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Tie-dye gets new twists from Vine Grove artist

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Creator will be at Every Woman’s Arts & Crafts event Saturday

By Robert Villanueva

About a year ago, Vine Grove resident Monica de Leon added a little color to her life.

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That’s when de Leon began tie-dyeing her husband’s work shirts. It has evolved into a three-step process for her business, My Dye T-shirts.

“It’s several different reverse tie-dye techniques,” de Leon said, noting aspects of the process are trade secrets.

My Dye T-shirts will be offered 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday at Every Woman’s Arts & Crafts Spring Festival in downtown Elizabethtown.

The tie-dyeing journey for de Leon began last year when her husband, Josè, worked at a warehouse. Out of work because of a shoulder injury, she felt like she should be contributing to the household income.

“I just kind of slipped into it,” de Leon said.

When she found out Josè’s company allowed “light to moderate” alterations to their work shirts, it was the impetus she needed.

“So I started experimenting with his work shirts,” said de Leon, 33.

The shirts began getting noticed, and she received compliments on them. She and her husband realized this was something she should pursue.

“This was something I could do and be creative at the same time,” de Leon said.

For a while, the tie-dyeing was a limited one-step process for her.

“She kind of hit a wall,” Josè, 41, said.

Eventually de Leon began experimenting with other techniques including reverse tie-dyeing and screen printing, or embossing, designs such as the fleur-de-lis. Happy with the results, she created a logo for My Dye T-shirts, which is now included on every shirt.

In the process, de Leon developed the intricate process of “pushing” and “pulling” color on and from the shirts, Josè said. At one point of the process, she uses a kiddie pool to help with the coloring, he said.

She also experimented with ingredients to create the colors.

“She’s trying to make it as organic as she can,” Josè said.

The tie-dyeing process takes about two hours, not including drying, de Leon said.

“Most colors I can do really well,” de Leon said. “The really, really bright neon yellows won’t do squat.”

Neon yellow and grays don’t translate well onto the shirts because they end up being “muddled,” she said.

When the color processing is finished, the T-shirts have a 3-D psychedelic effect, so much so de Leon plans to give out free 3-D glasses to the first 10 customers Saturday.

The process of drying shirts includes “heat-setting” the colors and pressing and starching them, de Leon said. They first are hung out on an outdoor clothes tree immediately after getting color added.

About three days a week for at least four hours a day, the couple works on the shirts. With her shoulder injury still a factor, de Leon has to limit the length of her work days, but those days are largely spent out of the house.

“She always does it outside in the sunlight,” Josè said.

So far, de Leon has sold My Dye T-shirts at Autumn Daze in Vine Grove and Second Saturday in Elizabethtown. She hopes to expand her products to tie-dyed denim and tote bags.

A website also is in the works and My Dye T-shirts can be found on Facebook.

“I had no idea starting out to color my husband’s shirts was going to lead to this,” de Leon said.

Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743 or rvillanueva@thenewsenterprise.com.

IF YOU GO: My Dye T-shirts by Monica de Leon are among the products to be offered 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday in downtown Elizabethtown during the fifth annual Every Woman’s Arts & Crafts Spring Festival. The free festival, in the Cherry Alley and Plum Alley parking lots and along North Main Street, includes arts, crafts, live music and entertainment. For more information, visit www.everywomansart.org.