We Tie-Dyed a Patriotic Tee at Summerfest

Move over, stars and stripes! There’s a new patriotic pattern in town.

Fireworks and tie-dye shirts are not so different. Consider the exuberance and poly-chromatic expression the two share. Both utilize chemistry for proper execution. Most importantly, both can put a smile on your face whether you’re young or old.

It’s in this spirit I decided to try making a tie-dye shirt at Summerfest’s tie-dye station, located in the Northwestern Mutual Children’s Theater and Playzone. In desperate need of a shirt to wear while grilling on the Fourth, I decided to make a red, white and blue tie-dye to the best of my ability … I’ve never tried my hand at tie-dying before. 

I might have chosen an inopportune time to go as there were several customers waiting to go through the tie-dye line; on the other hand, if I had just gone to the tie-dye station when it was near desertion and simply dyed the shirt, I would have missed the elation of kids and adults alike as they took the first steps toward a wearable masterpiece. At least, that’s what I told myself while I stood in line for 40 odd minutes.

The experience is downright fun. You start off by picking out what article of clothing you want to dye, at variable prices (nothing’s above 20 dollars). My shirt rang in at $10. Your options are pretty extensive, including but not limited to: baseball caps, bandannas, cheer shorts, tank tops and classic tees. After that, you strap on an apron and choose from 5 patterns displayed behind the counter.

Your item of choice is then dropped in a chemical bath and rubber-banded to fit the design you chose. From there, the merchandise is ready to be colored, and this is where things get interesting. Now you get to start dyeing; after an expert shows you the technique, you select your colors and start meticulously filling in the blank spaces on the shirt. Fill all the sections; flip the shirt over; rinse and repeat. They bag it up and send you on your way, most likely with a smile on your face.

The aftermath, on the other hand, can be arduous. The most important ingredient for making at tie-dye shirt is time. I say this as a man who was quite literally elbow’s deep in runoff dye for at least half an hour. Consider yourself fore-warned. 

The experts at the tie-dye station give you a small, pink piece of paper that outlines specific washing instructions. Step one: run the shirt under cold water until the runoff is reasonably clear. I was under the impression when I read the punchy bullet points, this would take no more than five minutes. 

I elected to use my shower rather than my sink, which has more dishes in it at the moment than I’d care to clean. I spent a solid thirty minutes wringing the shirt out, and I watched as the white spots I intentionally left for the holiday color scheme slowly turn from white to pale pink. Then I rinsed it with hot water in the shower, as per the instructions. Needless to say, my bathtub was pretty colorful after that, so if you’re looking for a cheap bath bomb alternative, this may just do the trick. 

I proceeded to put it in the washing machine, which is rigamarole for me, a college student who has to pay $1.25 every time he washes something, but I digress. I let it air-dry, strategically laying it adjacent to a box fan. Within five hours, it was ready to wear. 

Photo by Hannah Hoffmeister

My first tie-dying experience was enjoyable, and the journey makes the destination all the more satisfying. Not to blow it out of proportion, but it is a bit of a commitment and I would consider the aforementioned logistics carefully before you go for it.