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Tie Dye: A History

A good portion of our collection is tie dyed. Not only is tie dye a current trend, the craft has been used around the world for centuries! Let's give credit to those who developed this DIY technique to embellish textiles long before it was even a trend.

When I think of the history of tie dye, I conjure images of Woodstock hippies-- peace and love and psychedelic spirals. But resist dyes in all their forms have been used to decorate textiles for millennia. In fact, some of the oldest surviving "tie dyes" date back to as early as the 3rd to 4th Century in China with a technique called Xie, where knots were tied with string to act as a resist before dyeing.

Image of textile remnant with small circular tie dyed rings
A textile remnant found in 2002 at a burial site in the Gansu province in China by the Gansu Institute of Archaeology (Wang, Le and Zhao, Feng, "Xie, a Technical Term for Resist Dye in China: Analysis Based on the Burial Inventory from Tomb 26, Bijiashan, Huahai, Gansu" (2017). Textile Terminologies from the Orient to the Mediterranean and Europe, 1000 BC to 1000 AD. 29.)

Another significant tie dye technique from history is shibori, a Japanese form of resist dyeing. Surviving remnants of shibori though history date back to the 8th century, but is referenced in written text as early as the 3rd century. Similar techniques emerged around the same time in Peru. (The William Siegal Gallery has a lovely collection to explore online.) In Indonesia, we see pelangi and tritik and in Africa we see adire as historic forms of tie and dye. 

There is some debate on where the practice of tying and dyeing fabric originates, with bandhani, India's traditional tie and dye technique documented in historic texts and cave paintings from thousands of years B.C. Whatever the case, we are not the first and probably won't be the last to employ tie dye's unique beauty in fashion!

Interested in learning more? Many art and textile museums have their collections available to view digitally online. Have a look!

 

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