There is a popular misconception that the history of tie-dyeing began in California in the 1960s, as a part of the hippie, back to the earth movement. But the technique of tie-dyeing is far older than the 1960s. Tie-dye is actually one of a wide variety of cloth-dyeing and decorating techniques which began in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, according to Fashion-era.com. Tie-dyeing techniques initially spread from ancient Egypt to India, Greece and Rome.
While the art of tie-dyeing may have started in ancient Egypt, it has subsequently been practised worldwide for many centuries. Tie-dye has long-standing roots in ancient China, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico and Peru. In Japan and China, for example, the art of tie-dyeing is known as “Shibori.” In Indonesia, tie-dyeing is considered a part of the Batik cloth tradition. Fashion-era.com describes tie-dye as a “resist” method of dyeing fabrics.
Historically, resist methods like tie-dye and Batik create patterns on cloth by keeping some part of the cloth free of dye. With Batik, shapes or patterns are made or drawn on cloth with melted wax. When the cloth is dipped in dye, the wax “resists” the dye and a pattern is created. Tie-dye is also considered a “resist method,” according to Fashion-era.com, because the fabric is tied or folded before dyeing, so that the tightly tied portion of fabric resists the dye and creates a pattern.
Ikat and Matmi
An Indonesian tie-dyeing technique that is worked into the actual cloth before it is woven on a loom is called “Ikat.” According to Fashion-era.com, Ikat is a method that tie-dyes the "warp"—the cotton or silk threads that run lengthwise—on a loom, before the overlaying “woof” threads are woven into it to make whole cloth. Ikat-style tie-dyeing techniques called “Matmi” are also used to design silk cloth in Thailand and Laos.
Shibori is a variation of tie-dyeing technique practised in Japan since the eighth century, according to World Shibori Network. Shibori technique, which is considered a resist method like batik, is also used in China, Malaysia and Indonesia. Intricate Shibori patterns are created by folding cloth or winding it around a stick of wood before tying it tightly and then dipping the whole cloth in dye. The tied or folded cloth resists the dye and creates the pattern.
Other Tie-Dye Traditions
The technique of tie-dyeing existed in Peru as early as 500AD, according to Fashion-era.com. Peruvian tie-dye methods are similar to those used in Shibori and Ikat. “Bandhani” is a type of tie-dyed technique used in India, according to a Fibre2fashion.com article on Bandhani by Jeff Hardy. “Bandhani”—a Sanskrit word meaning “to tie”—has evolved into the word “bandanna” in English. Tie-dyeing techniques have also been used in West Africa to create patterns on cloth for centuries.
Ancient methods of tie-dyeing are still effective in creating clothes with striking tie-dye patterns. A History for Kids project recommends using plain white T-shirts and commercial dye. Mix the dye in a bowl; vinegar can be added to enhance colour. The T-shirt is folded or twisted at random or in patterns. Those areas are then wrapped or tied tightly using cotton string or rubber bands. Dip the cloth in the prepared dye. Finish by rinsing in cold water to "fix" the dye, and hang up to dry.