soak the shirt in the soda ash first (like at least one person does almost every time I run a big group doing tie-dye!) wouldn't be the problem here. That's one good thing about the Tulip kits.

Caley said...

We just published a round-up of craft blogger reviews for Tulip Tie-Dye and Fabric Dye products. People came up with awesome uses, including dying reeds for basket weaving. You can see the round-up here:

Feel free to comment and add your review, or we can do so. =)

Todd said...

I just bought and used this exact same Tulip kit yesterday.

I haven't tie-dyed anything for decades (literally since the craze first hit in the psychedelic 60's) but with summer fast approaching, I decided I wanted to add a couple of "wild" T-Shirts to my wardrobe. I looked online for a straight purchase, but most tie-dye websites wanted an average of $20 per shirt plus S&H. So I looked up "how to" tie-dye and, after reading a few instructions, decided to time-travel back to my youth and do it myself.

I purchased the Tulip kit at Michael's ($9.99) and really wasn't expecting much in the way of results but...


...the shirts came out MUCH better than I expected.

I started with a high-quality white T-shirt, tied in a classic swirl, and used 3/4 of the dye on this one shirt alone.

Since I had a little leftover dye, I decided to try it on a gray workout T-Shirt (poly blend), another spiral, REALLY not expecting much in the way of results.

[Note: As noted elsewhere, the dye provided is about enough for 2 shirts, IMO - not anywhere close to 8.]

I let the shirts marinate in a plastic bag overnight (16 hours total), and unveiled them this morning.

It was actually semi-thrilling to see how well the white shirt came out, a beautiful pattern.

Even the gray shirt, with much less dye, resulted in an interesting (i.e., wearable) design.

I just machine-washed the shirts, and while not quite as vibrant as they were fresh out of their plastic overnight bags, I'm still VERY pleased.

The Tulip kit was a good starter set, inexpensive and effective.

The only problem is, the rest of my wardrobe is now in danger of getting groovy!

Anonymous said...

I recently purchased the single packs of tulip dye Because I ran out of certain colors I needed, and want to know if I can use them in bottles from my last tulip tie dye project what the measurements would be?

chrissy miller said...

Hey I have a question about the tulip dye kit. Can you leave the newly dyed shirts sit for 24 hours instead of 6? Also, once you rinse the shirts separately can you wash a couple of the shirts together in the washing machine or will the colors run?