Most of us, if not all, have heard the word "tie dyeing", especially if you love DIY and/or creating clothing with interesting, colorful patterns. Some of you might already know that it's a resist dyeing technique that has been around for years. However, there is more to "What is tie dyeing?", from its history to materials used and how it's done, and knowing these essential facts will make you appreciate the process and the resulting product even more.
- What Is Tie Dyeing - The Definition
- What Does Tie Dyeing Mean - The History
- What's the Good Thing About Tie Dyeing?
- What Is Tie Dye - In Conclusion
- More on Tie Dyeing
What Is Tie Dyeing - The Definition
Aptly named, this technique involves two processes: tying and dyeing, leaving some parts of the fabric dyed while the rest maintains its original color to create a pattern.
To give you a better idea, let's get into the nitty and gritty details, namely:
- The General Process
- The Best Dye to Use
- Items You Can Tie Dye
- Tie-Dye Patterns to Learn
- Considerations When Mixing and Combining Different Dye Colors
The General Process of Tie Dyeing - What Does Tie Dye Mean?
In tie-dyeing, you need to fold, twist, pleat, scrunch, or crumple the fabric, and tie a rubber band, string, or thread around every time you do so. The item you used to tie the fabric won't just hold the folds, crumples, twists, scrunches, or pleats in place but will also partially or completely resist the dye you'll apply to the fabric.
Of course, the process is more than just tying and dyeing; there are other steps you need to keep in mind to ensure you have a properly tie-dyed item. That is especially since there are critical instructions to keep in mind.
Some of them include:
- How long should you wait before rinsing the dye applied?
- Should you use fabric made of synthetic fibers, such as rayon and polyester, or natural fibers like cotton, wool, and silk?
- Should you rinse the dyed garment by hand or using a washing machine?
- Should you wash or rinse with warm water or cold water?
- Is pre-rinsing or soaking the fabric in soda ash really necessary?
That said, you can find all these pieces of essential information and more in our beginner-friendly tutorial on how to tie dye.
How to Tie Dye - Easy Tie Dye Instructions
The Best Dye to Use for Tie Dyeing
When it comes to what is tie dyeing and how it's achieved, the type of dye you choose is one of the determinants of whether you'll end up with colors close to or exactly as you wanted.
Since you'll be working with fabrics, fiber-reactive dyes are the best type to use because they produce long-lasting and brighter hues than all-purpose dyes, which are generally used for dyeing fabric. They're also easier and more convenient to use, especially since you'll use cold water to dissolve these dye powders.
That's why it is recommended you purchase pre-packaged tie dye kits for best results. These products include most of the materials you'll need, such as dyes, plastic or rubber gloves, thick rubber bands or strings, and squeeze bottles to mix your dye powder with water and hold the resulting liquid dye. Some brands of tie dye kits also include soda ash solution, which is used to wash the fabric times before they are dyed.
Other materials you'll need that you won't find in the kit are racks, plastic wrap or large ziplock bags, paper towels and scissors. You will need to protect your work surface from spills.
Whether you use tie-dye kits or buy every material separately, always check if the dye is of the fiber-reactive variety. The label will almost always indicate the type of dye included in the package.
Also, ensure that the dye will blend well with the type of fabric that you'll use. Again, manufacturers will almost always include this information in the label but it is nearly always cotton fabric or natural fabrics.
Items You Can Tie Dye
The good news is you can literally tie dye any item made of fabric, from t-shirts and hoodies to towels and even canvas shoes, hats, and bags! However, as a beginner, it's best to start with smaller items such as tie-dyeing socks and handkerchiefs, so you don't get overwhelmed.
It will also help you identify where you need to improve and correct whichever mistake you make. You might even create an amazing pattern or design due to mistakes in tying, applying the dye, and other steps in the process.
If you're happy with the outcome, you can write down the whole process. Then, start mastering and applying the newly learned design to bigger items such as a tie dye hoodie, tote bag or tie dye shirt.
Tie-Dye Patterns to Learn
When answering "What is tie dyeing?", another fundamental knowledge (and skill) you need to gain is how to make tie dye patterns. There are various options that you can consider.
However, always start with the most basic ones, such as horizontal stripes, line, bullseye, and spiral shapes. The spiral pattern is one of the most recognizable tie-dye designs.
Also, note that how you apply the dye plays a significant role in how the design or various patterns turn out. Some tie-dye patterns require you to use spray or squirt bottles, while others will require dipping or soaking the tied fabric into the dye. Nonetheless, the pattern-making instruction will always include how you should go about it.
Considerations When Mixing and Combining Different Dye Colors
When you tie-dye a garment and other fabric types, using one color is the easiest way to go about it. However, as a form of arts and crafts, there is really no limitation. Thus, we encourage you to be as creative and brave as possible once you have mastered the process of using one color.
Most DIYers use two to three colors, with one color used in one area and the other in another. Remember that there would be areas in the garment where the dyes meet and fade into one another.
So, once you decide that you're ready to do the same for your tie-dye projects, make sure the colors you choose are a perfect match. It means that when they combine, the dyes should create a secondary or tertiary color that is easy on the eyes or one that creates color harmony.
Some experts in the craft also usually blend colors to produce a unique color or color that they can't easily purchase when looking for a fiber-reactive dye. It is, of course, one of the most complex tie-dye techniques to try, but it's worth it.
The primary challenge is choosing the primary colors to combine or blend to ensure the resulting dye mixture isn't odd-looking. This is where the color theory and the color wheel comes in. It's a guideline that will help you achieve color harmony.
What Does Tie Dyeing Mean - The History
Now that you have a general idea of tie-dye or tie-dyeing, it's time to learn where it came from and how long we've been enjoying this art and craft. That's especially since some believe that the technique started in the US. This misconception is understandable because it was when tie-dyed items, especially clothes, became very popular.
The rich history, which we'll discuss below, is why you'll find that we still use some of the oldest resist dyeing patterns, such as the Japanese shibori technique.
However, the degree of influence these earlier methods had on the tie-dyeing technique is unclear. We can say that this art and craft borrowed a few tricks and techniques from them and incorporated other techniques to create a unique product.
With all these pieces of information in mind, let's start breaking the history of tie-dye or tie-dyeing into:
- The Ancient Times
- The Early 1900s
- The 1960s
- The 1970s
- The 1980s
- 2010 and Beyond
Where Does Tie Dye Originate From - Ancient Times
With archeological findings of several items dyed almost similar to the tie-dye technique we know now, historians say that this art and craft started centuries ago.
The oldest surviving tie-dyed items as of writing are the 100 to 200 BC pre-Columbian alpaca from Peru and fourth-century silk found in tombs in China. Fifth-century archeological items have also been found in India, Japan, Turkey, Africa, and Egypt.
It's also interesting to know that the coloring agents they used in the past were extracts from flowers, vegetables, fruits, and minute organisms. They include blackberries, marigolds, safflowers, red cabbages, onions, and lichens.
Some companies today, especially those adopting eco-friendly practices, still use natural dyes. However, most use natural dyes made from plants because they comply with animal rights.
The Early 1900s
When you read about "What is tie dye history?", the information you'll usually find is that tie-dyeing was introduced in the US in the 1960s. However, some records show that it was earlier than the said era.
Charles E. Pellow, a professor at Columbia University around 1909, chanced upon tie-dyed textiles. He then learned about it and introduced the technique to his students. Not only did he conduct a lecture about it, but he also demonstrated the process.
In 1918, Rit, a dye company, was established and has become a popular brand of choice for tie-dyeing fabrics. Then came the "Roaring Twenties" two years after, when Americans started preferring dyed fabrics and even added dyed and colorful decorations to their homes, offices, and other spaces. It goes without saying that it was in the 1920s when the public started appreciating the technique of tie-dyeing fabrics.
During this era, youngsters who shifted to factory work during the Great Depression started learning and applying tie-dyeing techniques. Since they were always strapped for cash, they mended and re-used their old clothes, even those with stains, by re-dyeing them.
After the Great Depression, the tie-dye trend slowly dwindled but became popular again. That's all thanks to three individuals who started wearing tie-dyed shirts to start a revolution.
As more and more people became aware of the said movement, the number of people wearing tie-dyed clothing in hippie styles grew exponentially. It was their means to express freedom, creativity, and defiance of authority. These bright, flashy clothes became a trend not just in the streets but also on television.
Regarding where most of these garments came from, some historians claim that the Peace Corps volunteers brought home tie-dyed fabric for their counterculture friends. By doing so, they contributed significantly to the movement and trend.
In 1967, hundreds of thousands of people met at Haight-Ashbury wearing similarly styled clothing. This phenomenon was why this anti-war or psychedelic movement was termed the San Francisco Summer of Love. Its popularity continued to grow to the point that even some artists who performed during the 1969 Woodstock Festival wore tie-dyed clothes.
That said, only a few people had advanced tie-dyeing skills during the 1960s.
While most youngsters learned what is tie dyeing and how it's done for economic or practical reasons, the need to learn more DIY and home crafting techniques pushed homemakers to experiment with dyeing fabrics in the comfort of their homes.
Through this experiment, they were able to create fun patterns, so even some of the children became interested and helped their moms finish tie-dye projects.
As the counterculture movement started dyeing out, so is the tie-dye trend; it became more of a tradition and part of the culture.
In the US, tie-dyeing became a common activity or project in public schools and summer camps that kids enjoyed. Grandparents and parents who learned the techniques in the earlier years also made sure they taught the technique to the new generation by including it in their family activities.
While there were only a handful of tie-dye experts and original tie-dye artists in the 1980s, there was a growing number of self-taught artists and trained apprentices.
Fractal art also greatly influenced the art of tie-dyeing during this era. Tie-dye practitioners incorporated its signature abstract patterns and psychedelic colors into their patterns. These new patterns now use multiple different colors in one garment or fabric.
Even with this update, tie-dyeing wasn't still advanced, and although many people have a good understanding of what is tie dyeing and its process, only a few practiced it to gain the skill.
2010 and Beyond
The last quarter of 2010 is another great period for tie-dye, as it propelled again into the mainstream. The number of people in the US becoming familiar with it started to grow exponentially.
Written and online articles discussed the basic tie-dyeing procedures, so more and more artists developed skills through practice. Most of them also began venturing into learning and trying more complicated tie-dyeing techniques.
Slowly, video tutorials on what is tie dyeing and how it's done started flooding the internet, especially in 2019. Some artists successfully sold their tie-dye products, making the technique even more popular, and we believe it will continue to do so.
Check out the Youtube video I made on tie dyeing for beginners!
Why? Like most types of arts and crafts, there are no norms and codes to follow when it comes to tie-dyeing. One can freely create patterns, from subtle to bold ones, so the only limitations that DIYers or artists have are those they set themselves. You can tweak and combine colors and even patterns to create more complex and unique designs and styles.
Also, as we try to push the barriers of tie-dyeing, we do the same for garments. After all, more and more people around the world are becoming more comfortable with wearing colorful clothing. Likewise, the fashion industry continues to evolve, and most designers are braver when it comes to experimentation and exploration to introduce unusual fashion items.
The internet and those who share their knowledge and skills through video and written tutorials also play a significant role in tie-dyeing's future. That's because beginners or interested DIYers will have access to many helpful resources.
All these reasons ensure that tie-dyeing has a bright future or that it is here to stay as long as there are artists interested in practicing and teaching it.
What's the Good Thing About Tie Dyeing?
After learning the basics and history of tie dye or tie-dyeing, we can narrow down the two features that make tie dye one of the best DIY projects:
- Uses Modern Dye Technology
- Has a Social Significance
Uses Modern Dye Technology
With fiber-reactive dyes that dissolve in cold water, no longer will you need a hot dye bath or specialized equipment. You can apply them directly to the fabric without learning complicated steps. As such, it's a safer and more versatile method.
Has a Social Significance
Beyond the beneficial technical aspects of tie-dyeing, this type of art and craft also has a unique social significance.
As mentioned in its history, it represented freedom of expression and freedom from authoritarianism and tyranny. The general public also became more aware of the technique through the need to express one's opinion on peace and love.
All of these are still true today, thanks to tie-dye's bold colors and patterns and the intricate techniques involved.
What Is Tie Dye - In Conclusion
Most of us will surely be reminded of the hippies from the 1960s to the 1970s when we’re asked “What is tie dyeing?” However, based on its rich history, you can think of tie-dye as a combination of several ancient dyeing techniques, but it is more advanced when it comes to the range of possibilities of creativity.
Take advantage of it by starting to practice and master tie-dyeing and even wearing your tie-dyed items. Once you're confident enough with your techniques and skills, feel free to gift your resulting products to those closest to you. You can also sell them online and offline.
Lastly, it’s highly advisable to start teaching the technique to other people. Introducing tie-dyeing to even one person, even to a child, will go a long way and contribute to the craft’s longevity.
Good luck and happy tie-dyeing! Stay artsy and crafty.