The #1 Way to Return to the Summer of Love

It was just after the so-called “Summer of Love,” and there were images of rock stars from the most popular music festival of the time – Woodstock – everywhere. Posters, newspapers, magazines, and album covers featuring tie-dye fabrics, and t-shirts were all the rage. But, where did tie-dye originate?

Tie-Dye: the Counter-Culture Symbol of an Era

Modern tie-dyeing became popular in the mid-1960s and involved folding, crumpling, or even twisting the fabric or t-shirt. The material was bound with rubber bands and dyed a variety of shades to bring on a kaleidoscope of bright colors. The bound or tied areas of the fabric resisted the dyes, producing an endless amount of patterns and styles. When the ties were removed, an original pattern was created. The process could then be repeated with layering and a variation of colors to depict complex patterning. The crimping and puckering established by the rubber bands added to the look.

Early results were manufactured using direct dyeing methods, and grocery store purchased dyes. Although tie-dyeing was around long before the 1960s (Professor Charles Pellow of Columbia University gave a tie-dyed muslin fabric demonstration in 1909), it didn’t catch on in the mainstream until singers and celebrities such as Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, Ali McGraw, and Cher jumped on the bandwagon promoting this counterculture. The designs included images of spirals, diamonds, marble effects, and peace signs that suited the musical festival scene at the time.

Tie dyeing also gave a new lease on life to the Rit Dye company, who used tie-dyeing as, what turned out to be, a successful marketing strategy. Tie-dyeing reached new heights during the Vietnam War and was mainly worn to express individuality, freedom, and peace. Rit Dye saw an unrivaled opportunity to market directly to the hippies and freedom fighters. This bold move saw their profits soar.

Before the 60s, however, tie-dyeing had already gained increased popularity in the Great Depression, as it was considered an economical way to add new color to old fabrics for home and lifestyle purposes.

Tie-Dye Around the World

Long before Western cultures embraced the art of tie-dye, forms of tie-dyeing art have been discovered around the world. Pre-Columbian tie-dyeing was used in Peru dating from around 500 to 810A.D., and in Asia it has been practiced since the 8th century on garments such as kimonos in Japan. Known as Shibori, it involved labor-intensive techniques, including fine stitching that resulted in beautiful intricate designs. Areas known as “resists” were added to the fabric to prevent the dye seeping through the cloth. Resists consisted of rocks, knots, threads, wax, and rubber bands. The Japanese also practiced arashi, a procedure where the cloth was pleated and wrapped around a long pole before being dyed. Translated to meanstorm,” arashi creates fine linear patterns of rain.

Even the Chinese were known to use a bit of tie-dyeing during the T’ang dynasty; their creations were worn by priests, royalty, and those of an elite social rank. While it did mirror modern methods, it is, of course, far from the hippie designs that tie-dyeing is often associated with today.

Batik is another related method used in Indonesia whereby wax is applied to the cloth to resist dyes and colors. Sequences of waxing and dyeing result in colorful and appealing designs. A similar tie-dyeing experience is found in Thailand. It uses more subdued colors on a black base fabric. Tie-dyeing also has its roots in Nigeria, which has been using tie-dyeing techniques for centuries.

Bandhani, originating from Rajasthan and Gujarat in India, uses similar methods. The fabric is bound with thread to resist the dye, creating interesting patterns and designs. The designs from India mainly featured reds, blues, greens, and black, as well as a warm yellow-orange tone that was created through the use of turmeric.

While the results of tie-dye t-shirts sometimes look quite spontaneous, with practice the results can be controlled to make a wearable art form. By using stencils, shaped blocks and a form of stitching and gathering known as tritik, it can produce a myriad of fascinating results. Most tie-dyed items are created using reactive dyes effective on cotton, hemp, and linen, to name a few. It forms a permanent bond on the fabric and is resistant to fading.

Resurgence of Tie-Dye in Modern Culture

Modern tie-dye is generally mass produced for ease; it consists of tie-dye prints, since the original methods are hard to replicate consistently. However, The Adair Group hand-dyes all of their shirts, hoodies, and tank tops, to make sure their designs are as unique as their customers. Even though tie-dye designs have even been utilized by fashion houses over the years, too, they remain the ultimate expression of fun and freedom. A tie-dye t-shirt will forever be destined to draw attention to the person wearing it.

Leave a Reply