Ice Dye: The Tie-Dying Technique That's Breaking Boundaries


What is ice dye and why do the shirts look so cool? How does this work? Well, let me explain! Ice dye is a technique used to make tie dye shirts by applying a powder dye onto a tied shirt, and topping it with ice. The ice melts the dye into the shirt, creating exciting, unique patterns with each new shirt. This process has been around for centuries in cultures all over the world - but it's only recently that people have begun experimenting with different colors and designs using this process.

To learn more about how to create your own one-of-a-kind ice dyed tee or sweatshirt, visit our website at!

How does that shirt look like a rock? You may be asking yourself. Well, we at Birchclaw use a tie method that was made popular on Tik Tok, called geode tie dye! You pull the shirt taut and grasp it by the base of the "geode" you wish to form. I start tying from the base, in order to get some fun dimension in the designs and to prevent them from looking too much like a bullseye. The best part of this design is that it looks best if it's imperfect! The more you pull the shirt, the better it looks. That's why I'm constantly pulling and tugging on my shirts to see what I can create!

Let's talk supplies. What do you need to get started? To dye a shirt, you'll first need a white shirt to dye! If you want to use the same fiber reactive dyes that I do, make sure the shirt is 100% cotton. These dyes react well with natural fiber materials, so stick to cotton, hemp, bamboo, wool, or silk! Once you've gotten your shirt ready to go (pre-wash that baby!) then it's time for the design!

To tie shirts, I use artificial sinew. This is a waxy string material that, when pulled taut, clings to itself and prevents dye from slipping underneath the string, resulting in punchy, bright white lines in your design. You can find this on Amazon, or from Dharma Trading Company. The brand doesn't really matter. I prefer the flat sinew since it attaches more easily to itself than the spherical string. I do four wraps, pull really tight, then four more wraps around each "bulb" in the shirt. I pull it as tight as I can without breaking it, because broken string is a pain to remove from the finished designs.

Next, you'll need to change the pH of the shirt so the dye will react to it appropriately. To achieve this, I use soda ash. I soak my shirts in a solution of soda ash and water for at least 30 minutes prior to dying. If you want to make sure your colors are as bright as possible, then you can sprinkle some additional soda ash on top of the powdered dye.

After the soda ash soak, you'll need to let the shirt dry. If I'm short on time, I'll put the tied shirts into the washing machine on the "drain & spin" selection. This gets most of the water out, and I've had pretty good success with this method. If your shirt is particularly large, or your tied sections are quite thick, you may get better results if you let it air dry for about 6 hours before dying.

We'll now be setting up the shirt for dye! I prefer to dye my shirts on a wire rack, above a plastic bin on a table. I use silicone cake molds (from Amazon) to create an "ice barrier" around the shirt. Shirts can't be ice-dyed if they aren't wet, so we definitely need to make sure to keep as much ice on the shirt as possible! The order in which you apply dye or ice is up to you and should be based on your personal preference. I recommend dying one shirt first then applying the ice, and another shirt with ice first then dye, and observe the difference in the results. Which do you prefer? It really depends on the specific end result you're after. Me personally, I apply most of my dye first and then apply ice after. If I'm making something with less of a need for color placement, like a rainbow, then I'll apply the dye over top of the ice for more of a blended look!

We now have to wait 24 hours for the dye to cure after applying the ice to the shirt. Most ice dye artists typically advise waiting 24 hours after ice has fully melted. The waiting is so hard, but so worth it! After it's been 24 hours, your shirt probably looks quite unpleasant. But don't worry, the dye looks much darker before the shirt is washed. I will rinse my shirt while it's still tied on the wire rack in my utility sink until the water runs clear. Then, I will put the shirt into a bucket and run water until the water is clear again. If you are concerned about the amount of water usage, then I recommend letting the shirt sit in cold water overnight. This will allow for most of the excess dye in the shirt to be released from the water, and not mess up your design. I've also discovered another little hack for rinsing out batches of similar-color shirts. You can rinse just enough to get the excessive powder dye off, and then put in washing machine on cold with a capful of textile detergent. Then untie the shirt, rinse it a few times in the sink, and wash on hot with textile detergent. Dry your shirt, and enjoy your new, beautiful creation!

This is one of the coolest techniques we’ve seen on tie dye shirts, and it's a lot of fun. If you want to try this technique yourself, make sure you are prepared with all the supplies; otherwise, let us know and we will take care of it for you! Shoot us an email if you have any questions about how our team works to create these beautiful designs that are perfect for anyone who wants something truly unique.  Are you going to try this technique, or would rather leave the work to us? Either way-we hope you enjoy your new cool looking tie dye shirt.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published