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Beyond the Craft of Tie and Dye

The procedure of the production process for tie and dye is simple yet time consuming, and requires skill and attention to the finest detail. A traditional technique of tie and dye involves the fabric first being dampened before being placed over a wooden block embedded with small nails or pins. The fabric is then tied over the nails or pins by hand and without the use of thread. Another traditional technique, which is more commonly used today, involves the fabric first being washed and beaten to remove starch and impurities before being folded into three or four layers. Designs first sketched or stencilled on a transparent plastic sheet called a farma are then transferred onto the fabric with precision using tiny pinholes made in the farma. The fabric is then tied in areas dictated by the design using thread dipped in a wax resist to prevent dyes from reaching other parts of the fabric. The use of these thread ties also results in patterns being dispersed across the fabric. In the case of leheriya and mothra the fabric is folded and twisted before being tied.

A craftsman draws a tie and dye design on farma to be transferred to fabric
A craftsman draws a tie and dye design on farma to be transferred to fabric

Fabrics are tied with thread in preparation for dyeing   Fabrics tied in the leheriya method to create mesmerising wave-like patterns
L: Fabrics are tied with thread in preparation for dyeing
R: Fabrics tied in the leheriya method to create mesmerising wave-like patterns

Tied fabrics are immersed in dye baths, which are usually made of a mixture of dye and water. Artisans make use of multiple dye baths that are of various colours and shades to create the tantalising patterns seen in Indian tie and dye. Depending on the type of pattern, the fabric may be tied and re-tied while being moved from one dye bath to another. The use of thread with a wax resist creates the trademark white rings. Craftsmen sometimes make use of dyed thread causing a coloured ring to be imprinted on the fabric. Drying the fabric is the final process and is dependant on the climate. Fabric may take 4-5 hours to dry in the summer, 6-7 hours in the winter and can take as long as two days during the monsoon season.

Fabrics are immersed in boiling dye baths for easier penetration of the dye   Tied and dyed fabrics laid out to dry
L: Fabrics are immersed in boiling dye baths for easier penetration of the dye
R: Tied and dyed fabrics laid out to dry

A characteristic of Indian tie and dye is a small dot in the centre motif of a square or circle. This dot is caused by penetration of the dye that is only visible on hand-dyed items, a true indication that an item is not mechanically-printed with tie and dye patterns. Today, items of tie and dye made by hand in Gujarat and Rajasthan retain their essence of the art and exemplifies the expertise of craftsmen whose skills are passed from one generation to the next. Tie and dye items that make use of high quality cotton or silk fabrics are exquisite in both detail and craftsmanship whereby skilled craftsmen, each with their own creative individuality, make use of both contemporary and conventional techniques.

 

Images: Indian Handicrafts, D'source, Craft Mark