My mother saw this activity when she was at the Maker Faire earlier this year. She was impressed by how simple it is.

First you need some plain white t-shirts. I suppose you could use other colors, but then it’s harder for kids to figure out how their colors are going to turn out.

You can also use old pillow cases if you like. Mom used one for practice so she’s be ready to help the kids the first time she did this with them. Kind of a neat look and not a bad idea for kids making a present for grandparents or something.

Aside from the t-shirts, you will also need colored Sharpie markers, rubbing alcohol, a plastic cup, a dropper and I recommend having rubber bands to hold the shirt to the cup. A hair dryer can be useful too, for speeding up the evaporation of the alcohol so the kids can do more sections of their shirts quickly. Plastic grocery bags stuffed into the shirts can also help to keep colors from bleeding to the other side of the shirt while the ink dries.

I strongly recommend having windows open during this project, or do it outside. After a while, rubbing alcohol really stinks!

Put a plastic cup inside the t-shirt, wherever you want to begin this project. Wrap a rubber band over the t-shirt on the cup to hold it tight.

Draw dots or a simple design with the Sharpies. It looks great with no more than 2-3 colors. Too many colors will lead to the colors turning kind of muddy. Be firm enough with the markers to leave a fair bit of ink, or your results won’t be too impressive. Light dots don’t have enough ink to spread out very much.

Don’t get too fancy or detailed in your design. You’ll be blurring it most of the way away in a moment.

A design closer to the center works for a more classic tie dye look, but my kids liked dotting or drawing all over the area they were working with, and it turned out fine.

My kids did fireworks patterns, drew hearts, just whatever pleased them. Make sure there’s still some white areas left so that the colors have places to go other than just into each other.

Sharpie t-shirt drawing dots

Once the design is drawn, it’s time to get the rubbing alcohol out. Bring some up into the dropper, and wet the area of the drawing. The alcohol will soak into the shirt and bring the colors along with it.

Sharpie t-shirt drops of rubbing alcohol to blur design

Give it some time to spread, and you’ll come up with something like this:

sharpie tshirt blurring

Don’t give up on the spreading too quickly. There’s the immediate spreading you’ll see as soon as the alcohol soaks in, then more as it goes.

If you want to do more than one section without a lot of waiting, plug in that hair dryer and blow it dry once you’re satisfied with where you’re at. Rubbing alcohol evaporates pretty quickly. That’s why I said earlier to open the windows or do this outside. If you didn’t, by now you may know why I said that. It may help to take something for the headache after you get those windows open!

If you haven’t already, stuff the shirt with a plastic bag so that colors don’t bleed onto the back while they dry. You can still do more work with the bag in there.

Once you’re done you can set the colors either by throwing in the dryer for a while or by soaking in a white vinegar and water mix. I think I did about a 50/50 mix. You’ll get a bit more color out, and help keep the colors from bleeding into the rest of your laundry later.

I’ve had new red shirts bleed far more into the vinegar and water mix than these did, so I don’t know how bad it is if you skip setting the colors. But I did see some definite color coming out. Hopefully no one will tell me how bad it was when they failed to set the colors. Just take the time and get those colors set.