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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 term used to describe a number of resist dyeing techniques and the resulting dyed products of these processes. The process of tie-dye typically consists of folding, twisting, pleating, or crumpling fabric or a garment, before binding with string or rubber bands, followed by the application of dye or dyes. [1] The manipulations of the fabric before the application of dye are called resists, as they partially or completely prevent ('resist') the applied dye from coloring the fabric. More sophisticated tie-dye may involve additional steps, including an initial application of dye before the resist, multiple sequential dyeing and resist steps, and the use of other types of resists (stitching, stencils) and discharge.


Unlike regular resist-dyeing techniques, modern 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 United States the 1960s and 1970s. The vast majority of tie-dye garments and objects produced for wholesale distribution use these designs, with many being mass-produced.

In the 21st century, a revived interest in more 'sophisticated' tie-dye techniques emerged in the fashion and hobby industry, characterized by simple motifs, monochromatic color schemes, a focus on fashionable garments and fabrics other than cotton, [2] and the pursuit of 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. Most early (1960s) tie-dyes were made with retail household dyes, particularly those made by Rit. These dyes were designed for use on a number of different fibre types, and consisted of several different dyes, making them less effective[ how? ] and less colourfast than purely fiber-reactive dyes.

Most tie-dyes are now dyed with 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. Fiber-reactives dyes are relatively safe and simple to use, [3] 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. 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. [4] Vat dyes, including indigo, are a third class of dyes that are effective on cellulose fibers and silk. Vat dyes are insoluble in water in their unreduced form, and 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 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. [5] 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. The extra complexity and safety issues (particularly when using strong bases such as lye) restrict the use of vat dyes in tie-dye to experts.[ citation needed ]

Discharge agents are used to bleach color from the previously dyed fabrics and can be used as a reverse tie-dye, where the 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 the use of often messy and relatively expensive dyes. It is particularly easy to put a design on cloth using stencils and sprayed-on solutions of household bleach, but the intricate and unintended results of discharge using reducing agents often surpass the results of oxidizing discharge techniques.

Designs and patterns

A tie-dyed spiral pattern Tie dye spiral.jpg
A tie-dyed spiral pattern

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. Using techniques such as stencils (as in 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 of tie-dye in the Far East are from Sui dynasty (5th century AD) China. [6]

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. [7]


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, and has been practiced there since the 8th century. Shibori includes several labor-intensive resist techniques which include stitching elaborate patterns and tightly gathering the stitching before dyeing, forming intricate designs for kimono, obi and other accessories and garments. 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 Indonesia, especially in Java, tie-dye is known as jumputan. [8] Other terms including plangi and tritik are Indonesian terms derived from Javanese words for methods related to tie-dye. In Indonesia, tie-dye might be combined with other dyeing technique, such as batik jumputan, which combine tie-dye with batik wax-resist dyeing. [9] Ikat is a method of tie-dyeing the warp or weft before the cloth is woven.

Bandhani is an Indian form of tie-dye that originated in western India.

Mudmee tie-dye originates in Thailand and the 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.

In the 1941 book, "Orphans of the Pacific", about the 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."

In China, especially in Dali, Yunnan Province, a traditional form of tie-dye is practiced by the Dali Bai people, known as Dali Bai nationality tie-dye (大理白族扎染). [10]

Traditional Dali Bai tie-dye Bai Zu Zha Ran .jpg
Traditional Dali Bai tie-dye


Tie-dye techniques have also been used for centuries [11] [12] [13] 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. [14]

In southwestern Nigeria, the technique known as adire is produced, using a variety of resist-dyeing techniques.

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. [15]

Although shibori and batik techniques were used occasionally in Western fashion before the 1960s, modern psychedelic tie-dyeing 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). [16] 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. [17]

Tie-dyeing, 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. [14] [16] 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. [16] [18] [19] 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, [16] whilst another tie-dyer, Smooth Tooth Inc., dyed garments for Dior and Jonathan Logan. [14] 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. [20]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dye</span> 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. Dye is generally applied in an aqueous solution and may require a mordant to improve the fastness of the dye on the fiber.

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

Shibori is a Japanese manual tie-dyeing technique, which produces a number of different patterns on fabric.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dyeing</span> 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 the 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bandhani</span> Tie-dyeing technique of India

Bandhani is a type of tie-dye textile decorated by plucking the cloth with the fingernails into many tiny bindings that form a figurative design. The term bandhani is derived from the Sanskrit verbal root bandh. Today, most Bandhani making centers are situated in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Sindh, Punjab region and in Tamil Nadu where it is known as Sungudi. It is known as chunri in Pakistan. Earliest evidence of Bandhani dates back to Indus Valley civilization where dyeing was done as early as 4000 B.C. The earliest example of the most pervasive type of Bandhani dots can be seen in the 6th century paintings depicting the life of Buddha found on the wall of Cave at Ajanta. Bandhani is also known as Bandhej Saree, Bandhni, Piliya, and Chungidi in Tamil and regional dialects. Other tying techniques include Mothra, Ekdali and Shikari depending on the manner in which the cloth is tied. The final products are known with various names including Khombi, Ghar Chola, Patori and Chandrokhani.

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Textile printing</span> Method for applying patterns to cloth using printing techniques

Textile printing is the process of applying color 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.

<i>Kasuri</i> Japanese textile technique

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">African textiles</span> Textiles originating in and around continental Africa or through the African Diaspora

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Resist dyeing</span> 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, batik, and ikat.

<i>Sampot</i> Cambodian traditional dress

A sampot, 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Textile bleaching</span> Textile wet process that improves whiteness by removing natural color

The textile bleaching is one of the steps in the textile manufacturing process. The objective of bleaching is to remove the natural color for the following steps such as dyeing or printing or to achieve full white. All raw textile materials, when they are in natural form, are known as 'greige' material. They have their natural color, odor and impurities that are not suited to clothing materials. Not only the natural impurities will remain in the greige material, but also the add-ons that were made during its cultivation, growth and manufacture in the form of pesticides, fungicides, worm killers, sizes, lubricants, etc. The removal of these natural coloring matters and add-ons during the previous state of manufacturing is called scouring and bleaching.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Finishing (textiles)</span> Manufacturing process

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Glossary of dyeing terms</span>

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 Processing Engineering is one of the major streams in Textile Engineering or Textile manufacturing 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.

<i>Yūzen</i> Japanese dyeing technique for textiles

Yūzen (友禅染) is a Japanese resist dyeing technique where dyes are applied inside outlines of dyed or undyed rice-paste resist, which may be drawn freehand or stencilled; the paste keeps the dye areas separated. Originating in the 17th century, the technique became popular as both a way of subverting sumptuary laws on dress fabrics, and also as a way to quickly produce kimono that appeared to be painted freehand with dyes. The technique was named after Miyazaki Yūzen, a 17th century fan painter who perfected the technique. Miyazaki Yūzen's fan designs became so popular that a book called the yūzen-hiinagata was published in 1688, showing similar patterns applied to kosode. A fashion for elaborate pictorial yūzen designs lasted until 1692.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Resist</span>

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.

<i>Tanmono</i> Traditional bolt of narrow-loom Japanese cloth

A tanmono is a bolt of traditional Japanese narrow-loomed cloth. It is used to make traditional Japanese clothes, textile room dividers, sails, and other traditional cloth items.

<i>Meisen</i> (textile) Type of silk fabric

Meisen is a type of silk fabric traditionally produced in Japan; it is durable, hard-faced, and somewhat stiff, with a slight sheen, and slubbiness is deliberately emphasised. Meisen was first produced in the late 19th century, and became widely popular during the 1920s and 30s, when it was mass-produced and ready-to-wear kimono began to be sold in Japan. Meisen is commonly dyed using kasuri techniques, and features what were then overtly modern, non-traditional designs and colours. Meisen remained popular through to the 1950s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Discharge printing</span> Textile printing technique

Discharge printing is a textile printing technique that involves the application of a discharging agent to strip dye from already-dyed cloth in order to produce a printed pattern, which can be either white or colored. It is a method to imprint a design onto dyed fabric. The print pattern is achieved by applying a substance capable of removing the color, such as chlorine or hydrosulfite, to create a white or light pattern on a darker-hued dyed background. A dischargeable dye is employed for dischargeable printing.

In textile processing, stripping is a color removal technique employed to partially or eliminate color from dyed textile materials. Textile dyeing industries often face challenges like uneven or flawed dyeing and the appearance of color patches on the fabric's surface during the dyeing process and subsequent textile material processing stages. Stripping is one of the reprocessing methods used to correct undesirable colors and flaws in dyed materials. The efficacy of this process relies on factors such as the dye type, fiber material, and the stripping agents utilized. Additionally, the procedure is recognized by alternative terms, namely back stripping or destructive stripping.


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Further reading