If you just bought your first tie-dye kit, you probably feel ready to party with some vibrant colors and 70s spirals. But before you get out the colors, you need to make sure you have fabric that will hold a nice tie-dye pattern. So, what exactly is the best fabric for tie-dye?
Cotton and cotton fabrics like denim, jersey knit, and muslin offer the best textile surface for tie-dye. Almost any fabric can hold a tie-dye pattern, but some types of fabric require specialized dyes that you will not find in a commercial tie-dye kit. Synthetic fabric proves difficult to tie-dye for this reason.
In this article, you will find out what makes a good textile for tie-dye. You will discover the most popular types of fabric for tie-dye ranked from best to worst. Finally, you will learn whether a blended fabric can work for tie-dye.
Does Tie Dye Work on All Fabric?
Cotton is the easiest fabric to tie-dye, but you can make a tie-dye design using specialized dye on almost any type of fabric. You just have to use the right kind of dye for the kind of fabric. Most textile artists agree that synthetic fabric like polyester is quite difficult to tie-dye because of the special dye it requires.
If you have not done many fabric dying, you probably want to start with 100% cotton. You can easily find 100% cotton t-shirts, fabric, socks, or even bedsheets to dye. This type of fabric works well with the easiest to use fabric dyes, and most commercial tie-dye kits are intended for use with 100% cotton, too!
Besides matching the right type of material to the dye that works best on it, you will also want to think about the texture of the fabric. In general, soft and absorbent material will most easily hold a tie-dye design. However, you do not want a fabric with a waxy or chemical coating on its surface, as this could prevent dye absorption.
Finally, consider the color of the fabric or garment you want to tie-dye. Solid white will highlight your vivid designs in the brightest, boldest manner. But, on the other hand, you can create a remarkable reverse tie-dye effect by bleaching and then dying black fabric, too! Patterned or colorful fabric will not tie-dye super well, though, because your dye will have to compete with the colors already on the fabric.
What is the Best Fabric for Tie Dye?
The best fabric for tie-dye is 100% cotton, but you can successfully dye many other kinds of material as well! Check out this overview of the most popular types of fabric to tie-dye, ranked from best to worst. Or from easiest to hardest to work with, at least!
1. CottonCotton rules the roost as by far the easiest textile to dye, whether you want to create a tie-dye design or any other kind of dye pattern. Unlike many other kinds of cloth fibers, cotton fibers can soak up as much as 25% of their own weight in liquid! This high absorbency rate makes it easy to transfer water-soluble dye to the material.
Cotton also works well with fiber-reactive dyes because this type of coloring bonds with the cellulose found in plants. Most commercial tie-dye kits use fiber-reactive dyes for this reason.
Because cotton has remained a popular fabric for hundreds of years, you can find multiple different types of cloth made out of cotton. For instance, muslin, denim, and most jersey knit fabric contain 100% cotton fibers.
Denim usually features crisscrossing white and blue threads, so you will want to choose your tie-dye colors to work with the already-present blue. Aside from that, you should find any cotton fabric easy to tie-dye!
A lot of variation in the type and quality of cotton can exist in a plain weave cotton fabric. For example, you can buy algodon or Egyptian cotton, Pima cotton, or Supima cotton. Each of these variations offers especially high-end and super soft types of cotton fibers; they cost much more than your average Upland cotton, but they will also help dye well.
2. RayonSometimes also called viscose, rayon comes from highly processed wood pulp. This means that it contains those key cellulose fibers that can bond with fiber-reactive dyes. It also has quite a high absorbency rate, like cotton!
Rayon creates rich, deep hues when dyed with fiber-reactive dyes. Some artists like this look even better than cotton dyed with the same coloring!
The big downside to tie-dying rayon fabric is that this type of cloth gets very flimsy and weak when wet. In technical terms, it has low wet strength. Because of this, your rayon shirt may rip while you attempt to dye it.
To offset this challenge, you can sometimes find “ready to dye” rayon fabric or rayon garments that incorporate a blend of cotton fibers. These add strength and resilience to the fabric and help the dying go more smoothly.
3. SilkAll-natural silk has a beautiful luster that looks even more vibrant when you add bold tie-dye colors! Silk dyes so well because it contains complex animal-based proteins rather than cellulose cells like cotton.
You can dye silk using many different fabric dyes, including fiber reactive dyes, acid dyes, and all-purpose dyes. All-purpose dyes sometimes do not remain colorfast when washed, however.
The biggest downside to tie-dyeing silk is that it costs so much. One of the keys to successful tie-dye on silk is that you must use real silk, not the cheaper faux-silk made from synthetic fibers.
4. BambooMost of the time, bamboo fabric dyes well with fiber-reactive dyes. This kind of fabric has many similarities to rayon, as it is made out of a highly processed bamboo pulp. It contains cellulose fibers that bond with fiber reactive colors quite well.
On the other hand, a type of material called acetate will not dye easily at all. This kind of processed bamboo is so chemically altered that you have to use disperse dyes on it, just as you would with a fully synthetic fabric like polyester.
Just like with rayon, you have to treat bamboo fabric extra gently to avoid ripping it while wet.
5. HempUsually known for its burlap-like texture and coarse weave, hemp fabric comes from the long strands inside hemp stalks. This type of material contains cellulose and works well with fiber-reactive dyes.
You can tie-dye hemp easily, but the downside to this type of fabric is its relative rarity and its coarse texture.
On the other hand, if you want to create a wall hanging or a piece of home decor, you might find hemp perfectly suited to the task!
6. ModalYou can tie-dye modal using fiber-reactive dyes with great success. Modal is a special type of rayon that comes exclusively from beech trees and uses an eco-friendly manufacturing process. This type of material often has an ultra-soft and flexible texture.
The only difference between regular rayon and modal is that modal gets quite pricey. That said, you can find plain modal tees or other garments to brighten up with bold swirls and starbursts if you want!
7. WoolWool fabric comes from animal hair, usually either sheep or goat. This material contains protein-based fibers and achieves the best coloring when used with acid dyes.
You cannot dye wool with dyes that work on cellulose. This will mess up the pH level in the wool fibers. Instead, use acid dyes that require a heated dye bath. This means you will also need a large stainless steel pot just for the dye since you can’t use the pot for food again after that!
Wool dyes beautifully with the right dye and the correct heat bath process. That said, this is a lot of work to go to for tie-dyeing! For this reason, wool is not one of the easiest fabrics to tie-dye.
8. LinenLike cotton, linen contains plant-based cellulose fibers and can dye beautifully when treated with fiber-reactive dyes. Linen also has a porous nature and can easily absorb liquid like cotton. Plus, it typically features a loose, elegant weave that looks more sophisticated than the average piece of cotton!
Unfortunately, linen does wrinkle incredibly easily. This can mess up your tie-dye design as you work. The other issue with using linen for your project is that it costs more than cotton. You will probably not find many linen t-shirts, though you can certainly buy linen by the yard or in plain white dress shirts, skirts, or dresses perfect for dying!
9. PolyesterYou can tie-dye polyester, but not without a certain level of difficulty. While some manufacturers claim that all-purpose or fiber reactive dyes work on polyester, don’t believe them! The only way to successfully dye polyester is to use something called disperse dyes.
Disperse dyes, designed specifically for plastic-based synthetic cloth, work by dispersing through a hot water bath instead of dissolving in the water. Eventually, the color particles bond on a molecular level with the plastic fibers in the polyester.
Polyester is a synthetic, man-made fabric that comes from a type of plastic. It costs a lot less to manufacture this synthetic than grow and process natural fibers. For this reason, cheap polyester fabric has more or less taken over the world of ready-made clothing and even makes up a large percentage of the fabric bolts in most craft stores!
The big upside to using polyester for your tie-dye project is that you can buy super-cheap polyester tees or fabric. The downside is that dying polyester is not a kid-friendly process. You need to take some safety precautions and go through a lengthy and intense dye bath session to get good results.
10. AcrylicAcrylic is harder to dye than polyester, though you can use disperse dyes on this synthetic material and sometimes get good results. Acrylic has an extreme sensitivity to heat and sometimes does not survive the hot dye bath necessary for disperse dyes.
No other kind of dye will successfully color this synthetic material, though.
Like polyester, acrylic is synthetic. Because it has great insulating properties, it has begun to replace wool in ready-wear fashion. A huge percentage of all the sweaters sold around the world contain 100% acrylic!
While you may love the idea of a cozy tie-dyed sweater, you will probably want to use wool rather than acrylic for this purpose.
Most crafting felt made today contains 100% polyester, meaning that you can only dye it using disperse dyes. The trouble with this is that felt tends to react badly when exposed to high heat, getting matted or even solidifying into an ugly mass.
If you want to color felt, your best bet is to use certain fabric paints or try special fabric crayons made out of disperse dyes. You may also find that you can use acrylic paint mixed with a fabric medium.
But the bottom line is that felt does not tie-dye easily!
While 100% polyester presents serious dying challenges, polycotton blends can dye pretty easily. It all depends on the percentage of polyester to cotton in the blend.
But first, what is a polycotton blend? Synthetic fabric like polyester costs a lot less than all-natural fabric. For that reason, fabric manufacturers often twist together polyester and cotton fibers to create a cloth that costs less than cotton but retains much of its softness and absorbency.
Polycotton blends come in many different proportions, with a 50/50 mix one of the most popular.
- Can you tie-dye a 50/50 blend? You can use an all-purpose dye kit on 50/50, but the colors will lose some of their vibrancy since the dye will only “stick” to the cotton fibers in the mix.
- Can you tie-dye 60% cotton 40% polyester? This blend works quite well with most commercial kits. You can use cotton-specific dyes and get decent results, too!
- Can you tie-dye 65% polyester 35% cotton? With such a high percentage of polyester in the blend, you would probably need to use disperse dyes and boiling water to create vivid designs.
- Can you tie-dye 80 cotton 20 Polyester? Absolutely, yes! This high proportion of cotton makes the dye job quite easy. You can use fiber reactive dyes or any commercial tie-dye kit on this type of blend.
Can You Tie-Dye Polyester with Bleach?
It’s difficult to tie-dye polyester with bleach because this plastic-based material can negatively react to such strong chemicals. The best fabric for bleach tie-dye or revere tie-dye is 100% cotton, which you can safely bleach without melting or skewing the fabric.
Bleach can damage polyester by essentially melting its plastic fibers. If you use a gentler, oxygenated bleach, you may avoid this. Still, most of the time, bleach will not remove the color from polyester very effectively anyway because of the synthetic disperse dyes used on this kind of cloth.
What is the Best Fabric to Dye?
Cotton knits, plain weave cotton, and cotton material like denim make the best fabric to dye because cotton works well with all-purpose and fiber-reactive dyes. Most commercial tie-dye kits contain fiber-reactive dyes, so you can choose to use a kit or select your own colors when working with cotton!
Plus, these types of dyes do not necessitate complex dying techniques like using giant pots of boiling water.
Cotton is also one of the most popular fabrics to use in many types of clothing. This makes it easy to find cotton garments you can dye, such as plain white t-shirts, skirts, or dresses.
Other plant-based fabrics like linen, rayon, and bamboo can also work well with tie-dye because they contain cellulose like cotton. But these fabrics present some unique challenges as well, while cotton dyes most easily.
What is the Worst Fabric to Dye?
Synthetic fabrics require the most challenging dye process, making them one of the worst types of material to dye at home. That said, you can tie-dye synthetic material such as polyester and nylon if you want to go through a more difficult dye process.
Some synthetic fabrics, like polyester, can take and hold beautiful tie-dye patterns if you apply the disperse dye through a boiling dye bath. Other types of man-made fabric, like acrylic, do not handle this heat very well. Material such as crafting felt will often lose its shape and texture when exposed to this dye bath.
The bottom line is that all-natural fabric dyes much more easily than man-made materials!
What is the Best Fabric for Tie-Dye Tapestry?
The best fabric for a tie-dye tapestry is plain-weave cotton or muslin. You can often find plain cotton top sheets on sale at Walmart or Target quite cheaply, and those work great for wall hangings! You can also buy white fabric by the yard at stores such as Joann’s or Hobby Lobby.
A soft, lightweight plain-weave cotton will hold your dye patterns, retain vibrant colors, and also drape well when you hang it up on the wall! You probably do not want to use a super-stiff kind of cotton fabric such as a canvas or duck cloth for this purpose, though.
Where Can You Buy Cotton for Tie-Dye?
You can buy cotton for tie-dye by the yard from most sewing stores like Joann Fabric or even from some Walmarts that still offer bolts of material! You can also order fabric by the yard from Amazon, Etsy, or fabric stores such as Fabric.com.
If you want to dye ready-made clothing like t-shirts, socks, or scarves, you can often find plain white clothes for dying at craft stores such as Michaels or Hobby Lobby. Of course, you can also purchase these online from places like Amazon if you prefer.
Alternatively, you can buy plain, undyed cotton t-shirts from clothing manufacturers as well. Or you can refresh one of your own older garments, like a beloved denim jacket, by giving it a tie-dye update!
The main thing to remember when buying cotton for tie-dye is that you must read the label or the product description to make sure the cloth or garment contains 100% cotton fibers. Sellers have to say if the “cotton-like” t-shirt actually contains 50% polyester fibers!
The best fabric for tie-dye is 100% cotton because this material has a high absorbency and works well with easy-to-use textile dyes such as fiber reactive dyes. Most commercial tie-dye kits contain fiber reactive dyes and work best on cotton or cotton clothing like t-shirts. However, you can tie-dye almost any kind of cloth if you apply the right kind of dye for that material.
Synthetic fabrics such as polyester, acrylic, and felt are not easy to tie-dye because they require a boiling dye bath and special disperse dyes. Animal-based fabrics such as silk and wool can tie-dye beautifully but require special acid dyes.