LIKE ITS COUSIN batik, tie-dyeing first started in the Orient, spreading from China through India and Japan to Malaya, Thailand, Cambodia and even Africa. Pre-Columbian Indians in Central and South America also used the technique. The emergence of tie-dyeing in the United States in the '60s was credited in part to Peace Corps volunteers who discovered the craft in remote areas of the globe and brought it home.
When it came to tie-dyeing, people with little training or background in art confidently forged ahead, T-shirt in one hand, Rit dye in the other. First a knot was tied in the fabric, which was then dipped in dye. When the knot was untied, they had a dyed garment with an uneven white ring where the knot had been.
Once tie-dyers get past the initial crude ties, they discover the complexity of an art form that goes far beyond a few faded purple circles on cotton knit. Pleating, gathering, marbleizing, twisting and clamping are just a few technical variations. And, of course, there is an infinite variety of color combinations. Simple folds can render sophisticated concentric squares. All this has not been lost on contemporary artists, and we are now seeing tie-dyed objects in art and craft galleries, even children's stores.