You are currently viewing Did You Know the Fascinating History of Tie Dye?

Tye dying has a long history. Many techniques hobby do-it-yourselfer still use them today. This post gives a brief historical review of the techniques, the progress in creating dyes, which fibers take up dyes. It also encourages to wear tie-dyed items also during winter.

  1. What is tie dye?
  2. Tie and dye goes back to ancient times
  3. Overview on resistant dyeing techniques
  4. Which fibers can be dyed?
  5. How to wear tie-dye in the cold season
  6. September Stylish Monday Falling for Tie Dye Linkup Party
  7. References

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What is tie dye?

Tie dye is a staining technique that uses bold, bright colors on fabrics or clothing that are tied by yarn, rubber bands or other means that hinder the fabric below to take up color. In the processes several color baths can be made to create interesting color plays. Herein, some of the ties are removed and new ties are added at different places. Using two baths (with drying, removing and adding ties in between) yields the original color of the fabric (typically white), areas with the color of the first and second baths as well as areas with the mix of the first and second colors. They transition in hue, tone and shade as the dye is dissolved in the water. It’s important to keep the baths short when white areas are to show. Using more than two colors increase the number of colors displayed.

Tie and dye goes back to ancient times

The process goes back to ancient times resist-dyeing methods and have been used in various techniques in many places of the world thru the centuries. Since dye-able fabrics are from cellulose fibers, not many examples survived. There are some pieces with circles and lines from pre-Columbian times in Peru dated 500 to 810 AD. Their bright colors include the primary colors (red, yellow, blue), and the secondary green.

ancient poncho with circles and squares
Vividly colored tie-dyed tunic made by the Wari people from Peru in the mid 8th to 9th century featuring geometric motifs created by tying a yarn around the bunch before immersing it in dye. The layers underneath the yarn did not absorb the dye. From: Metropolitan Museum of Art open content

Ancient pieces from Asia suggest that in Asia the items were stitched before coloring. They also wrapped fabrics around wood or other items to keep tlarge areas from taking up pigments.

The photo below shows a textile design on paper dated 1840. It was created in Mulhouse, Alsace that was a textile production center in the Haut-Rhin region of France in the 19th Century. The abstract looking background stylized a tie-dyed fabric that was supposed to be embellished by white pearls in the form of a cross.

design of a 19th century tie-dye pearl embellished fabric
Textile design with rows of pearl embellishment over a background simulating tie-dye 1840. From: Metropolitan Museum of Art open content


The tie-dye process was picked up in the era of Flower Power – a counter culture movement. The Hippie fashion included tie-dye everything as it was cheap and DIY. The 1960s and early 1970s were a renaissance of the Bohemian Style before it shifted from a poverty way of dressing to a luxury style.

My sister and I learned tie-dying in a religious girls group. We both used a ribbed white tank top and blue dye. We were instructed to pull little “horns” in the tanks and wrap yarn around them at different strengths. Creation of gaps between wrapping was used to produce circles of different widths. Despite the tanks turned out great, our Mom only allowed us to wear them at home and in the yard on the weekend. She called tank tops and T-shirts “American underwear” because the origin of the T-shirt. And, of course, you don’t display your underwear. She took us out of the group because of the group leader being too “Hippie” for her taste.

Which fibers can be tie dyed?

Fibers that can be tie dyed are hemp, rayon, linen, cotton, silk, cashmere, wool and modal. However, pieces in cashmere or wool are rare. This fact may have historic reasons as the modern era of this pattern were the 1960s and the center was San Francisco with its mild winters and moderate summers. Thus, the pattern is considered a summer and outdoor concert look. However, as the outfit of the day shows, you can style it also for the cold season.

Overview on resistant dyeing techniques

There are various methods to create semi-randomly patterns:

    • Folding the item before applying the ties or rubbers,
  • Pleating.
  • Crumpling the item and adding ties in criss-cross mode over it.
  • Twisting the attire. There are several options.
    1. Twist the fabric like wringing it and then add the ties.
    2. Using a fork and rotate it to create a spiral before adding the ties or rubbers.
  • Any of the above with untying and retying between coloring.

Another method to make a fabric resistant to color uptake to spread hot wax on the garment. This method is called BatiK. The tie-dye technique is in contrast to the dip-dye method, where a moist or dry piece is dipped shortly in a pot of liquid dye. Of course, you can also stain prints. For a how to on dyeing printed wardrobe favorites see the post at the link.

Did you know that Ikat is a form of tie-dyeing? #triva #DIY Click To Tweet

Ikat pattern are created from tie-dyed yarn that then is woven into fabric.

tie dye history post flyer showing a colorful tank in that technique

How to wear tie-dye in the cold season

As stated above, today attire in this technique is associated with the freedom of summer. However, as the few surviving garments from the past demonstrate the pattern works also for cold climate and the cold season. Here I am accessorizing a fall outfit with an artisan-made scarf in this pattern. See the review of this scarf in the post at the link. You can find more on styling with scarves in the guide at the link.

over 50 years old style blogger in plaid skirt, scarf, puffer jacket, pumps

stylist in blazer, plaid draped skirt, tie-dyed scarf, pantyhose
Max Mara puffer blazer, Sam Edelman studded bag, Hipstik pantyhose, Prada pumps, emerald statement belt, Plenty plaid skirt (all own), tie-dye artisan-made scarf c/o Uno Alla Volta and boat-neck top c/o Covered Perfectly


Please feel free to pin the photos to your Pinterest post.

Don’t let your outfit be a random thing. Wear the right look in every situation by looking up what to wear when in How to Dress for Success in Midlife. Buy the book now.

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September Stylish Monday Falling for Tie Dye Linkup Party

My blogging friends and I are hosting the September Stylish Monday Linkup party. You do not need to post an outfit with a tie-dye item(s). All kinds of outfits are welcome. Please check the posts of these stylish ladies for more photos on this interesting, never the same, semi-randomly pigmenting technique.

hostesses of the stylish Monday tie dye linkup party

Ada from Elegance and Mommyhood
Julie from Fashion, Trends and Friends
Andy from Pearls and Pantsuits
Nancy from Nancy’s Fashion Style
Emma from Style Splash
Shelbee from Shelbee on the Edge

To the September Stylish Monday linkup party

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Belfer, Nancy, 1992. Batik and Tie Dye Techniques. Dover Publications. ISBN 0486271315.

Döbler, Hannsferdinand, 1972. Kultur und Sittengeschichte der Welt – Kleidung, Mode, Schmuck. Bertelsmann Verlag, München, Germany.

Photos of me: G. Kramm

© 2013-2021 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Ada

    Thank you for all the history and information on tie dye. I had no idea. But then I am also quite young. You always put such an elegant spin to your outfits Nicole, even the brightest, most colorful ones. Loved your tie dye look. Glad we collaborated together on this month’s Stylish Monday post. Come check mine out! =)

  2. Jodie

    I always learn something from you Nicole!!

  3. Nancy

    How informative, thanks Nicole!

  4. Andy

    Hi NIcole! Such a fun theme, don’t you think? I really like your brightly colored outfit styled with that cute tie-dyed scarf. Very cute!

  5. shelbeeontheedge1

    Nicole, I love how you incorporated this primarily summer print into a cooler weather outfit! I have a few tie dye hoodies that are great in the fall and winter as well. I loved reading this bit of tie dye history! Great post!


Comments are closed.