How to Spray Dye

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I love trying out all sorts of different dye techniques to see what kind of effects I can make. By using a spray bottle to add tie dye over a freezer paper stencil you can easily make some awesome designs.

Supplies:

  • X-Acto blade
  • Iron
  • Freezer paper
  • Washed and dried cotton shirt
  • Powdered procion dye
  • Soda ash
  • Urea
  • Water
  • Cup or container
  • Mist or spray bottles (with mist setting)
  • Tweezers
  • Plastic garbage bags

Start with your design. I’d recommend using a simple shape – no letters or anything too detailed. This method doesn’t give perfectly crisp edges.

Start by taping the freezer paper shiny side down over the design. I’m doing a star trail where the stars are white for this, so my printed sheet is just a bunch of variously sized stars that I’ll arrange on the shirt as I cut them.

Carefully cut out the design using the X-Acto knife.

Cutting freezer paper with X-Acto knive

Place the stencil where you want it on your shirt (shiny side down again). Dry iron at the temperature appropriate for the fabric. The freezer paper will stick and get a little wrinkly.

Ironing freezer paper stencil on shirt

Keep in mind the freezer paper pieces you lay on the shirt are going to be the white spaces. If you want to keep most of the shirt white with only the design colored, leave a big border around your design and make sure to cover up any other exposed places.

Place something inside the shirt to prevent dye from leaking through to the other side. I stuffed a garbage bag inside.

In the cup or container mix together 3 Tbsp of urea, 1 tsp soda ash, and 1 cup warm water. Stir until dissolved.

In your spray bottle add dye powder and just enough plain tap water to wet the dye. This will help dissolve the dye so clumps don’t clog up the spray bottle. I used a straw to help mix up the dye. Add more dye for bolder colors or less for more pastel. The dye is going to be sitting on the surface of white fabric which will lighten the final color, so it’s better to err on the side of more dye.

When you’re ready to start, fill the bottles up with your urea/soda ash water, add the spray top and shake to mix. Only do this once you’re completely ready to start as once you’ve added the soda ash to the dye, the chemical reaction has started and the dyes will begin to lose strength. (See here for a full analysis of how long before you see color loss.)

Hold the spray bottle far enough away so that you’re only lightly misting the fabric. The trick here is to spray enough to get the color you want without over saturating the fabric – too much dye and it bleeds under the freezer paper stencil. Just a few sprays should do.

Spraying turquoise dye on t-shirt

After you’re happy with the spray pattern you can use tweezers to carefully remove the freezer paper from the shirt.

Removing freezer paper stencil with tweezers

Carefully lay plastic over the top and allow it to sit for about 24 hours. Rinse under cold tap water until water runs clear. Repeat with warm water then machine wash on hot.

Tips:

  • I really recommend using mist bottles instead of spray bottles if possible. Less is more with this method – a lighter mist is less likely to over-saturate the fabric and bleed under the stencil, which is easier to achieve with mist bottles. Alas, I only have spray bottles and they had a very large spray radius, so it kind of made a bit of a mess in my tub…

Purple and turquoise dye mess in bathtub

  • Which brings me to my next tip: if you dye inside like I did, have a bottle of bleach cleaner on hand because you’ll need to bleach your tub as soon as you’re done. Also, do not dye in anything you truly care about. This is an old plastic tub that already has bunches of dings and discolorations and I wouldn’t have been heartbroken if I’d stained it. Dye will stain porous surfaces like marble countertops or porcelain tubs.
  • Dye outside if at all possible for easier cleanup. Unfortunately I don’t currently have anywhere outside I can dye.

I like that the finished product has a pointillism look to it. And I’m loving this color combination!

Purple and turquoise spray dyed tee with trail of white stars

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