Tie Dye Tips for Radiant Shoes

Turn your old cotton canvas shoes into works of art with these tips


White shoes are so pretty! But oh boy… do they get dirty easily…

No matter how much you take care of them, after a while they begin to look old and worn. And usually that happens when you’re earnestly attached to them.

You know, the more you wear them, the more adapted to your feet they are. It feels so wrong to throw out those comfy shoes you’ve bonded with whether it be for a couple months, or years.

Worry not though, there’s a great solution to keep some of your favorite kickers around for much longer: TIE DYE! Nothing like a colorful, hip pattern or design to give new life to those beloved worn-out cotton canvas shoes. You can even do it on the laces if you want to get super creative.

This is especially fun for kids and teenagers for many reasons: they can do it themselves and put their own spin on it, creating something unique. They will feel more confident with a pair of shoes they designed and is absolutely akin to their personalities.

So if you’re looking to revamp those old kickers or get creative with your kids, let’s get started!

Materials needed:

Cotton canvas shoes

Dyes

Synthrapol soap

Precision tip applicator bottles

Soda ash

Spray adhesive

Rag

Basin

Washer

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Step 1: Find the proper shoes

So the ideal shoes you want to dye are cotton canvas shoes as they are great for paint and dye absorption. There are many brands available out there if you simply want to have some fun with a new pair. It doesn’t really matter what brand you choose… you can get a very cost effective generic shoe, just make sure they are made of good cotton canvas.

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Step 2: Preparation

To prepare your shoes, take the laces out and fill a basin with some warm to hot water, add some synthrapol soap and place the shoes in face down for a good soak.

The reason for this pre-wash is because many companies use anti-stain treatments in their products to make them last longer and be much easier to clean. So ensure that they are well submerged and properly soaked. 

Try to move them around a little bit so that the water can reach all the nooks and crannies; and don’t forget to pull the tongue out so that they can get soaked too as well. You can leave them to soak for 20 minutes up to half an hour, this will ensure that any stain resistance treatments will be removed, enabling the material to be much more receptive of the dyes.

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Step 3: Soda ash bath

Once you’ve removed the shoes out of the preparation water and rinse them thoroughly with cold water, get a jigger of soda ash and dump that in the same tub you were using for the pre-wash.


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Now get your shoes and soak them all over again. Coat it all with soda ash, floating upside down (don’t forget to completely pull the tongues out!) and give them another 20 minutes in that mixture. 

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Step 4: Spin time!

After the soda ash bath is done, you must remove any excess soda ash from the material. The best way to do that is with a fast spin. 


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You can use your washing machine for that. Take the shoes from the solution, wait for all the liquid to drip out and arrange them in the machine with the canvas part facing the drums and the bottom of the shoes facing the inside of the washer. Place them on opposite sides.

Close the lid and put it on spin cycle, and make sure the machine is not pouring or spitting water during the cycle. Some machines do that and some don’t, so you want to turn the water off if your machine drips water while spinning. 

Another trick that might work as well is setting the spin mode to the very end because it stops spraying water at that point. 

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To check if your machine drips water, try to notice if there’s a little tab on the lid and a matching hole near the opening of the washer, where the tabs fits. 

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If that’s the case, you can use a Q-Tip to turn it on with the lid open and check if there is water spraying while on spinning mode. 

After the spinning cycle is over, your shoes will be barely damp!

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Step 5: Adding the dyes (fun time!)

After the spinning is done, get the tongues out of the way, a clip is enough to hold it in the center without touching the sides of the shoe.

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Get your favorite colors ready by pouring them in precision tip applicator bottles and start sprinkling some magic! You can apply the dyes randomly or whichever way you like. If you’re more methodical, you can start from the sides and work your way around and to the center. 

Since the dye mixture spreads really fast, keep a rag for cleaning whenever the dye reaches the rubber, to avoid any unwanted stains. Let the dye spread naturally and keep alternating colors. 

As a reminder, a few colors when mixed can become quite different. Like fuchsia and orange will become brown, so if you want to keep them without mixing you should wait a while (or use them apart from each other). 

Other colors tend to mix pretty well, a good thing to do before getting started is to get a white cloth and test a few combinations before you go wild on your shoes.

You can use precision tip applicator bottles to help you with the application of the dyes, as these bottles will give you more control over the flow of the dyes and spillages. 

When applying the dyes you can alternate your colors, either by using a lot or a few… This grants a different pattern for each shoe. If you’re not into random patterns, you can go for spirals, stripes, checkers, polka dots, any design you want. 

You can even use sharpies! Just prepare the shoes in the same way, and instead of spinning them out, put them out and wait until they are completely dry. You can then mix your dyes with water but a bit thicker and use a washable marker to draw a design and paint the colors on.

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There are lots of designs you can choose from like ‘the dark side of the moon, stained glass, electric lightning or any specific, accurate designs like heart shapes, stars, unicorns’, whatever you can imagine.

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After you’ve added dye to the sides, it’s time to add some color to the tongues. Still with the clip to keep it in place, add your dyes in either the same random or methodical manner. If you need to add color under the tongue, just simply move the clip to another location.

Try not to worry about being exact, just go with the flow and add some randomness if you like. That’s what tie dye is all about at the end of the day… colorful fun. 

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Step 6: Second coating

After you’ve done your first coating, go back and take a look at your overall work. You’ll notice that a few white fibers are sticking up, that’s what happens when the dye has soaked in, since the canvas is very thick...it soaks down in the fabric slowly.

Now that you have assessed your kickers, you should apply another coating on every color. This demands a more methodical approach: get one color at a time, and go through every spot with that same color, do this with every one of the colors.

Try not to add too much, it’s just a finishing to take out the white fibers. The results are much better this way, but it’s not mandatory. There are many methods to do it… but this works the best.

You can really notice the difference if you place the one that you have coated twice side by side the other without that second coating. The colors are brighter, and there are no white spots. The pre-wash and second coat are paramount for bright, nice colors. If you add too much color in the first coating, the dye will spread too much and you won’t be able to have a nice pattern. If the colors are good, you don’t need a second coat. The tongue however is usually fine because it’s not as thick as the rest of the shoe. 

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Step 7: Batching

After both shoes are done, you’re ready to batch. Place both shoes on a rack inside a tub and lay a few wet rags right beside them to keep the shoes from drying out too fast, when you place it outside with the lid to dry for 48 hrs. A little bit of water in the bottom of the tub also helps to keep a healthy humid condition that keeps the shoes wet longer, so that the dye has more time to batch up.

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Step 8: Final wash

Notice that the colors are beautiful and bright! That’s due to the batching. Now, they’re almost completely dry, thanks to the damp rags. 

The washing process starts with a simple rinse right in the sink with cold water, which helps to remove some of the soda ash before the excess dyes start moving around.

Give your shoes a rub down under cold water with rubber gloves, then once more under lukewarm water, be careful not to have the water too hot or it will compromise the glue of the soles.

If that happens, use some spray adhesive to glue it back together.

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After you’re done rinsing, place the shoes into a tub with soda ash and synthrapol soap plus a bit of warm water. 

Let them soak upside down, and change the water 2 or 3 times every half hour, rinsing the shoes in between until the water is clear.

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For a final soak give them a quick rinse and then cover them with warm water again. You’ll know it’s the last rinse when the water is clear. You also want to reshape the heels while the shoes are still wet, because they will probably get bent out of shape during the process.

Once you’re through rinsing, place your shoes out to air dry and make the final repair to glue the soles back in with spray adhesive.

And there you have it, the process is long, but also very simple and the result is really cool and totally worth it!

You can do it for yourself or even for sale. Create your own designs, patterns, and test some techniques… you’ll be amazed with how much fun you can have doing this.

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