Ancient textile art form Tie-dye is going through a renaissance moment

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October 4, 2020 5:00 AM

An ancient textile art form, tie-dye is going through a renaissance moment, working as a mood-booster for people cooped up inside their homes

Tie-dye apparel from Udaipur-based Aavaran and Delhi-based fashion label EkadiTie-dye apparel from Udaipur-based Aavaran and Delhi-based fashion label Ekadi

When Hyderabad-based Arti Shankar chanced upon an heirloom tie-dye dupatta in her wardrobe during spring cleaning, she instantly thought of reviving the craft. The Jaipur-born and Delhi-bred dance teacher utilised all her weekends during the lockdown to produce vibrant tie-dye home décor pieces, dupattas and other knick-knacks. “I was trying to find ways to get rid of my boring work-from-home collection, and so turned around my regular patterns of loungewear into a riot of colours,” she says. With this, she gave a second life to her old grubby clothes—in a way upcycling them—as opposed to buying new ones, significantly reducing her carbon footprint. “It is fun to dye your own fabric in different designs… it’s DIY at home… twisted, squeezed and tied into one. Plus, it saves you the task of buying new colours. This way, I can conserve what I have and contribute to the environment also,” says Shankar.

Traditionally, tie-dye in India is a labour-intensive craft practised by women at home as part of household chores. “Different techniques lead to a myriad of designs and prints. It adds an abstract, fun, colourful and quirky pattern twist to the garment,” says Chinar Farooqui, founder and designer, Injiri, a textile and clothing brand based in Jaipur.

The ancient technique—with roots in India, Japan, Indonesia and West Africa—is now having a renaissance moment as a homebound activity as people stay in. The art form has worked as a mood-booster for many during the lockdown. Anuradha Kumra, president, apparel, Fabindia, feels it has emerged as one of the year’s biggest fashion trends. And why not? DIY tie-dying is a fun way to unwind while stuck at home and an easy way to upcycle pieces one may already have in the closet. “Social media influencers have also jumped on to the bandwagon and are sharing tutorials of tie-dyeing their clothes. Every item in the closet-a pair of shorts, shoes, T-shirts, jeans-can get a makeover,” says Kumra, adding, “Notably, Christian Dior’s spring 2020 collection, ‘Quarantine Fashion’, has led the charge and put the trend into overdrive, propelling it into the mainstream. The resurgence also seems reminiscent of the human awakening of the ’60s and ’70s when this textile art became a symbol of hope, love and peace. It was a time when the world was fraught by war and political madness… we can draw a lot of parallels to today…”

Kumra believes the art form is uniting people in today’s time. “It’s as if this style has become the pandemic’s uniform, uniting us while we’re all home together in the fight against coronavirus. With global supply chains adversely impacted, it also reinforces the idea of sourcing locally with focus on indigenous and sustainable techniques,” she adds.

As an art form, the technique appeals to people with varied interests. For a designer label, tie-dye, along with other forms of dyeing and material exploration like home-made dyes, is engaging and attractive. “The much needed break from the rat race and spending time with family encouraged us all to engage in activities… and what better than crafting, as it brings people together in ways one can’t imagine,” says Ekta Gupta, founder of Delhi-based fashion label Ekadi, which exhibits the richness of Indian handicrafts and block prints. Gupta also utilised her time during the lockdown to explore colours and textures, using eco-printing with traditional bandhani. “The charm of the traditional craft can never fade, as it has been part of Indian wardrobes for festivals and weddings regardless of seasons and trend forecasts. Design is all about cherishing details… and as one starts editing and re-editing traditional tie-dye techniques, the sky is the limit. From motif exploration to blending the craft with other surface design techniques, each product becomes a journal in itself, absorbing interactions and collective energies to weave a unique story,” says Gupta, who mostly uses plant- and flower-based dyes, besides natural dyes like indigo, extensively used with flowers like marigold, rose and hibiscus, and turmeric.

Fabindia, too, has been engaging with many avatars of the technique—shibori, bandhej, leheriya, mothra, etc—over the years. Their designers work closely with artisans from Rajasthan and Gujarat to create beautiful and unique apparel, saris, stoles, dupattas, bags and soft furnishings.

Even international brands such as Prada, Stella McCartney, Dior and Versace have shown tie-dye-inspired collections in many seasons in the past. Fast-fashion retailers Zara, Boohoo, Asos and Urban Outfitters, too, stocked up on tie-dye items starting March through September last year. Then there are the psychedelic prints from Indonesia-based Faithfull The Brand, where each piece is hand-dyed, printed and made by local artisans. Many western celebrities have also caught on. Kendall Jenner and Victoria Beckham, for instance, have been tie-dying clothes at home. Former US First Lady Michelle Obama, too, looked radiant in a tie-dye cable-knit sweater by Polo Ralph Lauren at a recent read-along series by Penguin Random House called ‘Mondays with Michelle’.

Tie-dye is a technique that has been part of textile craft in India for years now and has been a life skill for many communities. It’s also an intrinsic part of the culture. For instance, tie-dye odhanis are worn by women of farming communities in Rajasthan as part of their traditional culture—it’s worn with phentiya skirt (ghagra or lehenga). These women, therefore, know and follow the tie-dye technique since childhood.

Adaptations galore
From loungewear to home linen, the technique can be adapted and customised for a variety of product lines. Ekadi’s Gupta feels this fashion is timeless. “In our capsule edits, we combine two techniques… like a traditional bandhani can be blended with sujini (embroidery work of Bihar), block printing, as well as eco-printing,” she says. Injiri’s Farooqui, on the other hand, makes scarves using tie-dye along with a range of saris in bright and dark shades.

Then there is Aavaran, an Udaipur-based global sustainable brand of contemporary clothing, which specialises in dabu mud resist, hand-dyed, block-printed apparel and products in different categories, including mats, coasters, napkins, women’s pants, tunics, kaftans, short tops, etc. Alka Sharma, the brand’s founder, says they are seeing great interest and demand for local techniques. Talking about tie-dye, she says, “This craft requires minimal infrastructure and, hence, we can easily modify and make variations in products. The beauty of the technique is that it can swing from being subtle to bold depending on the design.”

Shibori style
Shibori is an age-old Japanese manual resist dyeing technique, which produces a number of different patterns on fabric. Shibori artists use thread to isolate many small repeated points on the fabric after dyeing these spots of colour, creating captivating designs that tend to be far more intricate and detailed than modern tie-dye.

Bag that!
Louis Vuitton’s LV Escale bag collection for April is infused with a tie-dye vibe, perfect for a laidback day. Inspired by shibori, three colourways form the collection: a gradation of deep blues (reminiscent of traditional indigo), beachy pastels (recalling pink sands and blue skies) and deep pink and red variations (inspired by traditional beetroot dyes). The print is giant monogram.

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