Want New Biba looks at Old Biba prices? Sick of paying Urban Outfitters for faux-vintage T's? Want T-shirt ease with one-of-a-kind sophistication? Make watercolored (often called "marbled") fabric!
The best dye to use for this project is RIT. Rit dye ad copy will show you lots of super-saturated colors worn by attractive young people, and how to tie-dye, and it all looks zingy and girly and fresh. Don't be fooled. Rit dye is depression in a bottle: the muddy colors all say "Feh!" or even worse, "meh..." Watercoloring exploits this fact by turning depression into blues, with deep, soulful colors that seamlessly modulate like thick, chunky chords. If tie-dye is Donovan Leich, all fairy tales and fun, marbling is Keith Richards.
The best day to do this is a hot day with plenty of sun. You'll need old clothes (for you), some condiment bottles (like they use in a diner for ketchup), ziplock plastic bags big enough for each item, a black tarp, a container of hot salty water, a bag of ice, a pint of white vinegar and 3-4 colors of Rit. The shirts (or other fabric) can be new or old: you're about to make their stains look like part of the pattern, ideally, all the fabric you'll want to marble will be fairly thin and non-synthetic. You will need some rubber (or vinyl) gloves, which always causes a problem for me since I want to feel what I'm doing as much as I want to be protected from dye and hot water. Examining gloves are too thin, household gloves too thick...I generally go for thin, and try to work carefully. You should also have a boom box with a good mix tape on it. Great heavy rock classics like "Baba O'Reilly" and "Why Does Love Got to be so Sad?" are good, anything that suggests inner demons being loosed is very good indeed.
The best place to do this is a section of black unshaded macadam. Make up the dye in the ketchup bottles (color recipes follow), and label them 1 to 4, from lightest to darkest. Get psyched, turn on your music and let fly!
Work fast, using one color at a time. Use broad swipes of light colors, smaller dots of dark. Be passionate! Be rough! Get dye on everything in sight! Go wild!
Next, again working quickly, put each garment into a plastic bag with a cup of hot salty water. Don't be neat, just crush them up rather than folding them. Seal the bags and put them, on the macadam and under the tarp. (By this time, your sanity will be in doubt across the whole neighborhood.)
Clean up after yourself, creep out of the sun, take a shower, and fill up your ice bucket. Drink a cool beverage, and read the Racing Form. The job is done, until nightfall.
While you're lying around, the sun and the tarp will be doing their work for you, turning cocaine into codeine, passion into romance, moonshine into Macallan. You might want to change the music, and reflect on this process...Stevie Wonder and The Police shading into a little Brian Eno, some Steely Dan...?
As soon as the heat begins to go down, you must fix the dye, get out the excess, and hang the shirts up to dry. You do this by taking your ice bucket, with the melted ice, and fill up with the coldest water you can, with the pint of vinegar. Take the still-warm packets out from beneath the tarp, and shock the dye by pulling the garments out from their amniotic sacs, giving them each one good wring, and dipping them into the ice/water/vinegar bucket, one at a time. Each shocked garment can be stretched out, on the grass, this time, and hosed down for further rinsing, before being put on hangers to air-dry overnight.
What you'll get are T-shirts (and other garments) with beautiful zigzags, dots, and random splashes of color, that can be highlighted with sparkle or opaque paint.
Watercolored fabric should be washed separately, and will slowly lose its color, though I've never had any go back to white before wearing out. Marbled T's tend to be socially accepted places where logos are shunned...A point to consider...
As promised, color recipes:
Fire Down Below
Purple/brown, gold highlights
Rikki, Don't Lose that Number
Yellow, brown, grey opaque highlights
Blue/Dark Green/Pearl Grey
Coral/Fuchia/spots of blue