gifts they'll want in a pandemic

I Tie-Dyed My Bed Sheets, Some Bike Shorts, and a Silk Scarf With This Kit

Photo: Jenna Milliner-Waddell

My only rule of quarantine was simple: Don’t buy any clothes. I’m not sure who needs to hear this, but the need for a work-from-home wardrobe is a scam. (It’s me. I need to hear this.) At the beginning of the pandemic, I was really good at sticking to this self-imposed restriction, instead focusing on purchases that doubled as activities to help pass the time, like jigsaw puzzles and film for my decade-old Polaroid.

When May rolled around, I got that familiar itch — new season, new clothes — but I just couldn’t justify the things I had my eye on, like $90 tie-dye biker shorts. So I decided to DIY some tie-dye. I started with a low-lift bleach job on a black Champion long-sleeve, splattering it haphazardly with diluted Clorox. The project was so successful that when I stumbled upon Upstate’s Indigo Dye Kit while perusing a Bloomingdale’s sale, I went for it.

The branding was sleek and polished, making me feel like my clothes would turn out that way, too. And while it was pricier than most kits, it came with a silk handkerchief and claimed to include enough dye for up to ten yards of fabric, roughly 18 T-shirts. So, along with the kit, I bought an inexpensive white biker short and tank-top set from Forever21 and a gray silky dress from ASOS to dye. (I technically broke my no-new-clothes rule, sure, but I justified these purchases as an “activity.”)

Photo: Jenna Milliner-Waddell

Armed with rubber bands and trash bags for tarp, I got to work. Unlike the tie-dye I remember as a kid, this doesn’t come as a liquid in a squirt bottle, but rather a packet of what looks like crystals — it’s actually pre-reduced indigo, thiox, and soda ash — that I dissolved in hot water on the stove. (Most of Upstate’s dyes are plant-based, which sure beats the “various acids” found in other popular dyes.) 

Photo: Jenna Milliner-Waddell

From there, the process was similar to the tie-dyeing experiences of my youth. I went piece by piece, starting with the shorts, and folded and tied with rubber bands in various ways to see what I liked. Some things I attempted to fold in an actual shibori pattern using the tutorial from Upstate; others, I just crumpled up small enough to fit in the stock pot filled with dye where I let it soak until I was happy with the color. In the end, I was able to successfully dye the biker short set, a slip dress, a silk handkerchief, a T-shirt, some socks, and a whole set of white worse-for-the-wear Brooklinen sheets.

Not only did I have so much fun dyeing everything — remember fun? — but every night when I go to sleep on my tie-dyed sheets, I feel a renewed sense of accomplishment. While I — and the tie-dye obsessive on your list — would surely still accept those Cotton Citizen pre-dyed bike shorts, this kit is much more satisfying (and far cheaper).

Some other plant-based tie-dye kits …