Tie and dye is one of the most ancient and traditional techniques of decorating a cloth in India. Though today it is widely employed across the world and is well-known everywhere, it actually has very specific, regional origins. In fact, the term ‘tie and dye’ was only invented in the mid-1960s in the U.S.A.
Many cultures around the world have practiced and perfected this art over the centuries, but in India, it has been around since the pre-historic times. The colorful printed cottons of India were mentioned and appreciated by Alexander himself and tie and dye has been mentioned in various historical records ever since. The main center for production of tie and dye fabrics in India is Rajasthan and ‘Bandhej’ or ‘Bandhani’ is the term given to this technique.
Today, it is used to make all types of western, contemporary garments along with the traditional outfits such as saris and lehenga cholis. Tie dye tunics are one of the most popular modern garments that come decorated with traditional Bandhej designs.
The tie dye tunic is not exclusively popular only in India. In the U.S.A., Tie dye tunic tops are the iconic garment from the seventies, a decade of western fashion filled with an influx of ethnic influences in accessories and apparels. This directly caused the upsurge in interest in the traditional tie and dye techniques of India; this then provided a big economic boost to the traditional artisans of Rajasthan who practiced this craft. Thus, nowadays, one can find a plethora of tie dye tunics in the market, from the funky, hippy varieties to the traditional, Rajasthani options.
The basic technique for tie and dye is consistent wherever it is used, but the designs produced will differ based on the region. The cloth is folded, tied, bunched together, crushed or otherwise manipulated in some way, tied with a thread and then dipped into a dye. This process involves the concept of ‘resist dyeing’, i.e. dyeing a cloth but protecting certain portions of it, so that they remain colorless.
Those portions can be left white or further dyed into a multitude of different hues, using the same technique. In this way, a variety of brilliant designs can be created on the textile. The masters of the art of Bandhani from Rajasthan are immensely skilled and can use this technique to create the most minute, subtle variations in designs and colors. They can produce a variety of different motifs and designs by folding and tying the cloth over and over again in different ways.
Bandhej and Lehariya
The Indian version of the tunic, the kurta, is often decorated using this technique. The shorter varieties, called tie dye kurtis, are typically worn for casual wear, by men as well as women. An Indian tie dye kurta can have a variety of vibrant, ethnic designs. The two most popular ones are the Bandhani and Lehariya designs.
Bandhani tunics come with the typical dot-patterned designs. Tiny dots of fabric are left white and uncolored while the rest of the cloth is dyed into warm colors such as red, yellow and orange. Multiple background colors can be used, either in a sharp contrast, or in a gradual transition from one end of the cloth to another. The latter effect is produced by using complex techniques that can only be done by hand. Lehariya, on the other hand, is the pattern of long, colorful and wavy lines with a wonderful, wavering aesthetic.
Another popular variety of regional tie and dye kurta are the ones from Gujarat. These closely resemble the gharchola Panetari saris, which are in fact the source of inspiration for them. They are more ornate and tend to utilize metallic dyes and gold thread embroidery and patterning to create a more lavish aesthetic.
Nowadays, tie and dye designs can be easily patterned onto tunics using printing techniques. This is a lot cheaper and allows a much greater variety of designs, but does not have the authentic brilliance of the original designs. Earlier, tie dye tunics were typically only made of cotton as it absorbed the dye the best, printed varieties can be made of silk, chiffon and other such fancy materials as well.
Tie dye tunics are an essential part of the summery, bohemian look and as such they never really go out of style. However, they are actually much more versatile than people believe and can be worn with a number of different ensembles. A colorful, Bandhej tie dye kurta can be paired up with salwar trousers, oxidized silver jewelry and beaded mojaris to create a funky, ethnic look.
Such an ensemble would be perfect for a low-key festival celebration or a casual day out. A brilliant, brightly pattered tie dye tunic with random geometric designs can be paired with palazzo pants or leggings to create the bohemian chic look. Ultimately, how people wear this garment depends on their own sense of style and fashion.