China Machado, original photographs from cover shoot for Harper’s Bazaar. Photos by Bill King
Harper’s Bazaar cover, April 1971 issue
Tie-dyed suede shirt by Halston, 1971
The earliest surviving examples of Pre-Columbian tie-dye in Peru date from 500 to 810 AD. Their designs include small circles and lines, with bright colors including red, yellow, blue, and green.
Tie-dye is a modern term coined in the mid-1960s in the United States for a set of ancient resist-dyeing techniques, and for the products of these processes. The process of tie-dye typically consists of folding, twisting, pleating, or crumpling fabric or a garment and binding with string or rubber bands, followed by application of dye(s). The manipulations of the fabric prior to application of dye are called resists, as they partially or completely prevent the applied dye from coloring the fabric. More sophisticated tie-dyes involve additional steps, including an initial application of dye prior to the resist, multiple sequential dye and resist steps, and the use of other types of resists (stitching, stencils) and discharge.
Tie-dyeing was known in the US by 1909, when Professor Charles E. Pellow of Columbia University acquired some samples of tie-dyed muslin and subsequently gave a lecture and live demonstration of the technique.
Although shibori and batik techniques were used occasionally in Western fashion before the 1960s, modern psychedelic tie-dying did not become a fad until the late 1960s following the example set by rock stars such as Janis Joplin and John Sebastian (who did his own dyeing).
Tie-dying, particularly after the introduction of affordable Rit dyes, became popular as a cheap and accessible way to customize inexpensive T-shirts, singlets, dresses, jeans, army surplus clothing, and other garments into psychedelic creations. Some of the leading names in tie-dye at this time were Water Baby Dye Works (run by Ann Thomas and Maureen Mubeem), Bert Bliss, and Up Tied, the latter winning a Coty Award for “major creativity in fabrics” in 1970. Up Tied created tie-dyed velvets and silk chiffons which were used for exclusive one-of-a-kind garments by Halston, Donald Brooks, and Gayle Kirkpatrick, whilst another tie-dyer, Smooth Tooth Inc. dyed garments for Dior and Jonathan Logan.