DIY: Dip Dyed T-shirt

A while back I came across this ombré dip-dyed t-shirt on J.Crew’s website, and it seemed like a challenge to make my own. Yesterday my sister came over with her tie-dying stash to help me figure out how. Lately I’ve been seeing (and loving) this look on curtains, but dying a shirt seems a lot less daunting. Somebody dye curtain panels and let me know how it goes!

DIY dip dye t-shirt


fabric dye (we used Dylon’s Olive Green)
salt (if your dye calls for it on the back) 
a t-shirt (ours was a cotton/polyester blend)
stainless steel kitchen sink
warm water

DIY dip dye t-shirt

I think there are a lot of ways to achieve the ombré look by dip-dying. These steps are by no means the “right” way to do it. We made it up as we went along, so just do what seems right to you if you dip-dye your own shirt. My sister is a tie-dying pro, so these steps are a combination of her advice, winging it, and some of the dye package instructions. We practiced on a few rags before dying t-shirts, and I recommend that you do the same. 

This is what we did:

  1. Plug the (clean) stainless steel kitchen sink, and fill it with 3″–4″ of warm water. Stir in some dye. We stirred in about 1/3 of the package, but use more if you want your shirt to be darker. We also stirred in about 2 tablespoons of salt, since the Dylon dye instructions call for salt.
  2. Soak your t-shirt through with clean warm water and ring it out a bit.
  3. Hold your t-shirt by the shoulders and carefully lower it into the dye until the color goes up as high as you’d like (we aimed for the bottom of the armpits). Do not let the shirt linger in the dye, lift it right out. You don’t want a lot of dye to soak into the fabric on this dip, because this will create the lightest band of color at the top of the gradient.
  4. To dye the middle medium shade of the ombré gradient, dip your shirt back in and make sure to keep the top third of the already colored section out of the dye. This time hold the shirt in the dye for 10–20 seconds to allow more color to soak in. Slightly swish the shirt back and forth while in the dye to make sure you end up with a smooth gradient instead of a sharp line where the darker shade begins. You can pull it out to check how dark the dye is, and leave it in longer if the color isn’t dark enough for you. Lift the shirt out when you are satisfied with the color.
  5. Before dying the darkest part of the gradient, add a few more tablespoons of dye to the sink to make the color darker. Then dip only the bottom third of the colored section of shirt into the sink. Remember to swish the shirt a little like in step four. We held the bottom of the shirt in the dye for about a minute or so, but you can keep checking it and remove the t-shirt when the color is as dark as you want.
  6. After dying, let the t-shirt sit overnight to allow the color to sink in. (We covered the kitchen counter with a trash bag and spread the t-shirt out there.) The next day wash the t-shirt in hot water with just a little bit of laundry detergent.
  7. Wear your totally awesome dip-dyed shirt.


  1. dana

    I love your shirt! FYI there is a whole tutorial on Martha Stewart’s site on this subject, and you can do lampshades and lots of other cool stuff as well! Have fun!!

  2. Sharna

    Cute! You will get a richer color if you use 100% cotton. It dyes much better than anything with polyester in it!

  3. Tara

    Great tutorial & pics! In the past I’ve had trouble achieving a lighter gradation at the top. I found the best solution is to hang the shirt from a skirt hanger , do the first brief dip (like you described) and then mist the top of the shirt with a spray bottle filled with water. The excess water helps disperse the dye and enrich the fade.

  4. Phoebe

    ahh you took this idea out of my head! Except I wanted to create stripes of different colors based on a $72 tshirt from Splendid. ($72 is a bit steep for a t-shirt…)

    Love that olive green

  5. JD

    Yeah, this is seriously awesome — def. gonna be trying this in the next couple days. I’m wondering if you could mix in some of another dye on the fly to get a real smooth gradient from one tone to the next… I’m thinking like Dylans’ Bahama Blue to Navy?

  6. Virginia B.

    Great tutorial! I’m getting ready to break out my Procion and plan to try a little Ombre. I’ve seen several tutorials online and all of them are a little sloppy but this shirt looks great. It’s nice that Dylon would work so well on a blend. :)

    P.S. I pinned this post to refer back to but will take it down if you want. I’m finding that lots of people are suddenly up in arms about pinning and I don’t want to offend!

  7. CM

    I tried this with a black dye and a denim blue dye. I bought some plain white T’s and rounded up some old ones to try this one. They turned out great except after washing them in hot water the color bled to the top portion of the shirt. Wish it would’ve stayed white but overall good results! Thanks for posting!

    1. Sue F.

      Mine turned out the same (a pair of thrifted white linen pants and a white cotton shirt) … I washed it in warm water and it bled into the white. I was disappointed but it wasn’t awful. Do you know of anything to keep this from happening?

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      No, you want the fabric to stay wet the whole time so the dye blends smoothly.

  8. krissy

    Your version of the shirt looks so good! I was wondering how you get the white portion of the shirt to stay white? I dye a lot and that’s my biggest problem, the dye always runs into the white part. Any hints?

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      I’m not sure why, but the dye just didn’t bleed into the undipped part of my shirt. Beginner’s luck maybe? Sorry I can’t be more help! Do you think the brand of dye could make a difference?

    2. Kristin

      After dying, carefully hand wash it the best you can without getting the top in the mix, then let it dry thoroughly and throw it in the dryer for a bit. Maybe the heat will help set it. I’ve only done the dryer trick once but it seemed to minimize the bleeding a little bit. Hope it works!

  9. paul sid

    Turned out awesome.
    Any ideas if u do this technique with red dye on a yellow tee, will it turn Orange?
    Also if u have a pre printed t shirt that uses waterbased ink will the dye react with waterbased inks?

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      If you use red dye on a yellow tee the lighter part of the gradient will probably look orange, although I bet the darkest red at the bottom will still look red. I’m not sure how the dye would react with water-based inks already on the fabric.

  10. Rachel

    Thanks for the awesome tutorial.. I have just the tee for this (after some practice) I got it to go with a skirt I made, but I don’t like the color, so I will change it! For those with color bleeding problems, I wash all my hand died fabrics in cold water only. I am a cold water wash gal anyway, unless something need bleached or disinfected. I have used rit powder, rit liquid, and dylon, washed in cold water with like colors and have had no problems. Also rinse the garment until the water runs clear, and heat set the color in the dryer.

  11. Sherrill

    I’ve been dying for years…I get tired of something and change the color, and it becomes “new”! So, suggestions to some problems listed above.
    First, one lady asked about using different colors of dye. Yes, you can do that and it looks really cool. You can either add the darker dye to the lighter dye or start a new “bath”. I usually just add it to the lighter dye, unless i”m going from yellow to red or something like that, because you want the red to be as “red” as you can. Don’t be afraid to try something. Its always fun.
    Secondly, I suggest using very hot water to dye in instead of just warm water, as the color “sets” better. Always use salt, even if it doesn’t call for it, because salt helps set the color and makes it more intense.
    Third, rinse the shirt in hot salty water, from the top down, then in cold water. The hot salted water will help the color to set. Let it air-dry to damp, then dry it in a dryer on the HOTTEST TEMP the garment can stand. Put a couple of towels or other garments you don’t care about in the dryer with it so it tumbles correctly. The heat from the dryer sets the color.
    If you don’t have access to a dryer, iron the shirt on the highest setting the garment can take. This will also set the color.
    Lastly, I strongly recommend to never, ever wash a home-dyed garment in hot water. I only use cold water when I launder self-dyed garments, and I use Amway laundry detergent. Its the only detergent that doesn’t have bleach added to it, and its 100% biodegradable. If your detergent says “makes clothes brighter!” do NOT use it on your dyed garments. It has bleach in it, but they won’t tell you.
    I’m not an Amway distributer, I simply use their products and have used them for over 15 years. Their SA8 is the best, and it also protects your clothes and helps them to keep their color and shape for much longer. Hope that helps. By the way, I found this website through Pinterest. Yay!!

    1. Kristin

      I just wrote earlier about using a dryer before I saw your awesome tips!! This is super useful. Especially about the laundry detergent. I just thought the clothes faded because they are made cheaply or something!

  12. Sherrill

    Dang more thing I forgot. If you don’t have a stainless steel sink, use a stainless steel bowl, the big huge ones. You can also use large canning kettles, a turkey roaster pan, or ceramic-coated stainless steel pots. The dye will stain the ceramic a bit but it will come out this way: make a scrub out of hot water and baking soda, (and/or Bon Ami). Scrub with those green scratcher pads that are on the opposite side of sponges. It comes right off with no scratching.
    When I dye, I do it over the stove in my turkey roaster pan, with a low heat, keeping the water at a simmer. The hotter the water, the more intense the color will be. Sorry for the double posting.. but I forgot about this stuff…

  13. Stacey

    I’ve got a question you may or may not know the answer to. Do you know how a shirt with grease stains will dye? Will the stains still be visible?

    1. amanda

      it may or may not be visable, I’ve never dyed a shirt, BUT if you sprinkle cornstarch on the stain and let it sit overnight then wash as normal it will disappear! I’ve also seen on pinterest that rubbing chalk overtop works too, but I’ve never personally dont that one.
      And thanks for this post Amanda! I’ve been thinking about doing this project for a long time.

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      You could also use a bucket or a big stainless steel bowl. If you use a non-stainless steel sink it may be dyed in the process.

  14. Nancy Seline

    This worked out AMAZINGLY for me! I dip-dyed a dress that I bought and it turned out perfect. It has an underskirt made of polyester, so that part wasn’t dyed at all, but it’s not visible so I’m not complaining! Best DIY dip-dye tutorial I’ve googled – you were actually able to achieve a smooth gradation and that’s the whole point. Thanks so much! Will be doing this to many other garments of clothing in the future

  15. Alice

    wow this looks so good!! The ombre is so gradual too. I tried to DIY a tie-dye shirt a couple weeks ago and it looks ehhhh hahaaha

  16. Heather

    Amanda, I just dip dyed a few tablecloths for a party that I was styling.The tablecloths were white lace from the 80’s that were given to me. They turned out perfect. I will definitely try it again! I’m glad to hear others are having success….

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      Whoa, that’s cool. I don’t think bleach would achieve that effect, it would just turn the fabric white and wouldn’t produce that smooth gradient. I have no idea how they did that! They may have just printed the faded plaid design straight onto the fabric.

  17. sheshb

    is there a way to keep the dye off certain parts of the shirt in order to create patterns? for example, could you use something like masking tape to keep the dye off certain parts of the shirt to make patterns?

    1. Hannah

      You can create designs with the blue Elmer’s glue. Look it up on pinterest. I’ve done several shirts this way and they’ve turned out great!

  18. Carol Cannon

    Just you wait… This fat old lady has an off white night gown with a couple stains…. This week end… The fat old lady will have a fabulous dip-dyed PURPLE night gown….
    Thanks for the awesome tips…..

  19. Hannah

    Thanks for sharing! I’m hoping to try this out but make a design on the bottom or on the shoulders to create more effect in the shirt. Should be exciting!

  20. eleven kittens

    I dipped the entire thing in the dye for like a second, so it’s all very light blue (I used French Blue from Tintex) and then i did the gradient thing. It kind of looks smoother. Try dip-dye tie-dye! Mine came out G-R-E-A-T! it looks really unique and not so ‘hippie’ so i turned it into a tote. best tutorial ever created! very detailed and helpful! by the way, love the v-neck look. gives a more professional look than a crew neck ‘i did this at camp’ feel. thanks again!

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      One packet of dye will be enough. I’m not sure how many grams that is since I did this project so long ago.

  21. hicustom

    The dip-dye effect is so cool. It reminds me of a dreamy watercolor painting.Thanks for sharing! I’m hoping to try this out but make a design on the bottom or on the shoulders to create more effect in the shirt. Should be exciting!

  22. Ellie

    I’ve made so many of these in the past year: thanks for the how to…to get the Jcrew effect on the blue shirt, you can put your dye in a spray bottle! Thanks again!!!

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