Tie-dye evolves as art form

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What child of the ‘60s and ‘70s doesn’t remember crumpling up white T-shirts, tying off sections with rubber bands and sticking them in a bucket filled with dye? The result: tie-dye, the dress of a generation.

Tie-dye was a way to express oneself and stand apart from parents, says Ingrid Johnson, assistant chairman for textile development and marketing at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Each shirt was an original.

“It was so anticulture,” she says.

It reflected innocence, says Patrick Hughes, a fashion historian and faculty member at Parsons the New School for Design. “Tie-dye has an abandon to it, free of responsibility, a type of clothing that communicates a sort of leisure with one’s self and one’s activities.”

Tie-dye abounds today, but much of it is mass-produced.

“It just litters the earth in comparison to a real piece of artwork,” says Tom Rolofson, who has produced a series of instructional videos on tie-dye.

For those who still do it by hand, it can be an art form.

“Some people still stick to the tried-and-true, traditional methods,” says Steven Holmberg of Splash Creations in Moncure, N.C. “Others do variations of tie-dyes. I do a more marbleized style.”

Fabric artist Kendra Krumpe of Mechanicsburg, Ohio, achieves a marbleized effect without tying her fabrics.

“You crumple the fabric up and put the fabric in the dye,” she says.

While many tie-dyers use multiple colors, she uses just one. “It’s more subtle,” says Miss Krumpe, who exhibits her fabric art at craft shows such as the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts in State College, Pa. “It will have variations of the same color. Whatever lumpy things are sticking up or are low get more or less dye.”

Tie-dye artists today use the same basic materials as their counterparts in the 1960s and 1970s: a white cotton garment or fabric, dye, and rubber bands, waxed thread or twine to tie the garment.

Patterns are created by folding or crumpling the fabric and then tying those folds and crumples.

A tie-dye pattern is like a fingerprint, Mr. Rolofson says. Each is an original.

Like the tie-dye of generations ago, designs often are the result of trial and error. Some artists plan out their designs on computers. Others draw on the fabric and make folds along the lines of the image.

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