Chinese tie-dyeing: An ancient tradition

Chinese tie-dyeing skill is still alive among Chinese people. In Zhoucheng, a Bai ethnic village in Yunnan, almost every family has dye vats and practices tie dyeing. We visit Yang Xinnian, one of those excellent craftsmen.

Chinese tie-dyeing

Confucius Institute Reporter Gao Yanqun 本刊记者 高燕群

Chinese tie-dyeing
Draw Patterns

In 800 A.D., a dance troupe from southwest China travelled to Chang’an, the capital of Tang Dynasty, to perform dance. They not only had outstanding choreographic skills, but also caused such a sensation in the prosperous Chang’an city with their colorful and splendid costumes featuring birds and animals and vegetation that were recorded in history. These glamorous costumes were made with the traditional Chinese tie-dyeing.

As a heritage with a history of a thousand years, the Chinese tie-dyeing skill is still alive among Chinese people. Zhoucheng, a Bai ethnic village in Dali County, Yunnan Province, is famous for Chinese tie-dyeing, where almost every family has dye vats and practices tie dyeing. The Bai women here learn the skills since their early childhood. Many villagers can design their own patterns. Yang Xinnian is one of the excellent craftsmen.

A white-walled, dark-tiled house at the entrance of Zhoucheng Village is Yang Xinnian’s home. We can see colorful fabrics hanging on all the walls. They are newly finished works by her…

Chinese tie-dyeing
To draw these patterns on the cloth is the first step of tie-dyeing. Then follow up the drawing to tie the cloth up like “cloth flower buds”. Pieces of white cloth are tied quickly by these skillful women.

Chinese tie-dyeing
Tying cloth flowers by hand is the most challenging thing. They stitch up the cloth firmly to form strings of “knots”, so these tied parts will not be dyed.

Chinese tie-dyeing
Loose or firm cloth-flowers and the frequency of dyeing contribute to the uniqueness of every piece of dyed fabric. Plant dyes will fade slightly, which makes the transition from blue to white more natural and gentle, presenting the unique beauty of tie-dyed cloth.

Chinese tie-dyeing
There are hundreds of chinese tie-dyeing patterns by the Bai people, among which patterns like butterflies, plum blossom, caterpillars, sesame flowers have enjoyed a long history and still been popular today.

Chinese tie-dyeing
In her own backyard, Yang Xinnian plants Radix Isatidis, both for making natural dyes, and for the cooling and anti-inflammatory effects of it as a traditional Chinese medicine

Chinese tie-dyeing
Tied cloth is then immersed in the dye vat for some time before taken out to dry in the air. This process will be repeated for several times while the color is getting darker with each dip.

Chinese tie-dyeing
Many foreigners come to Yang Xinnian’s home to learn chinese tie-dyeing.

Chinese tie-dyeing
Chinese Tie-dyeing reflects rich flavor of the local minorities and aesthetics of the common people. Today tie-dyed cloth can be made into scarves, clothes, blankets, tablecloths, etc., and sold to Japan, Britain, the United States and many other countries and regions.

Chinese tie-dyeing
These are tie-dyed uniforms designed by foreign students and dyed by Yang Xinnian.

Chinese tie-dyeing
She teaches a foreign friend to do the needlework personally.

More about chinese arts & crafts in ConfuciusMag


Confucius Institute Magazine 27

Published in Confucius Institute Magazine.
Number 27. Volume IV. July 2013.

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