Looking for a splash of color to carry around or a fun, colorful gift? Tie dye tote bags are super easy to create and there are so many bag styles that can work. As long as the tote bag is 100% cotton (or a high percent of cotton), it can be tie dyed.
For this tutorial we will tie dye 3 different types of tote bag: an all white tote bag where the strap is part of the body, a solid bottom tote bag with solid straps, and a more traditional zip top tote bag with outside pocket. Each style lends itself to different tie dye patterns, so we will discuss patterns that may look the best (be the easiest to create). For all of the tote bags I used Tulip’s one step dye which I love for its ease of use, bright colors, and quality of dye.
Ok, enough chatting, let’s get to the step-by-steps and create some beautiful bags!
FOR COMPLETE TIE DYE 101 BASICS: HOW TO TIE DYE: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE
LOOKING FOR MORE THINGS TO TIE DYE? 30 THINGS TO TIE DYE
Tie Dye Tote Bags
WHAT YOU’LL NEED:
- Tote Bag
- Dye Kit (Which Includes Rubber Bands, Gloves, And A Plastic Sheet)
- Rubber Bands
- Plastic/Rubber Gloves
- Plastic Covering For Work Surface
- Painter’s Tape (optional)
- Baking Tray With Rack (Optional)
- Paper Towels/Rags
- Large Plastic Bag (Like A Kitchen Garbage Bag)
- Washable Marker for the white tote bag pattern (I like to use my kids’ Crayola Washable Markers)
NOTE: 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 hat, 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 (and the ones I purchased are not expensive).
CREATING PATTERNS & DYEING BAGS
For all of these designs, start with a damp, but not wet bag. The bag could be fresh out of the washing machine. If you washed it on a different day, like I usually do, then just dunk it in a bucket of water or sink and wring it out before starting.
Do you need to dye the black fabric on the tote bag?
For all solid colors (black or other) of the tote bag that have already been dyed prior to purchasing, they do not need to be dyed. If the tote is made from quality fabric, they should be fully saturated with dye and therefore will not take in the tie dye you add to it. This is good as dye does bleed into those areas a bit. Net-net…save your dye for the white parts of the bag.
White Tote Bag
Since the all white tote bag is completely dye-able and easy to manipulate I wanted to use a pattern that embraced that. I picked the rainbow pattern to create big arches of color, almost like a bullseye, and used non-traditional colors for more uniqueness. You also could use any other pattern in the Patterns section if you wanted.
1. Lay the bag flat on your work surface. Using the washable marker, create the arch lines on the bag. For this one, I used 5 colors, so I need 4 lines to show where each color should go. NOTE: You can use more or less colors. Just mark the number of lines accordingly.
2. Once all of the lines are marked, gather the bag 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. Secure with a rubber band.
NOTE: The bag is harder to gather than a shirt. Just do the best you can, secure with the rubber band and then adjust the lines so they line up with the rubber band. I guarantee you that picture below took a bit of work to get it looking like that!
3. Continue gathering each additional line and securing with rubber bands until all lines have been wrapped with rubber bands.
4. Set your bag on the baking sheet/cooling rack or covered workspace and put on your gloves. Start with the weakest color, which in this case is pink, and add the dye to that ring of the rainbow. Make sure to add extra dye and let it soak in, so it can get to the center of the bag. Turn the bag when needed to cover the entire ring.
5. Continue adding dye to each ring until the bag is covered in dye. Be sure to spend extra time on the straps, so they are completely covered. (Apologies…I forgot to take the final pic until after I put the tote bag in the plastic bag for curing.)
6. Place the tote bag in a plastic garbage bag and tie it tight, so the dye can cure.
Solid Bottom Tote Bag
The solid bottom tote bag is a bit more limited in what tie dye patterns will work well as it is more stiff due to the solid bottom (and seam). For this type of bag, an ombre, chevron or crumple pattern would be great options. I chose a play on the ombre by binding the bag and allowing the dye colors to blend together (quicker and more random than using a brush).
1. Lay the bag flat on your work surface. Gather the body of the bag up from top to bottom.
2. Secure both ends of the bag with rubber bands.
3. Add dye to the center of the bag, from top to bottom on the white part only, to create a solid band. If you are trying to create a symmetrical pattern, this is a good time to make sure that the band is evenly in the middle of the bag. TIP: The canvas fabric is thicker than shirt fabric, so put the bottle tip close to or touching the bag to get the dye to absorb where you want it to.
4. Once you finish the center band, add the second dye color to each side of the band. Follow that with the third and final color.
5. After the first side of the bag is completely dyed, flip it over, so you can dye the other side. Start with the center color again and work your way out.
6. Place the tote bag in a plastic garbage bag and tie it tight, so the dye can cure.
Zip Top Tote Bag With Outside Pocket
The zip top tote bag is similar to the solid bottom tote bag in that certain tie dye patterns work better than others on it. The thick canvas is great for durability, but not so helpful when dyeing. This is also true for the bottom and straps. Great for usage, but hard to make tight patterns like a spiral, heart, or rainbow. I would suggest trying a crumple (shown here), chevron or ombre pattern.
1. Lay the bag flat on your work surface and start to scrunch it together in the center. Continue to gather it together towards the center until you have a really crumpled bag.
2. Since the bag is not a nice neat circle, like a shirt, we will do the best we can to secure it with rubber bands. Place rubber bands over the center and both ends. Next, add rubber bands in the opposite direction. Finally secure the straps by placing a rubber band on each.
Side Note About The Dyes: For this bag, since there are 3 sections I wanted to play with warm and cool colors. For the outside sections I picked the Fuchsia, Pink and Salmon and for the center section I chose the Lime Green, Teal, and Turquoise Blue. In hindsight I might have gone with just warm or cool colors (3 only), but it turned out pretty nice and was interesting to see what both groups look like.
3. Set your bag on the baking sheet/cooling rack or covered workspace with the top of the bag towards you and put on your gloves. You can start with the outsides or the center. I chose the outsides here.
4. Start with your lightest or weakest color which is yellow, light pink, or salmon and create spots all over those bag sections. Make sure to add extra dye and let it soak in, so it can get to the center of the bag. Add the second and third colors in the same manner.
5. Once you have added all 3 colors, go back in with each color to add more/blend, so all of the sections are completely dyed.
6. Repeat the dyeing steps for the center section.
7. For the center section I actually did dye all of the fabric the first time, but I thought it was a bit too green, so I went back and added more blue.
8. Turn the bag over and repeat the process.
RINSING AND WASHING
Let the bag sit for minimally 6-8 hours and up to 24 hours max for any of the patterns, so the dye can cure. This will help produce the brightest colors. Once the dye has cured, it’s time to rinse and wash the bag. 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.
9. Place the bag 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. Rinse the bag in COLD water. The cold part is critical because it allows excess dye to wash out slowly while not moving dye to other parts of the bag.
10. Repeat this rinse process several times until the water is fairly clear.
11. 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.
12. Once the bag 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.
13. Dry the bag in the dryer or let it air dry. Personally I prefer air drying as it extends the life of the dye color (as they will eventually fade a bit with washing and wear).
NOTE: Wash the bag by itself or with other tie dye items for the next few washings before adding it in with your other clothes.
FINISHED TIE DYE TOTE BAGS
And here are the finished tote bags…each unique, colorful designs.