Tie Dye Sweatshirt: How To Create 2 Easy, Colorful Designs

Tie Dye Sweatshirts

We are a definitely a sweatshirt wearing family, so a tie dye sweatshirt seemed like the perfect project for us (and to share with you). For this how-to, I wanted to explore tie dye patterns that are easy to do (hear that, beginners?!), but are not the typical designs you see on the internet. This gives you a more original sweatshirt that’s still colorful and cool!

For my younger daughter’s sweatshirt, we chose the rainbow pattern which is as bright and vibrant as her personality. I did a 3 color rainbow tie dye shirt tutorial (shown here), so for a sweatshirt, we kicked this up a notch to 7 colors since we have more fabric with the sleeves.

For my older daughter’s sweatshirt, she really liked her ice dye spiral t-shirt, so we thought trying it with a sweatshirt would be fun and not the traditional spiral (that everyone does).

While both sweatshirts were kids sizes, I do want to point out that an adult size will use the exact same steps (just more dye).

Ready to create some cozy coolness!?!

QUICK NOTE about tie dyeing with sweatshirts: If you decide to create a different pattern than the ones I walk through below, pay attention to the sleeves. You want them included in the pattern in such a way that when its finished, the pattern looks complete. Example: In the spiral pattern, when you start swirling the sweatshirt, one sleeve will naturally go with the spiral. One will not, so you will have to adjust to make it fit in.



Tie Dye Sweatshirt (Rainbow & Ice Dye Spiral Patterns)


Sweatshirt Buying Note: When you are looking for a sweatshirt to tie dye, you will need one that is a high cotton blend. I try to only use 75% cotton or more because the color will hold much better and be more vibrant. For the rainbow example, the sweatshirt was 100% cotton and I listed that one above. For the ice dye spiral example, however, I misordered and the sweatshirt was 60%cotton/40%polyester. The pattern turned out well, but you can tell that the colors were definitely muted (which my daughter actually loved).

Baking sheet/rack versus just a workspace covered in plastic: I have dyed MANY items on just a covered workspace. As long as you have a ton of paper towels and are careful, you will be fine. It is, however, MUCH easier and more environmentally friendly (i.e. paper towel usage) if you use a baking sheet and rack because any excess dye goes directly onto the pan, away from your socks, and you barely need to use any paper towels. If you plan on tie dyeing a number of items now or in the future I strongly suggest the investment.


NOTE ABOUT THE RACK SETUP: For ice dyeing you will need a rack to set the shirt on, so it is lifted off of the ground. This allows the melted ice and dye to run through the shirt and any excess can fall below and away from the shirt, so it doesn’t mess up the pattern you are creating. I used my trusty baking tray with rack that I use for all of my tie dyeing. It easily held all of the excess liquid. If you do not have the baking tray and rack, you can use another rack over any container that will not stain (or you don’t care if it stains), like metal, plastic, glass.


Creating The Pattern

Usually we start with damp items for tie dyeing, but for this pattern you’ll want to start with a dry sweatshirt

1. Lay the sweatshirt flat on your work surface. Using the washable marker, create the first rainbow arch line on the sweatshirt. Since you are using an item that has long sleeves, keep that in mind when creating the arch and incorporate them where possible to create a nice big rainbow.

Adding first rainbow arch guideline to sweatshirt
Adding The First Rainbow Arch Guideline To Sweatshirt

2. Continue to add the rainbow arch guidelines. For this one, I wanted to use 7 colors (fuchsia, red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet), so I needed 8 lines to show where each color should go. NOTE: You can use less or more colors (like this example). Just mark the number of lines accordingly. Also, don’t be afraid to add arches above the original arch. As I started to add the lines I realized that I had more white space above the arch than I wanted. Adding lines above the original arch centered the rainbow on the sweatshirt better.

Adding rainbow arch guidelines on sweatshirt
Adding Rainbow Arch Guidelines On Sweatshirt

3. Once you have all of the lines marked, gather the shirt along the top line of the rainbow. When it is completely gathered up I like to make the starting and ending points of the line touch. That way it will be easier to wrap the rubber band around the marker line.

Gathering top line of arch together
Gathering The Top Line Of The Arch Together

4. Take your first rubber band and wrap it around the marker line several times (so its tight). After the rubber band is on, you can adjust the marker line, if needed, in case it moved.

Securing first line of arch with rubber band
Securing The First Line Of The Arch With A Rubber Band

5. Continue gathering each additional line and securing with rubber bands until all lines have been wrapped with rubber bands.

Completely secured rainbow arch on sweatshirt
Completely Secured Rainbow Arch On The Sweatshirt

6. Now is the time to make the sweatshirt damp. Since the rubber bands are already in place, if the marker starts to wash off it will be fine. Dunk the sweatshirt in a bucket of water or sink and wring it out before starting to dye.

7. Because we are leaving the rest of the sweatshirt white (aside from the rainbow), we will want to protect those white areas. Wrap both ends of the shirt, outside of the rubber bands with plastic wrap. Be sure to get it around a few times, so it doesn’t fall off and make sure the very end is closed, so dye cannot get in.

Wrapping white areas of sweatshirt with plastic wrap to protect them
Wrapping The White Areas Of The Sweatshirt With Plastic Wrap To Protect Them

Dyeing The Sweatshirt

8. Set your sweatshirt on the baking sheet/cooling rack or covered workspace and put on your gloves. Start with the weakest color, which in this case is yellow, and add the dye to the middle ring of the rainbow. Make sure to add extra dye and let it soak in, so it can get to the center of the shirt. Turn the shirt when needed to cover the entire ring.

9. Continue to add colors to each ring of the rainbow, working your way out from the yellow.

Adding dye to sweatshirt for rainbow tie dye pattern
Adding The Dye To The Sweatshirt For The Rainbow Pattern


Creating The Pattern

1. Start with a damp, but not wet, shirt for this design. The shirt could be fresh out of the washing machine. If you washed it a different day, like I usually do, then just dunk the shirt in a bucket of water or sink and wring it out before starting.

2. For the spiral pattern, lay the sweatshirt flat on your work surface. Using a clothespin or your fingers, pinch where the center of the spiral should be and start twisting. Keep twisting while the sweatshirt winds up around the center. Be sure to pull the sleeves in where needed, so they fit into the swirl pattern.

Twisting sweatshirt into spiral tie dye pattern
Twisting The Sweatshirt Into A Spiral Tie Dye Pattern

TIP: Personally, I like using a clothespin over a fork or your fingers. I like that the clothespin acts as a handle, making it easier to hold the twist (especially for small/kid hands). Items like forks or a dowel can damage the shirt fabric if not used carefully enough.

3. Once the sweatshirt is completely twisted up, remove the clothespin. Place the first rubber band around the spiral by carefully sliding it under/over the sweatshirt and across the center of the spiral. Add the second and third rubber bands as shown below, so it resembles a 6 slice pizza. Don’t worry if it looks a bit messy. We’ll fix that in the next step.

Securing The Sweatshirt With Rubber Bands

4. Once you have the 3 rubber bands on, now is the time to adjust them, so that they are evenly spaced around the shirt. You can also tuck any loose ends into the rubber bands, so the circle shape is nice and tight.

Preparing To Ice Dye

5. Once the sweatshirt has been secured with rubber bands, you will need to create a ring around it to hold the ice and the dye. I used some cardboard I was going to recycle and painter’s tape. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just functional.

6. Place the sweatshirt inside the ring and onto your rack/tray.

Shirts ready for ice dyeing
Sweatshirt Ready For Ice Dyeing

7. Once you have the sweatshirt in the ring and on the rack/tray, you can add the ice. I added about 1-2″ on top of the sweatshirt to make sure its well covered.

Ice Dyeing The Sweatshirt

8. For any dyeing technique, always start with the weakest color (which is usually yellow) and finish with the strongest (which is blue) . In this case I had all strong dark colors (blue, violet, and black — my daughter’s choice), so I started with the blue. Since the dye is already in a squeeze tube, conveniently, just take the cap off and gently squeeze to get the dye to come out. Since I am trying make the spiral pop, I added the colors in wedges (similar to a traditional spiral pattern).

9. Add the additional colors. Since I used 3 colors, I created 2 wedges across from one another for each color. Adjust if you add more colors.

Adding dye for ice dyeing
Adding The Dye For Ice Dyeing


10. Once you have finished dyeing your sweatshirt in whatever pattern(s) you choose, (and the ice has melted, if ice dyeing), carefully place it in the gallon plastic bag or wrap it in plastic wrap. Personally I prefer the plastic bag as you can easily seal it, label it (if you are dyeing more than one item) and move it if needed without worrying about dye leaking out.

11. Let the sweatshirt sit for minimally 6-8 hours and up to 24 hours max, so the dye can cure. This will help produce the brightest colors.


Once the dye has cured, it’s time to rinse and wash your sweatshirt. This is an important step as, if done in the wrong order or rushed, it can muddy up the nice colors and pattern you created.

12. Take the sweatshirt out of the plastic bag and put it in a sink or bucket (something that can get dirty and won’t stain). We have a stainless steel kitchen sink, so I use that. You can cut/take off the rubber bands and then rinse the sweatshirt in COLD water. The cold part is critical because it allows excess dye to wash out slowly while not dyeing the remaining white parts of the sweatshirt.

13. Repeat this rinse process several times until the water is fairly clear.

14. Once the water is fairly clear, repeat the rinse process once more, but with luke warm water (not HOT). This should get the last bit of excess dye out before putting it in a washing machine.

15. Once the sweatshirt is thoroughly rinsed, you can wash it in the washing machine either by itself or with several other rinsed tie dye items. If I’m tie dyeing a bunch of items, I will put up to 6 in one load. Wash on warm or cold with a bit of detergent.

16. Dry the sweatshirt in the dryer or let air dry. Personally I prefer air drying as it extends the life of the dye color (as it will eventually fade a bit with washing and wear).

NOTE: Wash the sweatshirt by itself or with other tie dye items for the next few washings before adding it in with your other clothes.


And here we are. Two original, not so traditional, patterns that are colorful and fun! My kids love them! So if you are looking for an easy and comfy project, give tie dye sweatshirts a try. You won’t be disappointed!

Finished rainbow tie dye sweatshirt
Finished Rainbow Tie Dye Sweatshirt
Finished ice dye spiral sweatshirt
Finished Ice Dye Spiral Sweatshirt



Happy tie dyeing! ~ Nikole

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