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An example of a tie-dyed T-shirt TieDyeShirtMpegMan.jpg
An example of a tie-dyed T-shirt
A video about how to tie-dye

Tie-dye is a modern term invented in the mid-1960s in the United States (but recorded in writing in an earlier form in 1941 as "tied-and-dyed", and 1909 as "tied and dyed" by Luis C. Changsut, referenced below) [1] for a set of ancient resist-dyeing techniques, and for the products of these processes. The process of tie-dye typically consists of folding, twisting, pleating, or crumpling fabric or a garment and binding with string or rubber bands, followed by application of dye(s). [2] The manipulations of the fabric prior to the application of dye are called resists, as they partially or completely prevent the applied dye from coloring the fabric. More sophisticated tie-dyes involve additional steps, including an initial application of dye prior to the resist, multiple sequential dye and resist steps, and the use of other types of resists (stitching, stencils) and discharge.


Unlike regular resist-dyeing techniques, tie-dye is characterized by the use of bright, saturated primary colors and bold patterns. These patterns, including the spiral, mandala, and peace sign, and the use of multiple bold colors, have become clichéd since the peak popularity of tie-dye in the 1960s and 1970s. The vast majority of currently produced tie-dyes use these designs, and many are mass-produced for wholesale distribution. However, a new interest in more 'sophisticated' tie-dye is emerging in the fashion industry, characterized by simple motifs, monochromatic color schemes, and a focus on fashionable garments and fabrics other than cotton. [3] A few artists [4] [5] [6] continue to pursue tie-dye as an art form rather than a commodity.

Dyes, fabrics, and discharge agents

A variety of dyes are used in tie-dyeing, including household, fiber reactive, acid, and vat dyes. [7] Most early (1960s) tie-dyes were made with retail household dyes, particularly those made by Rit. In order to be effective on different fibers, these dyes are composed of several different dyes, and thus are less effective, and more likely to bleed and fade, than pure dyes designed for specific fibers. This is the basis for the famous 'pink socks' phenomenon that occurs when fabrics dyed with mixed dyes are washed with other garments. Most tie-dyes are now dyed with Procion MX fiber reactive dyes, a class of dyes effective on cellulose fibers such as cotton, hemp, rayon, and linen. This class of dyes reacts with fibers at alkaline (high) pH, forming a wash-fast, permanent bond. Soda ash (sodium carbonate) is the most common agent used to raise the pH and initiate the reaction, and is either added directly to the dye, or in a solution of water in which garments are soaked before dyeing. Procion dyes are relatively safe and simple to use, [8] and are the same dyes used commercially to color cellulosic fabrics.

Protein-based fibers such as silk, wool, and feathers, as well as the synthetic polyamide fiber, nylon, can be dyed with acid dyes. As may be expected from the name, acid dyes are effective at acidic (low) pH, where they form ionic bonds with the fiber. Acid dyes are also relatively safe (some are used as food dyes) and simple to use. [9] Vat dyes, including indigo, are a third class of dyes that are effective on cellulosic fibers and silk. Vat dyes are insoluble in water in their unreduced form, and the vat dye must be chemically reduced before they can be used to color fabric. This is accomplished by heating the dye in a strongly basic solution of sodium hydroxide (lye) or sodium carbonate (caustic potash) containing a reducing agent such as sodium hydrosulfite or thiourea dioxide. The fabric is immersed in the dye bath, and after removal the vat dye oxidizes to its insoluble form, binding with high wash-fastness to the fiber. However, vat dyes, and especially indigo, must be treated after dyeing by 'soaping' to prevent the dye from rubbing (crocking) off. [10] Vat dyes can be used to simultaneously dye the fabric and to remove underlying fiber-reactive dye (i.e., can dye a black cotton fabric yellow) because of the bleaching action of the reducing bath (see below). The extra complexity and safety issues (particularly when using strong bases such as lye) restrict use of vat dyes in tie-dye to experts.

Discharge agents are used to bleach color from the previously-dyed fabrics, and can be used as a reverse tie-dye, where application of the agent results in loss of color rather than its application. Household bleach (sodium hypochlorite) can be used to discharge fiber reactive dyes on bleach-resistant fibers such as cotton or hemp (but not on wool or silk), though the results are variable, as some fiber reactive dyes are more resistant to bleach than others. It is important to bleach as long as required to obtain the desired shade (which will be lighter than observed on wet, unwashed fabric), and to neutralize the bleach with agents such as sodium bisulfite, to prevent damage to the fibers. Thiourea dioxide is another commonly used discharge agent that can be used on cotton, wool, or silk. A thiourea dioxide discharge bath is made with hot water made mildly basic with sodium carbonate. The results of thiourea dioxide discharge differ significantly from bleach discharge due to the nature of the reaction. Since thiourea dioxide only bleaches in the absence of oxygen, and the fabric to be bleached retains oxygen, a fractal pattern of bleaching will be observed. This is in distinct contrast with household bleach discharge, where the bleaching agent penetrates fabric easily (particularly in bleach formulations containing detergent). For example, pleating fabric multiple times and clamping on a resist will yield a clear design after outlining the resist with household bleach, but discharge with reducing agents will only partially penetrate the resisted area.

In general, discharge techniques, particularly using household bleach, are a readily accessible way to tie-dye without use of often messy and relatively expensive dyes. It is particularly easy to put design on cloth using stencils and sprayed-on solutions of household bleach, but the intricate and unintended results of discharge using reducing agents often surpasses the results of oxidizing discharge techniques.

Designs and patterns

Tie-dye can be used to create a wide variety of designs on fabric, from standard patterns such as the spiral, peace sign, diamond, and the marble effect to beautiful works of art. [4] Using techniques such as stencils (a la screen printing using dyes or discharge pastes), clamped-on shaped blocks, and tritik (stitching and gathering), tie-dye can produce almost any design desired. If a modern kit is used, then it is easier to accomplish a spiral or circle.


Earliest examples

The earliest examples in the Far East are from V century China. [11]

The earliest surviving examples of pre-Columbian tie-dye in Peru date from 500 to 810 AD. Their designs include small circles and lines, with bright colors including red, yellow, blue, and green. [12]


Example of Mudmee tie-dye, an art form originating in Thailand Mudmee tie dye.jpg
Example of Mudmee tie-dye, an art form originating in Thailand

Shibori is a form of tie-dye which originated in Japan. It has been practiced there since the 8th century. Shibori includes a number of labor-intensive resist techniques which include stitching elaborate patterns and tightly gathering the stitching before dyeing, forming intricate designs for kimono. Another shibori method is to wrap the fabric around a core of rope, wood or other material, and bind it tightly with string or thread. The areas of the fabric that are against the core or under the binding would remain undyed.

In the 1941 book "Orphans of the Pacific", about Philippines, it was noted: "There are a few thousand Bagobos, who wear highly decorated clothing made of hemp fiber, all tied-and-dyed into fancy designs, and who further ornament themselves with big metal disks."

Plangi and tritik are Indonesian words, derived from Japanese words, for methods related to tie-dye, and 'bandhna' a term from India, giving rise to the Bandhani fabrics of Kutch. Ikat is a method of tie-dyeing the warp or weft before the cloth is woven.

Mudmee tie-dye originates in Thailand and neighboring part of Laos. It uses different shapes and colors from other types of tie-dye, and the colors are, in general, more subdued. Another difference is that the base color is black.


Tie-dye techniques have also been used for centuries [13] [14] [15] in the Hausa region of West Africa, with renowned indigo dye pits located in and around Kano, Nigeria. The tie-dyed clothing is then richly embroidered in traditional patterns. It has been suggested that these African techniques were the inspiration for the tie-dyed garments identified with hippie fashion. [16]

Tie-dye in the Western world

Tie dye vendor, July 2013 Love Works Tie Dye stand - Missoula Montana 2013.jpg
Tie dye vendor, July 2013
A tie-dyed lab coat Tie-dyed lab coat.jpg
A tie-dyed lab coat

Tie-dyeing was known in the US by 1909, when Professor Charles E. Pellow of Columbia University acquired some samples of tie-dyed muslin and subsequently gave a lecture and live demonstration of the technique. [17]

Although shibori and batik techniques were used occasionally in Western fashion before the 1960s, modern psychedelic tie-dying did not become a fad until the late 1960s following the example set by rock stars such as Janis Joplin and John Sebastian (who did his own dyeing). [18] The 2011 film documentary Magic Trip , which shows amateur film footage taken during the 1964 cross-country bus journey of countercultural icon Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, shows the travelers developing a form of tie-dye by taking LSD beside a pond and pouring enamel-based model airplane paint into it, before placing a white T-shirt upon the surface of the water. Although the process is closer to paper marbling, in the accompanying narrative, the travelers claim credit for inventing tie-dyeing. [19]

Tie-dying, particularly after the introduction of affordable Rit dyes, became popular as a cheap and accessible way to customize inexpensive T-shirts, singlets, dresses, jeans, army surplus clothing, and other garments into psychedelic creations. [16] [18] Some of the leading names in tie-dye at this time were Water Baby Dye Works (run by Ann Thomas and Maureen Mubeem), Bert Bliss, and Up Tied, the latter winning a Coty Award for "major creativity in fabrics" in 1970. [18] [20] [21] Up Tied created tie-dyed velvets and silk chiffons which were used for exclusive one-of-a-kind garments by Halston, Donald Brooks, and Gayle Kirkpatrick, [18] whilst another tie-dyer, Smooth Tooth Inc. dyed garments for Dior and Jonathan Logan. [16] In late 1960s London, Gordon Deighton created tie-dyed shirts and trousers for young fashionable men which he sold through the Simpsons of Piccadilly department store in London. [22]

See also

Related Research Articles

Dye Soluble chemical substance or natural material which can impart color to other materials

A dye is a colored substance that chemically bonds to the substrate to which it is being applied. This distinguishes dyes from pigments which do not chemically bind to the material they color. The dye is generally applied in an aqueous solution, and may require a mordant to improve the fastness of the dye on the fiber.

Kimono Traditional Japanese garment

The kimono (きもの/着物) is a traditional Japanese garment and the national dress of Japan. The kimono is a T-shaped, wrapped-front garment with square sleeves and a rectangular body, and is worn left side wrapped over right, unless the wearer is deceased. The kimono is traditionally worn with an obi, and is commonly worn with accessories such as zōri sandals and tabi socks.

<i>Shibori</i> Dyeing technique from Japan

Shibori (しぼり/絞り) is a Japanese manual resist dyeing technique, which produces a number of different patterns on fabric.

Ikat is a dyeing technique used to pattern textiles that employs resist dyeing on the yarns prior to dyeing and weaving the fabric.

Dyeing Process of adding color to textile products like fibers, yarns, and fabrics

Dyeing is the application of dyes or pigments on textile materials such as fibers, yarns, and fabrics with the goal of achieving color with desired color fastness. Dyeing is normally done in a special solution containing dyes and particular chemical material. Dye molecules are fixed to the fiber by absorption, diffusion, or bonding with temperature and time being key controlling factors. The bond between dye molecule and fiber may be strong or weak, depending on the dye used. Dyeing and printing are different applications; in printing, color is applied to a localized area with desired patterns. In dyeing, it is applied to the entire textile.

Vat dyes are a class of dyes that are classified as such because of the method by which they are applied. Vat dyeing is a process that refers to dyeing that takes place in a bucket or vat. The original vat dye is indigo, once obtained only from plants but now often produced synthetically.

Textile printing

Textile printing is the process of applying colour to fabric in definite patterns or designs. In properly printed fabrics the colour is bonded with the fibre, so as to resist washing and friction. Textile printing is related to dyeing but in dyeing properly the whole fabric is uniformly covered with one colour, whereas in printing one or more colours are applied to it in certain parts only, and in sharply defined patterns.


Kasuri (絣) is the Japanese term for fabric that has been woven with fibers dyed specifically to create patterns and images in the fabric, typically referring to fabrics produced within Japan using this technique. It is a form of ikat dyeing, traditionally resulting in patterns characterized by their blurred or brushed appearance.

African textiles

African textiles are textiles from various locations across the African continent. Across Africa, there are many distinctive styles, techniques, dyeing methods, and decorative and functional purposes. These textiles hold cultural significance and also have significance as historical documents of African design. china is the popular country

Resist dyeing Traditional method of dyeing textiles with patterns

Resist dyeing (resist-dyeing) is a traditional method of dyeing textiles with patterns. Methods are used to "resist" or prevent the dye from reaching all the cloth, thereby creating a pattern and ground. The most common forms use wax, some type of paste made from starch or mud, or a mechanical resist that manipulates the cloth such as tying or stitching. Another form of resist involves using a chemical agent in a specific type of dye that will repel another type of dye printed over the top. The best-known varieties today include tie-dye and batik.


The Sompot, a long, rectangular cloth worn around the lower body, is a traditional dress in Cambodia. It can be draped and folded in several different ways. The traditional dress is similar to the dhoti of Southern Asia. It is also worn in the neighboring countries of Laos and Thailand where it is known as pha nung.

Bleach number of chemicals which remove color, whiten, or disinfect, often via oxidation

Bleach is the generic name for any chemical product which is used industrially and domestically to remove color from a fabric or fiber or to clean or to remove stains in a process called bleaching. It often refers, specifically, to a dilute solution of sodium hypochlorite, also called "liquid bleach".

Finishing (textiles) Any process performed after dyeing the yarn or fabric to improve the look, performance, or "hand" (feel) of the finished textile or clothing

In textile manufacturing, finishing refers to the processes that convert the woven or knitted cloth into a usable material and more specifically to any process performed after dyeing the yarn or fabric to improve the look, performance, or "hand" (feel) of the finish textile or clothing. The precise meaning depends on context.

Photo blanket

A photo blanket is a large, rectangular piece of fabric displaying images, pictures, or designs, often with bound edges, used as a blanket or decorative object. Historically photo blanket were made of thick cloth depicting people, objects, and symbols intended to tell a story or reveal historical events.

Natural dye

Natural dyes are dyes or colorants derived from plants, invertebrates, or minerals. The majority of natural dyes are vegetable dyes from plant sources—roots, berries, bark, leaves, and wood—and other biological sources such as fungi.

Glossary of dyeing terms Wikipedia glossary

Dyeing is the craft of imparting colors to textiles in loose fiber, yarn, cloth or garment form by treatment with a dye. Archaeologists have found evidence of textile dyeing with natural dyes dating back to the Neolithic period. In China, dyeing with plants, barks and insects has been traced back more than 5,000 years. Natural insect dyes such as Tyrian purple and kermes and plant-based dyes such as woad, indigo and madder were important elements of the economies of Asia and Europe until the discovery of man-made synthetic dyes in the mid-19th century. Synthetic dyes quickly superseded natural dyes for the large-scale commercial textile production enabled by the industrial revolution, but natural dyes remained in use by traditional cultures around the world.

Wet process engineering is one of the major streams in textile engineering which refers to the engineering of textile chemical processes and associated applied science. The other three streams in textile engineering are yarn engineering, fabric engineering, and apparel engineering. The processes of this stream are involved or carried out in an aqueous stage. Hence, it is called a wet process which usually covers pre-treatment, dyeing, printing, and finishing.

Karen Hampton is an American fiber artist who creates works of art intended to hang on a wall, and "wearable art" including scarves and jackets. Hampton develops her own fabrics using various surface design techniques that include batik, rozome, silk-screening, breakdown screen printing, discharging and over dyeing, and felting. She also produces fabric using a "snow" dying technique and produces digital/quilted art pieces. In addition to quilting Hampton uses a variety of sewing techniques to produce wall hangings, such as Korean pojagi patchwork. Hampton is an Indiana Artisan, an honorary title granted by juried artists and crafters representing the state. She is also a member of the Studio Art Quilt Associates, Surface Design Association, and the International Quilt Association.

Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada

Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada is a Japanese textile artist, curator, researcher and author.


A resist, used in many areas of manufacturing and art, is something that is added to parts of an object to create a pattern by protecting these parts from being affected by a subsequent stage in the process. Often the resist is then removed.


  1. "Orphans of the Pacific", a book about Philippines published in 1941, referring to tie-dying among the Bagobo tribe: "There are a few thousand Bagobos, who wear highly decorated clothing made of hemp fiber, all tied-and-dyed into fancy designs, and who further ornament themselves with big metal disks."
  2. https://web.archive.org/web/20030607054739/http://textilemuseum.org/PDFs/TextileTerms.pdf
  3. Ebert, Erin. "Sense Of Fashion: Tie-dye gets modern". Savanna Now. Morris Publishing, Inc. Archived from the original on 3 December 2013. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
  4. 1 2 Pollock, Courtney. "Courtney Tie Dye" . Retrieved 16 November 2013.
  5. Deprez, Mary Patricia. "Home". Tie Dye Mary. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
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  11. Wada, Yoshiko Iwamoto; Rice, Mary Kellogg; Barton, Jane (2011). Shibori: The Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing (3rd ed.). New York: Kodansha USA. pp. 11–13. ISBN   978-1-56836-396-7.
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  13. "Tie-dye is making a major comeback right now — here's why". TODAY.com. Retrieved 2020-04-21.
  14. Hodgkin, Thomas (1975). Nigerian Perspectives: Historical Anthology. Oxford Paperbacks. p. 119. ISBN   978-0192850553.
  15. Henry, Barth (2017). Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa, Vol. 1 of 5: Being a Journal of an Expedition Undertaken Under the Auspices of H. B. M. 'S Government, in the Years 1849 1855 (Classic Reprint). Forgotten Books. ISBN   9781332521425.
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  18. 1 2 3 4 "The Psychedelic Tie-Dye Look". TIME Magazine. 26 January 1970. Retrieved 14 December 2012.(subscription required)
  19. Alex Gibney & Alison Ellwood (2011) [with 1964 footage]. Magic Trip: Ken Kesey's Search for a Kool Place (documentary film). United States: A&E IndieFilms, Phoenix Wiley.
  20. Lady Fare (29 September 1970). "Bill Blass Named to Hall of Fame". The News and Courier. Retrieved 14 December 2012.
  21. McDowell, Colin (1984). McDowell's Directory of Twentieth Century Fashion. Frederick Muller. pp. 299–301. ISBN   0-584-11070-7.
  22. "Trousers by Gordon Deighton in tie-dyed silk". V&A. Retrieved 15 December 2012.

Further reading