My first attempt at brush-on ombré fabric dyeing

Please note: if you’re coloring something, it’s spelled dyeing. Otherwise, you’re writing about ceasing to live.

Every year, some friends of my boyfriend hold a tie-dye party. I joined them last year for my first ever tie-dye experience. I was ambitious and dyed a shirt and dress, attempting an s-shaped spiral. My items actually looked quite nice, but I was disappointed with how deep the colors were. I prefer bright colors that aren’t too saturated. After seeing how the colors looked brighter after the wash and dry I got ideas for this year’s projects.

Just this week I wondered if I could do a rainbow gradient. I think they’re pretty and I love colorful things. I wondered how much the colors would blend. I remembered reading a rainbow spiral tutorial that used magenta, yellow and turquoise to get the colors of the rainbow. When looking up rainbow ombré fabric dyeing, I came across instructions for dip dyeing that also used those three colors. Then I came upon this video tutorial by iLoveToCreate that uses a brush to create the ombré effect.

I wasn’t sure if I could replicate it, given how I’d be using different dyes. (We use Procion MX dyes, but according to this source, Tulip One-Step dyes are Procion dyes with the soda ash mixed in.) I wondered if I shouldn’t pre-soak the shirt in soda ash, so the dyes wouldn’t react with the fabric right away and have more time to blend, then apply the soda ash solution after the color. I ended up pre-soaking the shirt with everything else.

Although I kept seeing that video reposted on many sites, I couldn’t find results from anyone who had actually tried the technique. That’s why I made this post, and included my own tips at the end. Someone asked in a comment on YouTube how to do a rainbow with that technique and the poster replied to use all the colors.

Since our friends have a bunch of extra shirts, I decided this would be an experiment. We were dyeing in the backyard, so I laid the shirt on a large piece of cardboard. (It was an unfolded box.) At first I thought of covering the cardboard with a garbage bag so the dye won’t soak it, but someone said the dye might pool on the plastic under the shirt, so I skipped the plastic. The drawback of this is that you can’t reuse the cardboard for another shirt because there will be dye on the surface, but if you have a different work surface, it’s not a problem.

Following the advice to apply the lighter colors first, I started with yellow. Unfortunately, there was dye on the grate that we used to transfer the shirt from the pre-soak to the dyeing area, so the shirt got some random splotches of colors from that. I decided to reverse the order of the colors, hoping those colors would blend in. I was surprised that the yellow squiggly line I drew wasn’t readily blending away, so I applied more dye using my brush, as shown in the video. The yellow section became quite wide as a result, but I figured it would blend with the other primary colors. As you can see from the end result, most of the yellow got covered up.

The front of the shirt.

The front of the shirt. It’s far from perfect, but it still looks cool from far away, and for a first attempt, I’m satisfied. The colors look more muted, but I actually like them not so saturated.

The next color I applied was fuchsia. I found myself squeezing a lot on the hem, so that the color would be even. I was able to successfully blend it so that it became lighter going up. That’s when I realized that the ombré effect would be more pronounced with fewer colors. The fuchsia didn’t touch the yellow, so I ended up filling the gap with orange. I didn’t want the orange to be too strong, so I put the dye on the brush, then painted it on the shirt.

Those blue dots on the bottom right happened when I was spreading the turquoise. I wasn’t careful and the bristles flicked drops of turquoise water onto other parts of the shirt (and my arm). I assumed I was screwed, so I didn’t do anything. Now I think I might have been able to wipe them off before they got absorbed—after a few minutes, they looked different from when they first fell on, so I might have been able to remove them earlier—but I’m not sure because the turquoise is darker than the pink. When it happened again with a different color, I cleaned my brush and blended the drops away.


The blue dots. You can also see that the fuchsia did not spread much from where it was applied.

Maybe I just don’t have as good control of the blending yet, which is why some colors ended up wider than others. I pretty much ran out of room for the lavender, and was squeezing it directly onto the seams at the shoulders. I now think that applying the dye with the brush will give me more control over where the color goes, how evenly it is applied, and ultimately how wide the color will be.

I had assumed that the dye would go through to the backside, but I checked it to make sure. There was dye on the back, but it was lighter on some parts than what was on the front, so I did some touch ups. I think I actually like how the back turned out better than the front. I’m sure the cardboard absorbed some of the dye, so perhaps covering it with plastic would have resulted in the back of the shirt getting more color.

The backside. The colors are softer, but I actually like it that way. I was able to squeeze more purple in at the top on the back.

The backside. The colors are softer, but I actually like it that way. I was able to squeeze more purple in at the top on the back.

I definitely want to try this again, but there are some things I would do differently from what I did this time, and what was shown in the video. Keep in mind, the dye that I used is different from the one used in the video, in the sense that the fixer was added before the dye, as opposed to mixed in with it.

Things I would do differently:

  1. Put the dye on the brush, and apply it to the shirt in a horizontal stroke, instead of squeezing dye directly on the shirt, because the line will show. Or if you do squeeze it on the shirt, immediately use the wet brush to blend. This means doing small sections at a time instead of the whole width. I think applying the dye from the brush will give you more control than squeezing it from the bottle, and you won’t end up making one color wider because you had to add more to cover up the squiggle.
  2. When the brush flicks dye (or watered down dye) onto other parts of the shirt, immediately use a clean wet brush to blend it away.
  3. For a more pronounced gradient on a shirt of that length, I wouldn’t do more than three colors. A rainbow would fit better on a dress or scarf.
  4. Watch out for drips! Granted, I was sharing squeeze bottles that had been used by a bunch of kids, so they weren’t clean to begin with. But some bottles are leaky, so be careful to hold them away from your work, unless you would be happy with random brown dots on your shirt. Also, some bottles will splatter when you tip them to use them. This is another reason why I’d rather apply the dye to the brush instead of directly on the shirt.


    I was so thankful that that green dot did not end up brown!

  5. Have several (at least 3) bowls of water for cleaning your brush with. The water that you dip your brush in for blending doesn’t clean it completely, so you’ll need more clean water to wash your brush with in between colors. Have a bowl of clean “oh sh*t” water for when splatters happen. Better yet, wash your brush between colors at a sink or hose if one is conveniently located, or have multiple brushes (one for each color, plus the “oh sh*t” brush).
  6. If I’m feeling more adventurous, I might try skipping the pre-soak in soda ash, apply the colors, let them blend, and then fix them with the soda ash. Or I might try one-step dyes.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below, and I will do my best to answer them.


6 thoughts on “My first attempt at brush-on ombré fabric dyeing

Share your thoughts

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s