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Tips for Tying Tight Sinew

Purple and blue geode dyed fabric with white lines

Do you have trouble making those nice clean, crisp lines on your tie dye?

I’ve now made lots and lots of items using sinew (such as geode dyes) and over time I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks to make getting those nice white lines a bit easier.

What is Sinew?

I use an artificial sinew made for tie dye. It’s a polyester thread coated with wax. It doesn’t stretch when it gets wet, and when wrapped on itself it holds tight on its own. I love it for tying things up that need that need to be tied tightly.

Tips for Tying Sinew

Fabric Matters

The type of fabric you use for tie dye makes a big difference. Thinner, lighter fabrics are easier to tie. Jersey cotton is often used because it’s thin and stretchy which helps with tying. Large tie dyed wall hangings tend to be done on thin sheeting fabrics.

I like to make things difficult for myself and tie dye quilting fabric which is a bit thicker and stiffer. My first few attempts at tying quilting fabric didn’t turn out so well. This is one of the first pieces I tried – it didn’t have the nice clean lines.

Blue dyed circles on green

It doesn’t mean it’s impossible to do with quilting fabric, but it is a bit harder to get it tied tight. You’ll need to employ some of the tips below to be successful!

Blue and gray geode detail

When I first started I was using Kona cotton, which is a little thicker. Tied tight enough you can still get those clean lines in the thicker cotton; however I’ve since switched over to using batik fabric because it is thinner and a bit easier to get tied tight – especially when doing larger pieces like mandalas.

Green mandala close up detail

Ways to Get Sinew Tight

Use the sinew on the roll or a wooden dowel. You don’t want to try pulling the sinew strand alone with your hand – that’s a good way to hurt or even cut yourself. Always pull while it’s wrapped on something – either the original roll it comes on or you can rewrap it on a wooden dowel or small piece of pvc pipe. That way you can grip the whole roll.

I just use the original roll; however that has a downside. Sometimes as you pull the sinew falls off the end and it can occasionally form annoying knots or snags you have to untangle.

Knotted sinew

Starting wet helps. If you soak your fabric in the soda ash solution before tying it actually makes it a little easier to tie tightly. However sometimes it isn’t possible to start wet, or maybe you’re like me and don’t like working with the wet fabric (because then you need a large table you don’t mind getting chemicals on and you have to wear gloves to protect your hands), so you’ll have to compensate by using other tips and tricks to get the sinew nice and tight.

Start with a slip knot. If you have a hard time getting the sinew to stick at the start just by wrapping, you can use a slip knot to prevent unraveling.

Slip knot around fabric

Wrap the sinew 3 – 4 times. Wrap around the fabric three to four times, pulling the sinew snugly after each wrap. It’ll start to catch on itself and become ready to be pulled really tight.

Pull as tight as you can. If you have good upper body strength, you may be able to get the sinew nice and tight just by holding the fabric in one hand and the sinew in the other, pulling as hard as you can.

I do not have a strong upper body, so here’s how I compensate: I place my fabric on the floor and stand on it with one foot on each side of the sinew. Then I grab the sinew roll with both hands and pull up as hard as I can while holding the fabric firmly down with my feet. This allows me to use my full body strength to really get that sinew tight.

How to know the sinew is tight. As you pull the sinew you’ll feel it tightening on itself. You’ll hit a point where you won’t feel the sinew moving anymore – that’s when it’s tight enough. Sometimes you can pull a little too much and the sinew can actually break. I have been smacked in the face a couple times when it broke and flew back up towards me, so be careful.

If you feel the sinew slipping away from the fabric as you start pulling, wrap the sinew around the fabric another time and try pulling tight again.

Untying. If you’ve pulled the sinew tight enough you shouldn’t have to tie an actual knot when you finish. Just leave a long tail so you can find the end and when the time comes to untie it, just unwrap your fabric the opposite way you wrapped it. It should come undone pretty easily!

If you do run into any spots that are hard to untie, be extremely careful if you choose to use scissors to cut the sinew off. It’s really easy to accidentally snip a little hole into your fabric if you misjudge where you are cutting!

With a little practice you should be seeing nice clean, crisp white lines in your tie dye in no time!

If you have some tips of your own, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

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Ginger Summerlin
Ginger Summerlin
November 11, 2020 6:40 pm

I Love your beautiful mandalas!! Thank you so much for sharing your tips…can use all the help I can get! Ginger

April 14, 2022 7:04 pm

this was really helpful, thanks!

Mo Mccann
Mo Mccann
December 25, 2022 5:03 pm

Thank you so very much for this very useful info, i have watched lots of tie dye vids and NONE of them gave any verbal, helpful comments…..i am still trying to find out what kind of dye to use and how much it costs and where i can get it here in new zealand!