All you need is:
- a bottle of rubbing alcohol
- a handful of Sharpie or other permanent markers
- a t-shirt or two that you're willing to alter
- an eye dropper or spray bottle to disperse the rubbing alcohol
- an aluminum tray or pie tin to separate the sides of the shirt
To make a Sharpie tie-dye, stretch the dry t-shirt over the pan/bowl (or put aluminum foil covered cardboard inside the shirt). Make a series of dots using the Sharpie markers and use an eyedropper or spray bottle to gently apply the rubbing alcohol over the dots. (With young kids, the eye droppers always felt like a much safer option.)
As the shirt soaks up the alcohol, the color spreads, creating a tie-dye effect as pictured above.
Allow the shirt to dry and then iron or put it in the dryer on high for 15 minutes to set the design. (Note! Fabric drenched in combustible liquid + intense heat = danger, so let the shirt dry before setting the design in the dryer.) Wash as normal.
Although permanent ink does not dissolve in water, it will dissolve in alcohol. As the alcohol gets absorbed into the fabric of the shirt, it carries molecules of color with it. When the ink evaporates, the color is left behind.
It's especially interesting to apply the rubbing alcohol to secondary colors and watch them spread out into their primary constituents.
It's fun to experiment with creating different intensities, shapes and lines (i.e. a circle of small light dots vs. heavy ones vs. a square made up of lines or dots, etc.) and the resulting shirts are quite interesting. Also, this project is so much easier to do than traditional tie-dying.
This is a great outdoor project, but keep away from holiday grills and fire pits. If you do this inside, maker sure you're in a well-ventilated area to avoid a build-up of fumes from the alcohol.
Have a fun and safe holiday!
Note the boys and I made that video three summers ago; I can't believe how young they look and sound!
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Edited 7/5/12 to add this crazy photo which Google reminded me I took years ago.