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: Dyeing to Please


Lotus Stack



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
We take fabric for granted. We wear it on our backs, it covers our couches, it hangs from our curtain rods. And yet the bounty and variety of beautiful dyed and printed fabrics that are available today point to a rich and colorful worldwide history."Dyeing to Please" is an exhibition celebrating both the creative genius of the world's great dye artists throughout history and the lust of demanding consumers for beautifully patterned cloth. The more than 60 pieces on view, from September 27 to April 1998, display the skill of highly trained and specialized urban artisans as well as the vitality of rural dye masters.We believe many remarkable dyeing processes were first developed in Asia. The elaborate resist-dyed ikats from Central Asia were produced in 19th-century Bukarha, a city where several colorists, including Jewish indigo dyers, worked with Islamic weavers to create costly cloth for rich merchants and nomadic tribal leaders.In Indonesia the technique of wax-resist batik became so refined that both realistic figures and abstract patterns could be created with equal ease to please local and export markets. An Indian bride's veil, a Rajput warrior's turban, and a Japanese woman's fine silk kimono, all included in "Dyeing to Please," are all brilliant testimonies to the tie-dyeing masters' attention to the subtleties of their art.Two thousand years ago, Peruvians, among the world's foremost textile specialists, were patterning their fine cotton cloth with the tie-dye resist technique and had mastered the arts of printing and painting textiles long before the Europeans arrived in the Americas. For the last several hundred years, bold ikat-dyed threads have been used by master weavers to create fine wool ponchos for Andean men. Meanwhile, in Guatemala the female descendants of Mayan dyers, now working in Salcaja, and the male weavers of Totonicapan prefer to emphasize the subtle effects of this technique as they create intricately patterned cotton skirts.During the first century A.D., the Roman historian Pliny described Egyptian cloth that also may have been created by a tie-dye resist technique. Today this technique continues to be popular in Africa and has been developed in a particularly distinctive form by the dyers of West Africa where indigo-dyed adire cloth for clothing is highly valued by both men and women. Their designs have become so popular that other Africans have begun to imitate the look through printing techniques. Meanwhile, today's American print manufacturers have been inspired by the paste-resist, mud-dyed fabrics of Mali to create everything from furnishing fabrics to dress fabrics.For centuries European dye masters disdained learning the subtleties of patterning, and block-printed fabrics were made for the lower end of the market. During the later Middle Ages, priests officiating at the death beds of plague victims wore printed chasubles made of the most inexpensive materials, which could then be burned after the death of the plague victim. However, by the end of the 18th century, the growing number of fine imported Indian printed and painted textiles proved that a commercial potential existed for these fabrics.Indeed, French, Dutch, and English manufacturers devoted considerable resources toward research and development that would enable them to compete in this area of textile production. The result was the creation of new and ingenious technologies, which not only gave designers additional tools to create extraordinary fabrics but cut costs, making printed textiles affordable to a much broader audience. These industrially printed textiles were seized upon by a grateful public that craved novelty, and by 1836 even American mills were manufacturing about 12,000,000 yards annually. The popularity of printed fabrics has continued into the 20th century. As one of the most readily available forms of decorative art, they have had a profound influence on popular costume and furnishing styles.Reflecting cultural, geographical, and historical aesthetic preferences, the objects in this exhibition tell us of the time, technology, material resources, and extraordinary energy that have been directed by textile specialists who are ever dyeing to please.Lotus Stack is textile curator and chair of the curatorial division.How they dye it
Historic dyeing practices necessitated total immersion in a dye bath. To create patterns, various resist processes were developed. One of the oldest is called tie-dye. Using this method, desired patterned areas of the cloth are tightly tied with string or cord in such a way that the dye liquid cannot penetrate the textile. The resulting patterns are often delineated by small dots.Ikat is a unique variation of the tie-dye resist method. Using this technique, designated sections of unwoven threads are tied off to resist absorption of the dye liquid. Elaborate patterns developed in Central Asia sometimes required up to eight trying sequences and dye baths. The resulting multicolored threads were sent to the weavers who were able to create intricately patterned cloth on the simplest types of looms.Another form of resist dyeing involves applying a temporary paste to patterned areas of the fabric and thus preventing the absorption of color. The paste must be made of a material that will not dissolve in the dye bath but can be removed after the pattern effect has been achieved. The best known form of this type of dyeing is called batik and employs a wax paste. Printing and painting are not resist techniques, because with these techniques the dye is applied to the surface of the cloth."Dyeing to Please"
Galleries 376, 377 and 378
On view from September 27 to April, 1998.Related ImagesMany fabrics of the 20th century have an international flair. Chimu, produced by American Jack Lenor Larsen, was conceived by English designer Eliza Wilcox, made with Swiss velvet, and dyed in Kenya using traditional West African fold dying techniques. Loaned by Larsen, Inc. Intricately patterned ikat fabrics, valued by city dwellers and nomadic herders of Central Asia, were made into formal robes, ceremonial bed coverings and ornamental wall hangings used for special occasions. The Ethel Morrison Van Derlip FundArtisans in Mogul India developed, painted, and printed fabrics into elegant and refined forms, which were the envy of the world and inspired European manufacturers to develop an entire new industry. This 19th-century hanging reflects Islamic cultures' love of gardens. The Dunwoody FundFor more than 2,000 years Peruvian dyers have created patterned cotton cloths. This tie-dyed fragment from about 1300 represents the aesthetic preferences of late Huari culture. Gift of Nobuko Kajitani
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Source: Lotus Stack, "Dyeing to Please: The Institute's latest textile exhibit celebrates the world's great dye masters," <i>Arts</i> 20, no. 8 (September 1997): 4-5.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009