Pattern Play: Tie Dye

Tie-Dye History

Hippie culture probably comes to mind when you think tie-dye. Although this stereotype has some merit, the history of tie dye goes far beyond the 60s and 70s “free love” era. Fabric dyes are a kind of magic — they convey an impression of mystery and glamour. Historically, tie-dye has had functional and religious applications. Tie-dye has previously been know as many different names, some of which being Batik, or Shibori. Shibori involves bound and tied resists to create a pattern, such as clamps, elastics, thread or a combination of all. Shibori dye historically has been used with Indigo dye. The Indigo plant produces a deep blue colour, commonly associated with blue jeans. The first traces of Batik were found in Egypt, but the dye style was known throughout East Asia. To create a batik pattern, you use wax or resist on the fabric you wish to have un-dyed or left raw.


60s and 70s

The story of Woodstock and tie-dye culture starts with Rit Dye, an American dye company. In 1965, Rit Dye was dying and their business was going under. With more fabric colours and styles on the market, people had less need to dye fabrics and home goods themselves. Don Price, a marketer for Hellman Mayonnaise persuaded Rit Dye give him a shot at saving the failing brand. Although Rit Dye agreed to give Don Price a shot, he had to do so with a tiny budget. Price decided to take a door-to-door approach on the streets of Greenwich Village in New York City. His aim was to attract free-spirited artists and youth to use Rit Dye for tie-dying apparel. Price came across married couple, Will and Eileen Richardson who agreed to test out rit dyes using the tie-dye technique. Thus not long after, Up Tied, an American textile house specialising in tie-dyed fabrics was born in 1968 by husband and wife team Will and Eileen Richardson and Eileen's brother, Tom Pendergas.

The tie-dye pattern became more of a movement in the late 60s and 70s. The psychedelic colourful dyed pattern found its way to Woodstock, a three day music festival in 1969. The band Grateful Dead, whose fans affectionately titled themselves “Deadheads” further popularized the tie-dyed shirts, teddy bears, lightening motifs, roses and skeletons. The majority used tie-dye clothing to show that they were a part of the Hippie subculture that protested the Vietnam war. The tie-dye pattern is closely linked with the rebellious, creative youth of the 60s who questioned taking part in a war they didn’t believe in. The shocking use of neon colours and patterns made it a proud statement that represented breaking the status quo.

Present day

In this past Spring/Summer 2019, ready-to-wear season tie-dye is featured in a wide range of styles across catwalks and luxury retail. Soft watercolour marks in neutrals offer pared-back alternatives to vibrant tie-dyes. We’ve turned back to nostalgia yet again with a resurgence of Grateful Dead shirts, motifs and merchandise. Brands such as R13, have alluded to a simpler time embracing the bold Grateful Dead tie-dye shirts. Proenza Schouler, James Perse, and Del Toro shoes have all interpreted the Grateful Dead motifs.

Dye Bathing!