Tie-dye artist explains how to work up riot of color

Sheri Gourd | Daily Press

Kathy Tibbits talks about the ripple pattern she tie-dyed on this shirt. She hosts drop-in tie-dye sessions, as well as classes at Tahlequah Creates, downtown.

Kathy Tibbits has a goal to tie-dye the world, and one way she is achieving that is by teaching others how to do it.

"The cool thing about tie-dye is that it's made by a real person. When you see someone wearing it, it shows they support the arts and have sensibility about color," said Tibbits.

Tibbits learned to tie-dye from an artist in the 1980s.

"I got bored with typical tie-dye," she said. "I wanted more feminine-looking tie-dye. That's more upscale or a fashion style. It's a bit more expensive."

Make-and-take tie-dye is available most Fridays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., at Tahlequah Creates, 215 N. Muskogee Ave.

"It takes about 20 minutes. People drop in and make a tie-dye T-shirt they can take home and wash out the next day," said Tibbits. "I could be a one-hour summer camp for kids. Even if they don't make anything, they can watch and learn the technique."

On Friday night, Tibbits led the Big Beautiful Family-Sized Tie-Dye Make & Take at Tahlequah Creates. Attendees could make up to 10 items in three hours for a cost of $50. The students did have to bring their own "blanks" - T-shirts, skirts, aprons, etc. - but all of the other materials, work space, and guidance was included.

"This is a pretty small class, but I get more time with each person and help them along with their ideas," said Tibbits.

Children 4-years-old and up who are accompanied by adults are welcome to tie-dye during the Friday afternoon opportunities. For the larger, structured classes, Tibbits prefer they be 14 years or older.

Tibbits will spend time later this summer doing tie-dye with kids at one of Dena's Art Den's day camps.

"Every child is different in their sense of orderliness an creativeness. Kids who are the most unorganized and can't do, say, pencil drawing, enjoy tie-dye," she said. "It teaches them about color blending in the spectrum and light."

Another big tie-dye class will be held in August.

"That will be just in time for back to school. It's a way to make a bunch of clothes for not a lot of money," said Tibbits.

Tibbits said the kits sold in stores aren't as good as what she uses.

"They're designed for convenience, and not for color," she said. "I also pump up the recipe and use a lot more color."

In her process, Tibbits will soak the material in a soda ash mordant which helps the color affix to the cloth.

"It's messy, but it's worth it because you get better color," she said. "You can use pool stuff or baking soda, but that can get expensive."

Before dying, new clothes should be prewashed in hot water with no detergent and dried until hot.

"This causes the fibers to 'wolf' up and be fuzzy. That gives more dye sites for the molecules of color to attach to," said Tibbits.

Recommended fabrics include: 100-percent cotton, rayon, linen, ramie, hemp, model, nylon, or silk. Colors come out differently on silk, according to Tibbits.

"Linen tends to feather. Cotton jersey takes color differently than cotton weave," she said. "Polyester doesn't take. You don't get great color."

Some people buy packages of new white T-shirts, but that limits the artists on the sizes they will have available.

Tibbits encourages people to find clothes at thrift shops to tie-dye. This opens up the variety of pieces for a wardrobe, and the clothes can be more feminine than just a T-shirt.

"I like to do skirts. They're great with boots for festivals or for a day at the river," she said.

Once the piece is dyed, it will need to be cured.

"Let it batch for at least 24 hours or even longer. Two days is even better. Leave it in a sealed plastic bag on the front porch for a week and that would be great. Your clothes will be brilliant," said Tibbits. "You want as much moisture to stay on the shirts as long as possible. That way, the colors can find a place to attach."

Larger items that may not fit in bags could be put in a plastic storage container. Any boxes, spoons, bowls, etc. used for tie-dying should be kept separate from items used for cooking or eating.

After it has cured, the article would be washed out without detergent, and then it can be washed with regular clothes.

Tibbits knows a variety of patterns and designs for tie-dye, such as rippling effects, spirals or to make "clouds." She said doing an ombre dye - where it fades from one color to another or from color to white - is difficult, because the part not being colored has to be kept out of the dye.

She will also buy colored clothes to which she can add designs or another color.

The larger the clothing item, the more details that can be made and seen. Tibbits said baby clothes and items are harder to do.

While Tibbits does other types of art, such as quilting and painting, she truly enjoys tie-dying.

"I really love to tie-dye. It's a lot of fun," she said. "It's like coloring Easter eggs."