The spiral fold is both traditional and ageless. In this tutorial I’ll show you how to spin the perfect spiral and apply the dye using CMY color theory to create a rainbow. If you’re new to tie dyeing, my earlier post Fiber Reactive Dye 101 covers the prerequisites. Before you get started, you will need these supplies:
- 100% cotton t shirt(s) (not poly-cotton blend)
- Protective gloves
- Large rubber bands
- Fiber reactive dyes in primary colors (yellow, fuschia, turquoise)
- Soda ash solution
- Squeeze bottles for applying dye
- Wire rack (not to be reused with food*)
- Watertight container and/or plastic bags (recycled grocery bags are perfect)
*Thrift shops and yard sales are a great source of inexpensive utensils for dyeing projects! I’ll assume from here your shirts, soda ash, dyes and gear are prepared and ready to go.
In general, I fold and tie my shirts, soak in soda ash solution, then apply dye. This works well with patterns like the heart, which consists of only a fraction of the fabric in the shirt and uses a few tablespoons of dye for the pattern.
With a spiral, you have a lot more fabric in larger layers to cover: almost 100% of it. Spirals have to be folded tightly to make the pattern and color transitions pop. The tighter the fold and binding, the harder it is for the shirt to absorb soda ash all the way through. And if it’s not saturated with soda ash, the dye won’t stick, and you get a washed-out spiral. This was supposed to be purple and teal. The solution? For brilliant spirals, I hand soak the shirt in soda ash solution first, then fold and tie. THIS is purple and teal.
Here’s how to do it. Start with white 100% cotton t shirts. Launder on regular cycle with hot water. Do NOT skip this step, especially if the shirts are new — any sizing and/or impurities from the manufacturing process can inhibit the fiber from taking the dye evenly.
Wear waterproof gloves. Dunk a clean, damp, unfolded shirt in the soda ash solution. Swish it around to soak through and wring out by hand, letting excess drip back into soda ash container. Place on a small table, inside out and face down. Decide where you want the center of your spiral to be. We’ll be using the middle of the shirt. Now, you have two choices followed by a dance: stick a fork in it or pinch. Then walk in circles. Either direction is fine. If you use a fork, make it a dull one and stick it lightly into the center. Hold light pressure and start walking in circles around the shirt, never letting go of the fork. The shirt should start forming tight pleats like this.
Alternately, pinch the fabric at the center with gloved fingers like this: … and walk around it, rolling into pleats: Continue walking around the shirt, holding on to your pinch, until only the ends are sticking out, then fold them into the spiral. Place your first two rubber bands, dividing the fabric into quarters and nudging in the ends. Now wrap two more rubber bands between the first two, dividing the fabric into eighths. Adjust so all four bands meet in the middle of the spiral on both sides. Here is the flip side: To dye a spiral, always work from the lightest to the darkest color. With primaries, that means yellow first, fuschia second, and turquoise last. Start by squirting yellow dye into the center of the shirt and along the sides of the same rubber band. Continue applying yellow all over that half of the shirt, first along the rubber band then all the way to the edges. Keep adding yellow until it soaks through the folds and out the other side. Apply fuschia to the next wedge, working from spiral center to edges, and saturating the fabric until it drips. Apply turquoise last. Again, start with the center and edges: Then saturate the entire turquoise wedge: Let the whole disc sit for 5-10 minutes to drain, then carefully flip over to a clean section of your draining rack. It should look like this: Apply dye to the flip side just like you did above, working from the center out and saturating every bit of fabric you can see. Now, carefully place the disc in an airtight bag or container and allow to “batch,” or react. The warmer it is, the less time this will take. If it’s 95F in the shade for weeks on end, welcome to North Carolina and and hour or two is fine.
Temperatures above 80F are best for tie dyeing outside; at minimum you want your dyes and soda ash in the mid 70Fs. If you have access to a car parked in the sun, you can place wrapped items in a large airtight container in the car and they will be good to go in an hour, even on a 75F day.
The shirts pictured batched for one hour in a sunny car with outside temps around 85F. In this example, I made an effort to keep the center of my spiral light in color so the original text on the shirt would still be visible. Here is the result: And the back: A word on CMY color theory — remember, we only applied three dye colors to this shirt. A quick visual review on how they work together: magenta (fuschia) + yellow = red
yellow + cyan (turquoise) = green
cyan (turquoise) + magenta (fuschia) = blue
Let’s do one more rainbow spiral. This is the one we folded with a fork earlier. Since I was OK with a darker center, I applied the dye in thirds instead of a half and two quarters. Here it is folded and dyed, same directions as above: And the result: Close up: To create a two-tone spiral like the purple and teal at the top, simply use one color on each half of the shirt and apply center to edge as seen above. That’s all there is to the spiral pattern. Have fun!