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You are here: Home > All About Hand Dyeing > FAQs > General Dyeing Questions > What is the History of Tie-dye?


A Note to Students:

All too often, lazy students (surely you are not like them!) ask me to send them the complete history of tie-dye for their classroom assignments, in spite of the fact that this page already contains everything I have to offer on this subject, complete with links to some very helpful web pages on other sites.

(They write it just like that, too - "please send me everything there is to know about the history of tie dye" - a request which could be answered only by writing their entire papers for them!)

Please do your own work; use the information on this page only as starting points for further research. Do not violate copyright law by copying my writing into your own work. You may quote or paraphrase a sentence here or there, but if you do so, you must be sure to include proper attribution.

All of the pages on this site are copyright ©1998‑2024 Paula E. Burch, Ph.D. Check the bottom of each page you use for the actual creation date and most recent modification date.

A Few Notes on the History of Tie Dye

When did tie-dyeing begin?

Contrary to popular belief, tie-dyeing was not invented in 1960s America. In fact, the answer to this question surely belongs in the category of pre-history, rather than history, as countless dyers through the ages, in many countries, must have experimented with the use of bindings to create patterns on cloth immersed in vats of dye. Different forms of tie-dye have been practiced in India, Japan, and Africa for centuries. The earliest surviving examples, according to the World Shibori Network, include pre-Columbian alpaca, found in Peru, and silk from fourth century Chinese tombs.

According to Michael Abbott's Indian & Asian Traditional Textiles Website, Indian Bandhani, one traditional form of tie-dyeing, began some 5000 years ago. This craft was not at first practiced on cotton, as cotton has been used in India for perhaps 3000 years.

History of Dyes

A very handy summary of dye history is Susan Druding's Dye History from 2600 BC to the 20th Century. Unfortunately, her source notes were lost, so she has no references.

Bandhani: Indian tie-dye technique

Bandhani, also known as Bandhni and Bandhej, is the oldest tie-dye tradition we know that is still practiced. The Malay-Indonesian name for this technique is 'Plangi'. The technique involves a design made of dots, in which many small points are tied with thread before immersion dyeing.

Shibori: Japanese tie-dye (and stitch-dye, fold-dye, and pole wrap-dye)

Japanese tie-dye is included among the many techniques of shibori, which has been used for many centuries to make different types of beautiful patterns on cloth used for elaborate kimonos. An excellent resource on this subject is Wada, Rice, and Barton's book, Shibori: The Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist.

African Tie Dye

It is well known that tie-dye has traditionally been used in Africa, and there are many modern examples. However, I have never been able to find any reference on the history of this practice, in particular nothing on how long it has been going on.

Modern Multi-Color Tie-Dye

The modern technique of simultaneously applying different colors of dye directly to cotton became possible with the development of cold water fiber reactive dyes, which, though introduced to the textile industry in the 1950s, did not become widely available to the art and craft world until later. The first lucky few in the 1960s used Procion MX dye purchased under the trade name of Fibrec, developed and marketed by the late Mike Flynn in San Francisco (reference: Susan Druding, 1997). Others used duller, inferior dyes, or hazardous naphthol dyes, or acrylic paints.

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All of the pages on this site are copyright ©1998‑2024 Paula E. Burch, Ph.D.
Page created: May 29, 2003
Last updated: July 23, 2008
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