Resist-dyeing is a widely used method of applying colours or patterns to fabric. A substance that is impervious to the dye blocks its access to certain areas of the fabric, while other parts are free to take up the dye colour. Tie-dyeing involves pinching areas of cloth and tying them tightly with thread before dyeing. Removal of the thread reveals small circular marks in the original fabric colour. Complex patterns can be built up by repeating the process using another dye colour. In applied resist-dyeing, the pattern is marked on to the cloth with a substance such as paste or wax. After dyeing and removal of the resist substance, the pattern is revealed in the original fabric colour. This process can be repeated several times.
This technique is used extensively in India, where it is known as ‘bandhani’ from which we get the word 'bandanna' - a silk neckcloth that was originally tie-dyed. Various methods are used to mark out a pattern on the fabric before tying. In one of the most traditional methods, now used less frequently, the dampened fabric is placed over a pattern block of raised pins. The cloth is pinched between the thumb and index finger at each point and tied with waxed thread. Another way is to block-print the design of dots using a medium that washes out in water, such as soot or red ochre. Sometimes a thin sheet of plastic pierced by holes is placed over the fabric and the fugitive solution spread over it. This leaves a pattern of small dots on the fabric. It is also possible to roughly mark out the pattern and tie by eye. The ties are often not removed before the cloth is sold, to show that it has been hand-dyed and not mechanically printed.
A tie-dying method called ‘lehariya’ is used in India for turban cloths. Fine cloth such as muslin is folded concertina-fashion and tied tightly at intervals. It is dipped quickly in dye of a pale colour. Some areas are then unrolled and the process is repeated with progressively darker dyes, to build up a range of colours in stripes.
‘Kasuri’, which is also known by the Indonesian term ‘ikat’, takes a different approach and requires extreme accuracy. It is the unwoven warp or weft yarns that are tied and dyed so when the cloth is woven the pattern emerges from the pre-dyed threads. In India, highly valued double ikats called ‘patola’, in which both warp and weft are dyed, are woven in silk.
This technique is called ‘tsutsugaki’ in Japan where rice paste is used as the resist, and ‘batik’ in Java where wax is used. Originally the hot wax was applied with a shaped strip of bamboo, but in the 17th century the invention of the ‘canting’ (pronounced janting) - a copper crucible with spouts of different sizes - meant that the wax could more easily be applied in continuous lines of varying thicknesses, thus improving the fineness of the patterns that could be attempted.
The earliest batiks were monochrome patterns against an indigo background, but multicoloured ones were produced from the 18th century onwards using methods learnt from expert Muslim dyers in India. Typical patterns represented ancient symbolic designs in complex, symmetrical, intertwining layouts, and reflected the social class of the owner through their level of intricacy. Some of the ceremonial garments produced and decorated in this way are amongst the most superb examples of textile ornamentation known.
In India, beeswax resist was used for part of the fabric colouring process in the production of chintz. Pouncing was used to transfer the pattern in charcoal onto the cotton cloth; a porous bag of loose charcoal powder called a ‘pounce’ was dusted over a design pricked out onto paper. Then the hot wax was drawn on with a reed pen, following the charcoal guidelines. The textile workers were largely low-caste Hindi family groups, each family skilled in a separate stage of the complex chintz-making process and working in their own small craft workshops (not their own homes). The fabric moved from family to family for each of the many stages ‘appearing, like a snail, to make no progress’ until the cloth was complete, as a Dutch agent recorded in the 1680s.