Tie-Dye With a Twist

T-shirts 2013

In May the Explorers learned that sometimes “permanent” ink really isn’t, and they found that this can be exploited to make some pretty cool designs on fabric.

In general, when something like a Sharpie marker is described as being permanent, it means that it cannot be washed away with normal cleaning materials like soap and water. This is because the molecules of ink, unlike washable varieties, cling tightly onto most surfaces: fabric, your skin, the couch cushions, the dog’s fur, and so on. Soap and water can break the bonds between regular inks and the material they’ve been applied to, but not permanent inks.

However, as Mr. Ramsey demonstrated, there are other substances that can in fact break those bonds, at least in part. Making a mark with a permanent marker on a piece of material, and then dripping a few drops of rubbing alcohol onto the mark, has an interesting effect. As the rubbing alcohol spreads out across the material, it breaks free some of the ink and carries it with it—leading to a smeared, pastel sort of appearance. Almost like…..wait for it…..tie-dyeing.

And thus began what we called our “Sharpie Tie-Dyeing” activity. The students used a set of markers to each make small designs on white t-shirts they brought with them. First they stretched out a small section of the shirt over the open end of a plastic cup (which was held firmly in place with a rubber band) and then put dots, squiggles, designs, letters, or whatever they desired within the circle. Then it was time to add the rubbing alcohol (with the cup still attached, both to keep the shirt in place and to catch any excess alcohol that dripped through) and see what happened. The exact effect is impossible to predict from one drop to the next, and as Mr. Ramsey pointed out, once you’ve made your marks and added the rubbing alcohol there is no “fixing” possible—you get whatever you get. For these reasons, every single shirt is absolutely guaranteed to be one hundred percent unique!

Once a student finishes with one small design, you have to wait a few minutes for the rubbing alcohol to dry sufficiently to not bleed onto other parts of the shirt. Then it’s time to rearrange the cup and start on another design—or continue a single large design, as some students chose to do. The only limits on covering a shirt are your imagination and the amount of time you have!

Check out the gallery to see some pictures of our time designing shirts. For more detailed instructions on doing this activity for yourself, follow the links below.

Sharpie Tie-Dye Instructions

Instructions and Video

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Reported on:
Fri, 08/19/2016 - 20:58