Did you know you can (sort of) make fabric dye with acrylic paint? This trick turns even ancient acrylic into gorgeous tie-dye for free. I found out by accident.
Bottom line: I used old paint to “squeeze-bottle tie-dye” challah covers with kids while we stood over a sink. It was easy, it was gorgeous, tidy, and it was free.
The accident was that I ordered challah covers for Kindergartners to tie-dye, and I didn’t notice the fabric was 100% polyester. Traditional dyes are made for natural fibers that absorb dye and keep it there, as opposed to slippery, shiny, tissue-thin polyester. Alas. So, I drove to two big craft stores to find specialty dye that would adhere to polyester and still be easy and safe for kids to use. While panicking in front of the displays, I thought, Dang, I’ve got 20 years of acrylic paint in the art cupboards. Can’t I just use that?
I can and did. Thanks to an idea from That Artist Woman, I diluted four acrylics into empty Elmer’s glue bottles. If you don’t have empty glue squeezies, use those mini water bottles and a plastic pipette. Kids love pipettes, which are a great lesson in air pressure: squeeze to fill (while the tip is under the surface), and squeeze to empty (while the tip is above the surface)! Buy in cheap packs at the crafty stores. Pipettes also mean portion control, as opposed to the glue bottle one kid squeezed so hard it splattered ounces of green onto the walls and my hair.
Watered-down acrylic is not really a dye, nor is it technically a fabric paint, but for those of us who just want the job done quickly and cheaply and prettily, it’s great stuff.
I can’t tell you the ratio of paint to water, because I totally made it up with each color. All of them worked fine.
Now that I look online, I see actual tutorials for tie-dying with acrylics, but all assume the fabric in question is cotton, and some seem to involve adding “fabric textile medium.” Some add salt, some use alcohol instead of water. My head is starting to fog at all these variations, so I’m going to let you google “acrylic tie-dye” on your own.
My way worked great with the poly covers, and also with the cotton hankies my First Graders did the same day.
SINK: We tie-dyed over the art-room sink, which is low for Littles to reach comfortably. I didn’t want to to deal with tarps and boxes and tubs or with going outside. I needed quick and easy because class is only 30 minutes, and the students needed to start and finish within that time frame.
PROCEDURE for In the Sink Tie-Dying:
Here’s what I did before class:
I stenciled Shin Bet Tav with a pencil. I had to do this myself, in part to save time and also to save intense frustration: the stencils are opaque (and thus difficult to align), in alef-bet order (not separate letters), and I only own one set. The kids don’t know their letters yet, and to pencil any stencil onto that slippery polyester is a trick in itself.
SEE MY LATER SOLUTION HERE (no stencils! Kids do work!)
During class, which is 30 minutes long:
Students chose permanent markers to cover my pencilled lines. Metallic Sharpies were a particular favorite. Some kids chose one color per letter, some kids filled in each letter. We made sure they added a name and year in a corner, for posterity.
The markers go right through the filmy material, by the way, so cover your table with paper.
One child at a time, I pinched the center of each challah cover and made a tight spiral. The child stretched two big rubber bands across the whole thing, crossways. (Rubber bands demand dexterity and/or patience, and it is always worth letting a kid take the time to learn how to use one.)
Then, I held the disc over the sink while the student squirted paint into the packed fabric. Because polyester is not absorbent, liquid just ran right through. It worked best to use the lightest color first. One kid squirted too many times and his cover turned out mostly gray and with not much pattern, so I’d limit the number of squirts. On cotton, it wouldn’t matter as much, because the first squirts would saturate and stay. With polyester, subsequent squirts muddied the previous squirts.
Students took off the rubber bands and gently unrolled the cover, and then pinned it to a clothesline in the window. I don’t think any of the kids had actually used wooden clothespins before.
Some covers dripped a bit, some dripped a lot, but they were instantly beautiful and stayed that way.
COVERS: The polyester covers were from Benny’s Educational Toys. They come in packs of a dozen and are 18.5″ square, which seems absolutely enormous to me and my Shabbat dinner table. Maybe other people bake bigger challot than I do? In contrast, men’s cotton hankies at discount stores are usually squares of 16″ or less.
(EDIT: See my challah cover update post here. It involves inexpensive cotton.)
NEXT TIME: I sure would like to let the students stencil their own letters. I plan to photocopy a master Shin Bet Tav onto printer paper and place it under each challah cover. Students would be able to see the letters through the material and trace with pencil, then go over with Sharpie.