Todays tie-dye has roots in past but takes advantage of new dyes, technology

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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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 yourself and set yourself apart from your parents, said Ingrid Johnson, assistant chair for Textile Development and Marketing at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Each shirt was an original.
"It was so anti-culture," she said.
And it reflected innocence, said 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."
Today, tie-dye abounds, but much of it is mass-produced. "It just litters the earth in comparison to a real piece of artwork," said Tom Rolofson, who has produced a series of intructional 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," said 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 said.
While many tie-dyers use multiple colours, she uses just one. "It's more subtle," said Krumpe, who exhibits her fabric art at craft shows like the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts in State College, Pa. "It will have variations of the same colour. 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 or 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, Rolofson said. Each is an original.
Like the tie-dye of generations ago, designs often are the result of trial and error. "I love to experiment with different dyes and different ways to apply the dye," Holmberg said.
Some artists plan 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," Johnson said.
And it's not just T-shirts. You see 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 fibre-reactive dye that is more permanent. "It doesn't fade, it doesn't rub off on things," said Sharon Long, general manager of Dharma Trading Company of San Rafael, Calif., which sells supplies for fibre 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 colours to the fabric. Other artists use foam brushes or sponges.
What's important, Holmberg said, is not to skimp on the dye. If you do, he said, 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. Rolofson suggested 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.
Start by mixing the dye with a small amount of water so it is very concentrated, Rolofson suggested. That can be used as a baseline, the most intense colour. Then you can add water and make more diluted colours.
The fabric should be damp enough to fold easily.
Rolofson said the folds can be completely random or you can try to visualize what the fabric might look like when you pull it apart.
Folding leads to more precise designs. Crumpling leads to a more abstract look. For many tie-dye artists, the technique they use - whether folding or crumpling or something else - is a trade secret, the resulting fabric a personalized signature of sorts.

Organizations: State College, Fashion Institute of Technology, New School for Design Dharma Trading Company of San Rafael, Calif.

Geographic location: Pennsylvania, Moncure, Mechanicsburg Ohio

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