WORDS BY STEPHEN YU
The Shoe Surgeon, aka Dominic Ciambrone, is the LA-based cobbler-turned-shoe-creator behind some of the world’s most sought-after bespoke sneakers. In our exclusive series of video tutorials, we give you a unique insight into some of the core techniques used by Dominic and his Surgeon Studios team to create their 1/1 custom sneakers.
In episode 3, Trey – the Assistant Director of Schools at Surgeon Studios – walks us through the basics of how to tie-dye sneakers. Watch the full video below and keep reading for more in-depth instructions.
FARFETCH X THE SHOE SURGEON: EPISODE 4 – HOW TO TIE-DYE SNEAKERS
How To Tie-Dye Sneakers: Before You Begin
Dye - e.g. food coloring or dark juices like cranberry or grape
Cups or containers
Old paintbrushes or cotton buds
The Shoe Surgeon Paint Pens
TIP: This technique only works on shoes with fabric uppers such as mesh or canvas. Though it can be applied to knitted uppers, they tend to have more gaps and spaces in the fabric, which can make it harder to do detailed dying jobs.
How to prevent dye from getting on your hands, clothes, or work surface:
‘Wear rubber gloves and tape off your workspace with plastic,’ says Dominic Ciambrone, ‘or dye the shoes outside or somewhere that you’re ok with getting a little messy.’
How To Tie-Dye Sneakers: Creating The Dye
Mix the food coloring or dye with water until you have the depth of color that you want for your basecoat. Remember for a darker color use more dye and less water, and for a lighter color use more water than dye.
What commercially available dyes work well if you don’t have the right colors at home:
‘Rit dye works well with all fabrics, but any other type of commercial fabric dye should work fine too.’
Where to find inspiration for complementary color combinations:
‘I like to refer to a color wheel to find which colors go well together, or contrast against each other and then move on from there.’
How To Tie-Dye Sneakers: Prepping The Shoe
1. Remove the laces.
2. If you want to keep the tongue as it is, roll it down and tuck it into the toebox to protect it from getting dye on it.
On protecting other parts of the uppers:
‘It’s hard to protect parts of the upper that are attached to pieces you want to dye. The dye bleeds and spreads as soon as it makes contact with the fabric, which is why we picked the tie-dye effect. Keep this in mind when planning your design.’
How To Tie-Dye Sneakers: Dying The Shoe
1) Applying the Base Coat
Dark colors will override lighter ones so it’s best to start with a light base coat and apply darker accents on top.
Starting with your lighter base coat colors, dip your paintbrushes in the dye and apply to the uppers of the shoe in your pattern of choice. Ensure you remove any excess dye from the brush for a more even color.
Repeat step 1 for each base coat color.
2) Applying Darker Accents
Dip your brushes directly into the undiluted dye.
As the surface of the shoe is already wet from applying the base coat, all you need to do is tap the brush gently against the uppers and the dye should bleed and mix with the base coat. Tap the brush against the uppers and watch how the dye spreads out.
If you’re satisfied with the resulting pattern, keep applying. Otherwise, adjust the pressure of your brush or the amount of dye to get a thicker or thinner brush stroke.
Repeat steps 1-3 with each pattern and color until your accents are finished.
3) Optional: Applying bleach
Bleach counteracts the homemade dye, allowing you to erase any mistakes or add effects like streaks and splatters after the dye is applied.
Dip your brushes in bleach. If you’re using cotton buds you’ll need to hold three together to be able to soak up enough bleach.
Press the brush or cotton buds into the uppers on the areas you want to whiten. Press firmly to ensure the bleach really soaks into the surface.
As the bleach travels through the fabric of the uppers, it will push the colors around. Wait for the bleach to settle before applying more if needed.
Repeat steps 1-3 for each area you want to whiten.
4) Dying The Laces
Soak your laces in dye until you get the desired color.
Remove laces from dye.
TIP: You can finalize your design by using paint pens to draw your own custom prints, patterns, or graphics onto the sneaker to really tie the whole design together.
Fun tie-dye patterns to experiment with:
‘The spiral design is probably the most iconic tie-dye design, but other options could be faded or speckled tie-dyes. The best part of tie-dye is that it's hard to go wrong.’
How To Tie-Dye Sneakers: Rinse and Dry
After the dye has had time to set, rinse the shoes with cold water until the excess dye stops washing off and the water runs clear. Then, let your shoes air dry fully to prevent any dye rubbing off onto your socks or clothes.
TIP: Use a heat gun or hairdryer to speed up the dry time.
Stay tuned for the final episode of our five-part video series with The Shoe Surgeon, where the Surgeon Studios team will teach you how to perform a sneaker sole swap including removal of the sole and how to reattach it to the uppers.