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Overview Fiber Reactive Dyes Direct Dyes All-Purpose Dyes Acid Dyes      Food Coloring      Lanaset Dye      Acid Levelling (Kiton) Natural Dyes Vat Dyes Disperse Dyes Basic Dyes Naphthol Dyes Fabric Paints
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You are here: Home > All About Hand Dyeing > FAQ > Tying FAQs > Tie-dyeing Mandalas and Stars

How to Tie Dye Mandalas and Stars

How can I tie-dye a mandala? This is the most common question I get on tying clothes for dyeing. Mandalas are popular motifs, but instructions on how to do them have long been extraordinarily hard to find. Some have even suggested to me that there must be a conspiracy to suppress this information! One author, Virgina Gleser, actually promised in one book (Tie Dye Back by Popular Demand) to give full instructions in her next book - but then her next book (Tie Dye! The How-To Book) failed to include any information on how to make mandalas. However, times have finally changed in the realm of sharing information on tie-dyeing.

Video instruction

No longer is it difficult to get excellent instruction on how to fold and dye mandalas. Two different videos are now available which show every detail you need to start tie-dyeing your own mandalas. Even if you have already worked out for yourself how to tie-dye a mandala, you will be fascinated to see the different techniques shown by other mandala dyers. The first DVD which appeared on this subject was Michael Fowler's The Art of Tie-Dye, which shows in detail the folding and tying of kaleidoscopes, flower mandalas, and stars. It's great fun to watch Michael demonstrate his methods in detail, and the exposure to another dye artist can take your own work to a new level. (Note: word has it that this disc is no longer being produced; you may wish to obtain your copy now, rather than waiting until it becomes hard to find.)

Another DVD course in how to tie dye mandalas and stars is True Tie Dye's Advanced Tie Dye Techniques: Making Shapes and Mandalas. The first disc in this two-disc set, Tie Dye 202: Making Shapes with Tie Dye, demonstrates in detail how to tie dye hearts, arrows, peace signs, aliens, and more, while the second of the two discs, Tie Dye 303: Mandalas, Suns and Lotus Blossoms, demonstrates how to tie dye many different mandala designs. Beginners will also want to purchase True Tie Dye's Tie Dye 101: The Basics of Making Exceptional Tie Dye, or get all three discs in one set, the "Learn How to Tie Dye" complete 3-volume set. You can also order directly from True Tie Dye; this is especially helpful for those who are in Europe or Australia, as True Tie Dye sells these DVDs in different formats for international use.

You can learn to make your own beautiful tie-dyed mandalas without ever viewing a video, however, if you are willing to invest plenty of time and effort, using the time-honored technique of lots of trial and error. Read on for more information.

How to make random mandalas

If you're interested in complete control over your mandala pattern, skip down to the next section, but there is a more random alternative: simply fold and then ball up the fabric, and injecting dye into the ball. The results can be beautiful! For more detailed instructions and some beautiful examples, see Elfriede Moller's nice little introduction to Shibori, entitled Shibori: The Art of Fabric Tying, Folding, Pleating and Dyeing.

How to fold mandalas and stars

tie-dyed mandala The chief difficulty is that the outermost layer of fabric will tend to get a lot more dye than inner layers, resulting in a non-symmetric pattern. You want every sector of the pattern to have exactly the same amount of dye, in order to get the multiple symmetry. One thing to do is to fold it accordian-style rather than over and over, if you can picture that for a circle. The other is to be careful to apply dye only to the *edges* of the folds, not to the outer faces, or carefully inject dye inside the bundle with a syringe. Direct dye application only here, no vat dyeing.

It helps to use thin fabric and slightly thickened dye, plus lots of trial and error. Silk t-shirts or thin woven rayon are easier to get fine detail on than thicker cotton knits. The dye thickener is to keep the dye from spreading sideways too much, but too much thickener can interfere with spreading down through the layers.

Here's a picture I drew to show you how to fold your shirt or fabric for tie-dyeing a mandala:
sketch of how to fold a shirt for
a mandala pattern

See the "How I did it" section of example 26 in my gallery for actual photos of the folding process and of a tied mandala fold, ready for bleach (in the case of a dark shirt) or dye (for a light-colored one).

After folding, you can tie with rubber bands, or, for better results, bind as tightly as possible with string or artificial sinew (which should be available among the leather crafts in your local crafts store). Some dyers prefer cotton string; I myself prefer artificial sinew. Carefully wrap the sinew around and around your folded bundle. When you knot it, to help prevent the first half-knot from slipping after you pull it tight, before you can put in another half-knot to hold it, make two turns of one end of the thread around the other, instead of one. (My photographed examples are dark in color, because they were tied for discharge-dyeing mandalas using bleach; for dyeing, you should use white or a very pale color.)

How to do the dyeing after you fold your mandalas

See How to Dye for instructions on dyeing cotton or silk with fiber reactive dyes.

Most importantly, do not use all-purpose dye to dye your mandala! On cotton and other plant fibers, use only cool water fiber reactive dyes, such as Procion MX dye, with soda ash to set the dye. On silk, you can use the same fiber reactive dyes with soda ash, at room temperature, or you can use acid dye, along with vinegar and some source of heat.

Putting soda ash into the fabric. If you are dyeing mandalas with fiber reactive dyes, you must have soda ash in the fabric before you add the dye. You can do this by soaking your tied bundle, or, for greater control, you can soak the unfolded fabric in soda ash solution (one cup [250 ml] per gallon [4 liters]) and then line dry, before folding the fabric.

Adding dye. Slowly drip dye onto the sections of the tied cone, keeping in mind that dye will spread under the ties no matter how tight you make them, so be sure that adjacent colors are those that will blend nicely together. Use a syringe to inject even more dye inside the bundle.

Finishing. Follow the instructions for Dye Reactions and Wash Out given under "Drip Dyed Mandalas", below.

mandala tie discharge front of spiderweb mandala
discharged shirtback of spiderweb mandala
discharged shirtDischarge dyeing. As an alternative to dyeing, or as preparation for dyeing, you may bleach out dye in a darker shirt. Different concentrations of bleach, and different base dyes, will take more or less time to discharge; more time allows the blach to soak into the fabric, leaving the more thoroughly discharged design to the right. Finishing depends on the discharging agent used; when chlorine bleach is used, Anti-chlor from PROchem or Bleach Stop from Dharma Trading must be used to stop the bleach action and preserve the fabric from further damage; lacking those, in a pinch one can use hydrogen peroxide to stop the bleach, though not vinegar as its reaction with bleach produces caustic chemicals. In either case, immediately wash in a large volume of water.

Drip-dyed Mandalas

drip-dyed mandala Another technique has the potential for more detail, more color, and more control. First pre-soak the fabric or garment in the usual soda-ash pre-soak (see How to Dye), then line-dry it.

compass for mandala
guidelines compass for mandala
guidelines Draw guidelines first. Smooth the dry fabric out and draw pencil lines in a geometric pattern, to serve as guides. Draw multiple axes, evenly spaced, passing through a central point; draw concentric circles with a compass; draw squares or other geometric shapes. These are not themselves the design; instead, they serve as guidelines. Fabric that has been pre-soaked in soda ash solution and then line-dried is easier to draw on than untreated fabric. The pencil marks will wash out later, leaving a clean and perfect dye pattern.

Drip on the dye. Use fiber reactive dye only, such as Procion MX type dye, dissolved in water, with urea. (See About Dyes for more information, Sources for Dyeing Supplies for where to get it, and How to Dye for the full recipe.) Carefully drip small drops of dye at the intersections of the lines, or along the lines. You can use any sort of dripping device, for varying degrees of control, from a simple eyedropper, though various disposable glass or plastic pipettes, all the way up to $200 micropipettes such as are routinely used in biochemistry labs. (A good source for inexpensive pipettes is American Science and Surplus.) It's quiet, pleasant work, deciding where to place the drips of dye so that they are arranged in a pleasingly symmetric pattern of color. I like to use very small drips near the center of the design, and larger ones toward the outer edges. See my gallery for examples and details, particularly example 21, example 22 and example 23.

Background. You can dye a surrounding background color, either before or after the mandala itself, by pulling up the center of the mandala and rubber-banding its circumference, then carefully pouring dye everywhere but inside this circle. I prefer to do the background first, so as to not risk covering up any special details on the mandala, but this is more trouble.

Dye reactions. Place the newly dyed fabric in a warm place, so that the dye can react with the soda-presoaked fabric, a minimum of 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees C.). Leave it for twenty-four hours at 70 degrees F. (21 C), or two to six hours at 90 degrees F. (32 C.).

Wash out. Wash your new mandala in cold water first, then in hot water (if the fabric can stand it) to rid the fabric of the last traces of excess dye. Most dyers like to use Synthrapol detergent, available only from dye suppliers, for this purpose, but regular laundry detergent will do. If you have used fiber reactive dyes, your beautiful new design is now permanent and wash-proof.




see more answers to FAQs

Overview Fiber Reactive Dyes Direct Dyes All-Purpose Dyes Acid Dyes      Food Coloring      Lanaset Dye      Acid Levelling (Kiton) Natural Dyes Vat Dyes Disperse Dyes Basic Dyes Naphthol Dyes Fabric Paints
Index How to Dye with
    Fiber Reactive Dye
How to Tie Dye How to Batik Low Water
    Immersion
Dip Dyeing Washing Machine
    Dyeing
How to Tie Dye
    with Kool-Aid®
How to Tie Dye with
     All Purpose Dye
How to Dye and
    Paint Fabric
    with Light
cellulose fibers:     cotton     rayon and
     bamboo
protein fibers:     silk     wool synthetic fibers:     acrylic     nylon     polyester     spandex other materials...
acetic acid alginate ammonium sulfate baking soda citric acid ludigol mordants salt soda ash sodium silicate temperature synthrapol urea vinegar water softener
Index Batik Mandalas &
    Peace Signs
LWI dyeing Watercolor Rainbow
    Drip-dyes
Tie Dyeing Spray Dyeing Fabric Paints and Markers
The Dye Forum Book Reviews Find A Custom Dyer Old Q&A Blog Blog of Questions
     & Answers (new)
Search Contact me Link here About This Site
Where to Buy
    Dye & Supplies
Mailing Lists Other Galleries Other Informative
    Sites
Additional Links
Index General Dye
    Questions
Fixing Dye Synthetic Fibers Color Choice Dye Auxiliaries Bleaching and
    Discharging
Safety Procion Dyes Acid Dyes Problems Tying Miscellaneous
Facebook: All About
    Hand Dyeing
Twitter @HandDyeing Google+
Procion MX Dyes Jacquard Acid Dyes Other Dyeing
    Supplies
Fabric Paints, Dyes,
    Books, and DVDs


All of the pages on this site are copyright ©1998‑2018 Paula E. Burch, Ph.D.

This page was created: January 28, 2000;
Last updated: June 18, 2006;
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