Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

TPiB: Sharpie “Tie Dye” T’s

Every summer I run at least one T shirt decorating program because they are surefire hits for my group.  Tie dying is the classic, but truth be told, it really pushes the limits of my willingness to tolerate mess and spend gobs of setup and cleanup time. This year we’re trying a different spin on the familiar style, using permanent markers. Fortunately, it dovetails nicely with this summer’s CSRP, Spark a Reaction, thanks to the hidden science that we’ll get to later.

Here’s how it’s done:

Stretch your T-shirt over a pice of cardboard (above, I used a flexible plastic place mat which also works). Alternately, you can stretch your T over a plastic cup and rubber band it taut to give you a circular workspace.
Experiment with ink patterns and shapes. In the above example, the yellow/orange/red section was created by dotting the ink on, and the blue/green/purple one was done with lines.
Spray or drip rubbing alcohol onto your design, starting from the center. If desired, use a chopstick or pencil to poke the center up, ensuring that the alcohol moves away from the center.
The result is a blending and bleeding of colors that simulates the tie-dye look.  Teens can also get creative, drawing designs and spraying them to give them a glow effect.  Below, you can see how my daughter salvaged her drawing of princesses by spraying the heck out of them to turn them into something much more interesting and mystical (in my opinion). Karen says: Weeping Angels!
Send teens home with instructions to iron it on the highest setting for the fabric once it has dried. This will help set the color so it won’t fade too quickly in the wash. I recommend washing alone the first time, and using cold water. 
The hidden educational bit here is that what you’re doing is basic chromatography. By spraying the alcohol on the ink, you see the colors change and blend because, in part, they are separating into their components.  If you’d like to play up the science end of things, consider purchasing the Sharpie Pen Science kit from Steve Spangler Science

T shirts, bandanas, or other fabric items
Rubbing alcohol
Spray bottles, eye droppers, or straws
Plastic cups
Rubber Bands

If you already have the Sharpies and kids bring their own T shirts, you could run this for as little as the cost of a bottle of rubbing alcohol, about $2.

15 minutes to 1 hour


Great for both tweens and teens


More T-Shirt Fun:
Meme All the Shirts
Making a Tardis T-shirt


  1. I'm doing this this summer too! Thanks for the post, I'm glad you mentioned what to do about washing. We're using drawstring backpacks I got from Oriental Trading instead of T-shirts.

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