THE art is almost as old as India where it is called bandhnu. It is as new as the boutiques that blossom along Sunset Strip and Madison Avenue where it is called tie-dyeing. Knotting cloth and dipping it in dye to produce patterns of colorful blobs, swirls and splotches has suddenly become a bright new fad of both high fashion and low.
The latest version of the fad started among the flower children of California, for whom its appeal is easy to understand. For one thing, it is pure psychedelia. For another, each tie-dyed pattern is unique, an unautomated adventure in personal adornment. And tie-dyeing is cheap. For little added cost, it can turn a 32¢ T shirt into strawberry fields forever, or an old pair of jeans into a tiptoe through the tulips.
The Water Babies. The old new fashion spread rapidly through the rock world; many of its stars now sleep in tie-dyed sheets (Janis Joplin has a set in satin). Pop Singer John Sebastian habitually turns himself out in tie-dye from chin to tennis shoes; he does it all himself, and his stove is usually covered with bubbling dye pots.
Sebastian learned the craft from one of its best-known practitioners on the West Coast, "Tie-Dye Annie." Dark-haired Ann Thomas, born 33 years ago in New York City, was a copywriter for Capitol Records and worked for an ad agency in Hawaii before dropping out in Haight-Ashbury in 1967. There, at the Free Store, she learned to tie-dye castaway clothes. "It was the only way we had to give them our own individual stamp of identity," she explains, "as well as making them beautiful."
Today Annie has graduated to a ramshackle semicommune in the Hollywood Hills, surrounded by the vats, bottles and colors of her Water Baby Dye Works. Most of the works is out of doors which is almost necessary, because Annie uses lye and sodium hydrosulfite, resulting in fumes that make it necessary for her to cover her hair, wear rubber gloves and an apron, and douse herself thoroughly in vinegar at the end of a dyeing day.
Annie and her partner, an English-born professional designer named Maureen Mubeem, could easily be swamped by commissions from the boutiques of Los Angeles, San Francisco and points between. But the girls avoid commercialization and limit themselves to work for friends at a flat $7.50 per item. A list of their customers reads like Who's Who in Rock; it includes the Rolling Stones, the cast of The Committee, Cass Elliott and Hair Producer Michael Butler (whose dining room is now being done over completely in Water Baby tie-dye).
Because of the shortage of fine workmanship, Hollywood is hard put to keep up with the tie-dye boomwhich has spread to everything from long-John underwear at $10 a set to wall hangings at $500. After Annie, the West Coast tie-dyer most in demand is Artist Bert Bliss, who has been at it for more than 20 years. Bliss, who works with rayon chiffons, cottons and velvets, does his dyeing in the kitchen, like any housewife. And instead of Annie's concoctions of lye and anilines, he uses a home dyeing product called Rit, right from the supermarket shelf.