In 2009 we visited Yunnan Province and went to Zhoucheng Village, where the Bai Ethnic people still practice the Chinese Tie dye technique. I purchased several meters of this fabric and made a quilt for a family member.
Here are pictures of the village and an article I found at http://arts.cultural-china.com/en/44Arts9108.html that explains the technique. The article says they use woad leaves, but I am confident that we were told it is Indigo.
Tie-dyeing 扎染 is an old Chinese textile dyeing technique. Nowadays this traditional technique is still popular in Zhoucheng Village, Dali City in Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture and some places in Weishan Yi and Hui autonomous county. The Zhoucheng, Bai Nationality tie-dyeing technique is the most famous and the area was named ‘the Land for National Tie-dye’ by the Culture Administration.
The tie-dyed materials are usually are white cotton cloth or a blended fabric of cotton and flax, and the dye is mainly made from indigo plants. The main tools used are jars and sticks. There are many kinds of Bai tie-dyed items, using natural patterns with lucky meanings. The finished products are aesthetically valuable and pleasing to consumers both at home and abroad. Dali Bai tie-dye shows strong folk art styles and Bai customs and taste.
The concept behind tie-dyeing is to restrict the dye from reaching certain areas of the cloth, this is achieved through the use of knots, threads, rocks, sticks and rubber bands. The color of the parts the dye reaches changes but the restricted parts stay untouched, giving a pleasant color contrast.
This method appeared in the 3rd to 4th century in China and is still used today. Bright colors, an unlimited variety of patterns and color combinations, and the simplicity of the techniques contribute to its enduring appeal.
Tie-dyeing is a time-honored handicraft of the Bai ethnic group, who mainly inhabit southwest China’s Yunnan Province. To make the dye, woad leaves are collected and fermented in a pit until they are indigo in color. White cloth is tied and sewn into various patterns by hand and then dyed. After the cloth is dried and rinsed, designs of bees, butterflies, plum blossoms, fish, or insects appear with an artistic effect that cannot be achieved by painting.