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Tinctorial and Manual Magic in Yunnan's Tie-dye

PublishDate:2023-03-16 11:20Source: InKunming

The tie-dyes of the Bai ethnic group use hand-weaved white cloth and colors extracted from plants. People use needle and thread to make different folds in a cloth and put it into a dye vat several times until the color becomes darker, while the rest of the cloth absorbs the dye, resulting in vibrant colors.

A variety of items made by tie-dye. 

The tie-dye of the Bai ethnic group was listed as one of the "first batch of national intangible cultural heritages". Tie-dye handicrafts can be seen everywhere in the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, also known as the "homeland of ethnic tie-dye". In the beautiful Bai ethnic villages at the foot of Cangshan Mountain in Dali, what kind of exquisite artworks will people create when they use their imagination and creativity in tie-dye?

Several local elders of the Bai ethnic group are using needle and thread to make different folds in a cloth.

Tie-dye Introduction

Tie-dye, also known as "zhaxie" or "jiaoxie" in ancient times, is a traditional and unique dyeing technique of the Han nationality in China. As a treasure of Chinese art, the tie-dye of the Bai ethnic group showcases the traditional tie-dye craft characteristics of ethnic minorities. The dye is made from natural plant blue indigo solutions, such as liaolan, banlangen, and aihao, which grow on Cangshan Mountain. The production process includes design, tracing, tying, dyeing, untying, bleaching, inspection, and other procedures. There are traditional skills such as blue dyeing, color dyeing, and applique, and each piece is a masterpiece that puts blooming flowers in cloth.

Tie-dye cloth is drying on the roof of local buildings. Photo/Liu Chenyu

Tie-dye with Natural Plants

Zhoucheng village is famous for the tie-dye skills of the Bai ethnic group, which date back to the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the early part of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The characteristic buildings with white walls and blue tiles are scattered around, and pieces of blue-and-white handicrafts dance with the wind.

"Puzhen Dyeing Workshop" was founded by Duan Yinkai, who grew up in a Bai ethnic tie-dye family, and her husband Duan Shukun. She has sorted and created more than 30 kinds of tie-dye techniques.

A variety of plants that can be used in the process of tie-dye.

Duan Shukun's dyeing skills are excellent. He believes that although there are many chemical dyes nowadays, only the traditional banlangen can dye the most authentic blue color. As a result, Duan Shukun builds the shed to plant banlangen. Duan Yinkai has also developed more than 50 local plant dyeing color cards in Dali, compiled books related to Bai ethnic tie-dye, analyzed local culture, fashion trends, and market demand, innovated tie-dye patterns, and improved the tie-dye plant dyeing process.

Several women of the Bai ethnic group are using needle and thread to make different patterns.

Tie-dye in the Space

When tie-dye technique meets space exploration, namely traditional culture is combined with modern technology, what is the story behind? On the morning of March 23, 2022, the second lesson of the "Heavenly Palace Classroom" officially began. Wang Yaping, a member of the Shenzhou-13 crew, demonstrated intangible cultural heritage tie-dye during her space lecture at the Chinese Space Station.

Wang Yaping demonstrated intangible cultural heritage tie-dye during her space lecture at the Chinese Space Station. 

The patterns created by Wang Yaping's tie-dye resemble parachutes, and the towels used for the experiment were printed with rocket designs.

The patterns created by Wang Yaping's tie-dye resemble parachutes.

Tie-dye Trend

In recent years, fashion magazines both domestically and internationally have noticed that celebrities and bloggers are wearing tie-dye elements in street style. The water-washed neon halo and splashing paint evoke infinite summer vibes. Tie-dye has bloomed like flowers, instantly occupying a place in street fashion.

Tie-dye in Dali

Recently, the TV series "Meet Yourself" has brought the millennium-old traditional handicraft tie-dye into the public view. Liu Yifei's headband, scarf and some tablecloths shown in the TV series have driven sales in the domestic market.

In the TV series "Meet Yourself", Liu Yifei's headband is a tie-dye handcraft.

The "Windy Little Courtyard" in the TV series is located in Fengyangyi. The quaint village is marked by the traces of the years. However, with vibrant green plants and blooming flowers, the ancient village is full of life. Strolling through narrow alleys of the village, chatting, taking a nap, and living leisurely, making a piece of indigo-dyed fabric, experiencing pottery-making, and enjoying a pastoral life, while sipping on some wine.

Weishan Tie-dye Museum

The Weishan Tie-dye Museum was built in 2019, displaying over ten thousand different types of products and the processes of Weishan tie-dye over 30 years. The museum showcases the diverse hand-stitching techniques and vivid colors created through plant-based dyes used by the Yi ethnic group in Weishan.

Tie-dye art handcrafts.

Tie-dye can not only be used in traditional clothing production, but can also be used to create everyday items such as handkerchiefs, cloth bags, curtains, sofa cushions, and more. It not only has practical uses, but also has a unique artistic aesthetic.

Visiting the museum, people can learn about the history of tie-dye in Weishan, as well as experience the dyeing and weaving facilities in the workshop.

People experience the dyeing and weaving facilities in the workshop.

The charm of tie-dye lies in the fact that even if different craftsmen use the same tie-dye technique to create the same pattern, until the thread is unraveled, no one knows what breathtaking visual effect will be produced.

Tie-dye handicrafts are displayed.

The tie-dye techniques passed down through generations. The blue and white tie-dye, through the centuries, has already melted into the lives of Bai people. Today, it is not just the tie-dye of the Bai people, but carries the beauty of all the Bai people, and has traversed every corner of the world.

Tie-dye techniques passed down through generations.

(Editors: Rachel, Christine)