Tie-Dying Without Rubber Bands? Here’s What To Use Instead

A white shirt tied and ready for the tie-dyeing process waiting on a wood table.

As the saying goes, everything old is new again, and that definitely applies to tie-dyeing.

Tie-dyeing as it is currently practiced was invented in the 1960s and was used by the peace movement as a way to demonstrate opposition to authority.

Today, tie-dye is less about sticking it to the man and more about creating and wearing unique, colorful designs that are appealing to the eye.

Traditional tie-dyeing methods call for the use of tie-dye, fabric, and rubber bands.

Can you tie-dye without rubber bands? The rubber bands used when tie-dying create a design through resist printing where a material is applied to the fabric to keep dye from bonding with the fabric, producing a negative printing effect. Any material that can be tied around the fabric can be used instead of rubber bands to resist print.

In the following, you will learn about the advantages and disadvantages of using rubber bands for tie-dye as well as materials you can use instead of rubber bands. 

Tie-Dyeing Without Rubber Bands

You can definitely decide to skip rubber bands for your tie-dye project, but you will need to use something that can similarly bind the fabric.

Advantages of Using Rubber Bands for Tie-Dye

Rubber bands are inexpensive and easy to use. They come in a variety of sizes and are simple to apply to the fabric. They won’t come off easily, and they tend to stay in one place once applied.

Disadvantages of Using Rubber Bands for Tie-Dye

Rubber bands can’t handle too much pressure and will break if stretched beyond their limit. It is also difficult to control how snugly the rubber band fits around the fabric.

If you want to be able to control the amount of pressure exerted on the folds of the fabric, you may be better off using one of the rubber band alternatives listed below.

Alternatives to Rubber Bands When Tie-Dyeing

If you are interested in tie-dyeing without rubber bands, there are many different options for you to try, including string, zip ties, artificial sinew, embroidery thread, and more!

String

The most popular type of string to use with tie-dye is kite string. Kite string can be made out of different materials, which affect its quality.

Kite string made of cotton is often used for cheap children’s kites and is considered lower quality. While inexpensive, it does have a tendency to tangle.

Kite string made of twisted nylon is your middle-of-the-road option. It is also inexpensive and does have a tendency to unwind and tangle, but it is a better choice than cotton kite string.

Kite string made from twisted polyester is a high-quality string that costs more than the cotton or twisted nylon varieties, but it is thinner and stronger as well.

You can also find braided nylon or polyester kite string, which is quite a bit more expensive than the twisted kind.

The highest-quality kite string is probably Kevlar string, which costs more and is much tougher than the other types of kite string.

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Kite string can easily be found at craft stores or online. When using it to tie-dye, you will want to use a long length of string to bind around the fabric. 

String is a good choice for experienced tie-dyers as it allows you to control the tightness of the binds and can be used for more complicated folds. 

Zip Ties

Zip ties: they’re not just for arresting large groups of people anymore!

Zip ties come in handy for many different things, including and not limited to makeshift handcuffs, temporary fencing, hanging Christmas lights, childproofing your house, and, of course, tie-dyeing! 

To use zip ties for tie-dye, simply attach them to the areas where you wish to create a negative print and pull them tight.

Zip ties (find them here at a bargain price) work perfectly for creating a V-shape tie-dye pattern, as they can easily be attached to the accordion-style folds without disturbing the design. 

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Hair Ties

Hair ties have endless uses besides tying your hair up, including standing in for a button on your pants, tidying up your collections of electric cords, and to tie up your folds in tie-dyeing.

Use hair ties as you would rubber bands, just make sure that they’re not too old and stretchy. I’d recommend the large sizes for most tie-dye projects.

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Knots

You can skip the need for extraneous bindings altogether and simply use the fabric itself to create resist prints through the use of knots.

Twist the fabric in opposite directions, and then tie it in a tight knot or tie it in several smaller knots. Leave the fabric as is to dye, or use rubber bands to hold the knots more securely in place. 

Artificial Sinew

Artificial sinew is meant to imitate the tendons or ligaments that connect bones and muscles in animals and is made from synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon, or polypropylene.

Artificial sinew is flat, like a ribbon, and is typically pre-waxed, which increases its UV and water resistance, enabling you to tie tight, strong knots.

Artificial sinew (find it here on Amazon) is much stronger than string, which allows you to tighten the binds on your tie-dyed item, and it’s ideal for creating striped patterns in your tie-dye, such as geode and mandala patterns.

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Embroidery Thread

Embroidery thread can be used to bind tie-dye in the same fashion as kite string.

If you are a sewing whiz and have a lot of time on your hands, you could also embroider simple designs into the fabric to be dyed.

Keep in mind that most embroidery threads are made from cellulose fibers, which means that fiber-reactive dye (such as tie-dye) can change their colors. 

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Dental Floss

Dental floss should be one of those items that you already have in your home (if it’s not, let this be your sign to pick some up!).

If you have the waxed variety, it can function similarly to artificial sinew to tie tight knots. 

Cords

Although artificial sinew is probably your best bet as far as tying geode designs go, cords can also be used to create this distinctive pattern.

To create the geode design, scrunch the fabric into a bundle shape and loop one long piece of cord as tightly as possible around the fabric.

Folding Technique

There are many different folding techniques that will enable you to make an array of interesting designs without the need for rubber bands.

Common folding techniques to try include bullseye, box folds, chevron, crumple, heart, mandala (or kaleidoscope), rainbow, sunburst, stripes, and triangle patterns.

Related Questions: 

What Happens If You Untie Tie-Dye Early?

If you untie the fabric too soon, you run the risk of the dye running over the parts of the fabric that you meant to resist print.

This could ruin your intended design, and there really is no way to fix it, so it’s best to wait the recommended length of time before removing the binding material.

Can You Tie-Dye Polyester?

Polyester and similar synthetic fabrics are not conducive to tie-dyeing. Tie-dye is a fabric-reactive dye that is designed to be used with cellulose fabrics, such as cotton or hemp.

If you try to tie-dye polyester, the dye may just slide right off of the fabric. 

Conclusion 

If you ever find yourself in the position where you want to tie-dye but you just don’t have any rubber bands or if you are ready to take your tie-dye game to the next level with more elaborate binding practices, there are many rubber band alternatives out there.

Try artificial sinew or cordage to create geode patterns, or use kite string to tie challenging designs. 

Be creative, and the results just may surprise you!

Last update on 2022-05-18 at 09:38 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Cara

Cara

I am a writer and an artist taking opportunities every day to transform my dreams into reality. I love learning new things and am always creating and innovating. I worked as an Art Instructor, teaching painting and art techniques to artists of all levels and ages. I have hosted countless paint parties and taught children’s art classes both in my home as well as an art teacher at a Montessori school.