When tie dye first became popular in the US, it was a much less complex art form than it is today. Artists have developed modern techniques that have transported tie dyeing into a highly sophisticated artistic endeavor. Looking back at those early tie dyes, as well as the methods used to produce them, has been an assignment for my apprentices and textiles students each year. They get a real kick out of those 1960s and 1970s fashions and hair styles. They also gain a first-hand view of how far the art form has evolved.
Modern tie dye is heavily influenced by an ancient Japanese resist dyeing method known as Kanoko Shibori. There are numerous different styles of shibori dyeing techniques, all traditionally using silk fabric as the base for surface designs. In Kanoko Shibori, tiny puffs of material are tightly bound with thread, making circles. Sometimes the circles are placed in an irregular fashion, sometimes they create an image, or more frequently, the fabric is folded into layers to create a repeating pattern. The bound fabric is then dyed by immersion. It is a time-consuming, painstaking process with beautiful, monochromatic results.
Silk bound into hundreds of tiny puffs, tied with thread.
The elaborate floral result of the tiny puffs after dyeing.
When tie dyeing first came to the US, the fabric of choice became cotton. It was common to place small objects, known as inclusions, inside the fabric then tie around the object to mimic Kanoko Shibori. Coins, dried beans, pebbles, marbles, and all sorts of items were used. My personal favorites were checkers, or gambling chips. The dyeing was still generally done by immersion. A clever alternative was to use inflated balloons as the inclusions. Since the balloons would float at the top of the dye bath, the possibility of using different colors of dye was conceived. Eventually, direct dye application became popular, opening the doors to even greater creativity.
Glass marbles bound in silk.
Recently, several dyeing artists have been melding the old techniques with the more modern style of tie dyeing with some astounding results. Nashville, Tennessee area tie dyers Mollie Martin and Jonathon Dixon, of Pieceful World Clothing, incorporate inclusions with pleating and spiraling into stunning creations of wearable art. Mollie and Jonathon were kind enough to allow the use of their work as an illustration.
Cotton tapestry, bound and stabilized.
Several different sized inclusions can be used as shown in the above photograph. By binding tightly, a fabric bubble is formed around the inclusion, making a perfect circle on the cotton fabric. Notice how they have stabilized using bamboo skewers to prevent the risk of the bound garment from buckling and to make handling easier. The coloration visible is washable marker the artists use to plan for dyeing by direct application.
Cotton bound with inclusions, pleated, and spiraled, and dyed.
Cotton Sundress by Pieceful World Clothing, 2014
By combining spirals and pleats with the inclusions a whole galaxy can be represented in a single piece of stunning wearable art.
An interesting variation takes a bit of color planning, but can yield pleasing results. Dye the fabric a single color by immersion, wash out, dry, then bind using inclusions. A second dye bath results in circles of the first color against a background of the second color. Binding a second time and using a third dye bath is another option worth exploring.
At a workshop recently, a question arose regarding the use of irregularly shaped items as inclusions. My experimentation was inconclusive. Oval objects made nice ovals, and rods made oblong shapes, but the irregularly shaped objects made irregular blobs, rather than recognizable images. It is my intention to investigate this concept further. Stay tuned!