Host a party to dye for

You hear the words “tie dye” and cringe at the thought of kids sloshing around in buckets of liquid stain. Understood. But what if there were a better way to tie dye? One that still feels nice and messy for the kids, but involves no purple puddles? And what if hosting a tie dye party meant that you wouldn’t have to make goodie bags, because the party itself would contain a built-in (and sugarless!) party favor?

Glad we’re all on board.

Modern tie dying isn’t the open-bucket free-for-all it once was. Today’s options are kid-safe, fade-free and best applied via squeeze bottle: Rather than dunk a shirt and hope for the best, the squeeze-bottle method gives kids more control of the colors, which means more dye ends up on the shirt than on your patio. Once the colors are on, shirts will need to “cure” for at least six hours, so toss ’em in a plastic storage bag for kids to neatly transport home. It’s a party project messy enough to feel fun, but tame enough to maintain your sanity.

OK, ready for the big day? Deck the party area in vibrant colors, serve juice in squeeze bottles (mark them clearly!) and serve a tray of rainbow-colored fruits and veggies—from pink watermelon to orange carrots to purple grapes! If you’re feeling ambitious, bake a rainbow swirl cake, or frost any cake with white icing, drip splashes of food coloring on top, and drag a toothpick through the drops for a starburst tie dye effect. Then, put “Good Vibrations” on repeat, pull on your gloves and tell the kids to get groovy with those squirt bottles!

What you’ll need:

plastic table cover

disposable gloves

permanent marker

plain white cotton T-shirts (or ask guests to bring other items to dye)

plastic aprons or old smocks

plastic tubs or buckets

plastic squeeze bottles

color-fast fabric dye

rubber bands (aim for strong and wide!)

gallon-size plastic storage bags

paper towels and/or wet wipes

What to do:

1. BEFORE THE PARTY: Set the table covering over a large table, and place a set of gloves at each seat.

2. Using the permanent marker, mark the inside of the shirts with each child’s initials.

3. Fill the tubs or buckets with lukewarm water. Follow the dye directions and mix inside the squeeze bottles.

4. AT THE PARTY: Instruct kids to put on their gloves and aprons. Have kids scrunch, twist and fold their shirts—tried-and-true patterns look cool, but let kids improvise!—and secure the shirts with rubber bands.

5. Help kids dunk the rubber-banded shirts in the tubs of water and then wring. (Getting shirts damp beforehand helps the dye soak in.)

6. Let kids use squeeze bottles to apply dye on the shirt; squirt a single color on banded-off sections, or squeeze out drops of dye in no particular pattern. There’s no “right” way to tie dye!

7. Place shirts in plastic bags and store for six to eight hours. Follow the dye’s care instructions, and inform parents how to wash and dry their kids’ tie dyed garments.