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Bai people and their unique “Tie-dye” technique ( Folk Art in China)

by Winnie Wong | July 21, 2017

The Tie-Dye Heritage originates from the Zhoucheng Village, Xizhouzhen in Dali, Yunnan, which is known as the “Bai Village of Tie-Dye”

Bai people, who have been in Yunnan for more than 2000 years, are founded on a complex culture with influences of Taoism, Buddhism, local deity worship, and Confucianism. These diverse characteristics have influenced the Bai people with a unique artistic vision and tradition. You will be amazed by the creativity the Bai people have. They are really good at incorporating the beauty of nature and their creativity into their artwork, which is simple and pure.

Bai people are often inspired by their surroundings for their tie-dye patterns. As generation after generation inherited the skills, the quintessence of Bai culture has been kept and can be seen in their modern tie-dye textiles. Creating the patterns is a complex process, handed down from one generation to another.

The Bai’s 16 steps of tie-dye production

1. Create the blue dye from plants
The Isatis plant is the source of the dark blue dye for Bai tie-dye products. Combine the Isatis root and soda ashes 5:1 in water, stir every day and ferment for half a month, then drain the dye from the excess water

2. Drawing patterns
Draw patterns on white paper, then transfer them to a plastic board by piercing the patterns through the paper.

3. Piercing holes on the lines of the patterns that you drew
Pierce the holes of the pattern for identifying the stitching area of the fabric.

4. Printing/ mapping

Put a white cloth under the plastic mode paper, brush the dye extracted from Isatis roots to print the colour on the cloth, you will immediately see the designed patterns on the white cloth.

5. Stitching/ Embroider
Stitch the pattern according to the colours printed on the cloth. There are different skills for stitching different patterns like butterflies, bees, different types of flowers and other patterns.

6. Scouring
Wash the cloth with warm water and bleach to remove any hidden waxes and oils in the fabric to allow better results from the dye.

7. Bleaching
Bleach the cloth to assure the colour and the penetration of the dye.

8. Preparing the dye
Calculate the perfect dosage of the Indigo according to the amount of the cloth that you are dying and find the best balance

9. Dying and oxidizing
Put the cloth into the dye for about 45 minutes and keep stirring. The colour will go deeper every time you re-dye your cloth. You can control how deep the colour blue you want on your cloth. The cloth should be out of the dye solution to oxidise for at least 20 minutes, between each 45 minute session. Repeat the steps about four times to get the perfect blue dye on the cloth, or heat the dye with some salt and dye with different colour.

10. Drying
Dry the beautiful fabric under the sun.

11. Taking out the stitches
This step requires a delicate hand for taking out the stitches. If the fabric is ripped in the process, the whole artwork will be ruined.

12. Wash it
Wash off the excess dye on the fabric.

13. Bleach it
Bleach the fabric to obtain a whiter colour on the patterns and to make sure the patterns are clear and white.

14. Dry it again
Dry the fabric again.

15. Unwind the cloth/iron the cloth
Straighten the cloth.

16. Sew along the pattern (Bai tradition)
Sewing was done by hand in the ancient time, but has been replaced by machines as it is more effective for larger productions.

Tie-dye is an artistic expression that represents the Bai’s spirit, which led them to adapt and protect their traditions to survive in the modern day. They now sell their “Tie-Dye” products on the internet, spreading their culture and spirit to the world.

If you have a chance to visit Zhoucheng Village in Yunnan, why not follow the footsteps of the Bai people and visit a Tie-Dye workshop. You can buy tie-dye products, hand-crafted by the villagers, or even create your own tie-dye cloth and help to pass on this wonderful cultural heritage from China.

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