- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 9, 2009

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.

“It used to be more random and helter-skelter, and now we can more digitally control it,” Miss Johnson says.

It’s not just T-shirts. There are tie-dyed dresses and pants, baby clothes and home furnishings.

While the tie-dye of yesteryear was made with drugstore-bought dye, many artists today use a specialized fiber-reactive dye that is more permanent.

“It doesn’t fade, it doesn’t rub off on things,” says Sharon Long, general manager of Dharma Trading Company of San Rafael, Calif., which sells supplies for fiber art.

Although some artists still use dipping buckets, others apply the dye with squirt or squeeze bottles. It’s more controllable that way, especially if you’re applying multiple colors to the fabric. Other artists use foam brushes or sponges.

What’s important, Mr. Holmberg says, is not to skimp on the dye. If you do, he says, there will be a lot of white streaks running through the finished garment.

If you want to try it yourself, be prepared to make a mess. Mr. Rolofson suggests doing tie-dye projects in a garage or workshop or, on a warm day, outside.

In addition to the dye, fabric and rubber bands or twine, you’ll need rubber gloves and a mask to wear while you’re mixing the dyes, and a tool to apply the dye.

The fabric should be damp enough to fold easily. Mr. Rolofson says the folds can be completely random or you can try to visualize how the fabric might look when you pull it apart.

Folding leads to more precise designs. Crumpling lends a more abstract look. For many tie-dye artists, the technique they use is a trade secret, the resulting fabric a personalized signature of sorts.

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