In this June 25, 2016, file photo, a woman carries a dog sporting a rainbow bandana through a rainbow tie-dye vendor booth during Bangor's annual pride festival. Credit: Micky Bedell / BDN

Dust off your old tie-dye camp T-shirt — tie-dye is back in fashion.

Over the course of the pandemic, tie-dye experienced a new wave of popularity as people sought crafts to do at home. In July 2020, Oprah Daily reported that interest in the term ” tie dye crafts” has grown 13 times since last June on Pinterest, and searches for “tie dye at home” increased by more than 462 percent compared with 2019.

That trend also meant more lucrative business for artists who tie-dye professionally. Meredith Perotto, owner of Soul Shine Maine in Berwick, started her business tie-dyeing a variety of clothing with her own special method about five years ago. During the pandemic, she was close to quitting, when all of a sudden her sales shot through the roof.

“I went from about a $10,000-a-year tie-dye company to a six-figure-a-year tie-dye company,” Perotto said. “It is trending right now, and that’s the thing.”

Tie-dye clothes have made a comeback during the pandemic. It’s not too late to get in on the trend. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

Other artists started tie-dyeing during the pandemic and found that it was a lucrative and trendy business. Artist Beth Nowicki in Kennebunk said that she was inspired by TikTok videos of acid wash and bleach dyeing to start making pieces for her friends in family, sometimes mailing them as a surprise to make them smile during tough times.

Word spread of her tie-dyeing talents, and she started her business Wickidelic Tie Dye, which sells primarily upcycled tie-dyed goods, around Memorial Day weekend in 2020. She also does tie-dyeing commissions for restaurants and other local businesses.

“I did not expect it,” Nowicki said. “It’s pretty wild. People were a little sad this past year and wanted something cheerful. Maine is a very laid back state and you definitely see tie-dye pretty much everywhere you go.”

Kathy Bouchard, owner of Mainely Indigo Threads in Newcastle, who started her business making tie-dyed clothing and homegoods in February 2019, thinks that there is a nostalgia element to the recent tie-dye craze as well.

“Tie dye brought back happy memories to many people,” Bouchard said. “Tie-dye in our country is associated with the ‘60s and is linked to politics and a certain lifestyle. Some people relate to that and others who are younger, I think, like the artistic aspect of it.”

Tie-dye overalls from Soul Shine. Credit: Courtesy of Meredith Perotto

The recent uptick in tie-dye’s trendiness isn’t all sunshine and rainbows for smaller artists, though, as fast fashion has gotten into the tie-dye game.

“Pricing is definitely competitive, especially in the Etsy world,” Bouchard said. “Tie-dye is in every store window. A lot of it is printed in a different country and shipped here and that’s why the price points are easier. It is an expensive hobby and adds up quickly.”

How to make tie-dye work for you

This summer, the trend is in full swing, just in time to show off tie-dyed hues as the world reopens. Perotto said that the fact that June is Pride Month has also increased the demand for her artistic services, particularly for rainbow designs.

That said, anyone can make the trend work for them.

“I think right now tie dye is more accessible to people of every age group, from the baby onesies all the way up to my parents in their late sixties wearing it,” she said. “I think before people had this association like, ‘Oh, you’re a hippie if you wear tie-dye,’ but these Gen-Z kids that are in high school that might not fit that stereotype are wearing the tie-dye.”

Even if you don’t consider yourself a tie-dye person, there is sure to be a pattern out there that suits your style and personality. In fact, Perotto admitted that she’s “not the biggest fan of tie-dye in [her] personal wardrobe,” so she has challenged herself to make pieces that “go outside the limits of the rainbow.”

“I try to find techniques and colors for people that don’t really like tie dye that much, [like] more earthy tones [and] not such a spiral,” she said. “I just came out with a whole line of dresses that are all based on a kind of natural organic galaxy-type color-scheme.”

Though the patterns and the process of tie-dyeing haven’t fundamentally changed, Nowicki has noticed that certain trends have become more popular in the tie-dyeing of today.

Reverse tie-dye. Credit: Courtesy of Beth Nowicki

“I feel like the reverse tie dye technique has been really popular, or bleach dyeing a black shirt and then doing the tie dye process on top of that,” Nowicki said.

The trendy pieces have changed, too. For example, Nowicki said that she has noticed a higher demand for tie-dyed tube socks and crew socks, bucket hats and “anything that has a logo.”

“Baby is so popular right now because I feel like everyone is having [pandemic] babies,” Perotto added.

If you purchase tie-dyed clothing, the quality of the item is going to be better if you buy it from a tie-dye artist than if you were to purchase fast fashion.

“The mass produced stuff often lacks color, design and that one-of-a-kind feeling,” Bouchard said.

Try it yourself

If you would prefer to try tie-dyeing yourself but missed that lesson in summer camp, don’t worry — it’s easy to get started.

First, pick up dye. Perotto recommended seeking out high-quality dyes, like Procion, if you can. You can also use bleach to tie-dye lighter colors into dark fabrics.

Then, figure out what you want to dye. Nowicki said that most dyes on the market are only made for natural fibers, so opt for something that is 100 percent cotton.

Tie-dye artist Meredith Perotto. Credit: Courtesy of Meredith Perotto

If you want your colors to last, make sure you pre-soak your fabric in soda ash, or sodium carbonate, which Perotto said opens up the fibers to receive color. Soda ash can be found at the craft store or pool supply store, or it can be made by heating sodium bicarbonate (aka, baking soda) at a low heat — 200 degrees Fahrenheit is usually ideal — that will burn off water and carbon dioxide until only sodium carbonate remains.

Next, twist and tie your fabric to form the pattern you want. Nowicki recommended watching YouTube tutorials on the crinkle or spiral designs to get started, but you can find more intricate designs as well.

Finally, add the dye or bleach, ideally outdoors or in a well-ventilated area, and wait for it to reach the color you desire.

“There is no wrong way to do a tie dye,” Nowicki said. “It’s like art therapy for most people.”

Even if the tie-dye trend starts chilling out — as trends are wont to do — it is likely to come back again at some point.

“People in times of revolutions [and] change are drawn to tie-dye,” Perotto said. “If you go throughout history all different times there were times when it was popular and most of those times coincide with a time of disagreement, like the war in Vietnam or what’s going on now.”

Nowicki, for one, hopes that this generation of tie-dye is here to stay.

“The bright colorful designs for apparel for the home are just fun,” she said “I don’t want it to go away.”