Jul 28, 2023
Always fashionable tie dye catches the eye and wallet at Colorado farmer's markets
Reporter Tie dye never fades for die-hard fans of the ancient technique that instantly turns a T-shirt and other apparel into its own party. The unmistakable look has become a fashion staple for
Tie dye never fades for die-hard fans of the ancient technique that instantly turns a T-shirt and other apparel into its own party.
The unmistakable look has become a fashion staple for Fountain resident Amanda Scheck, who has been honing her rubber banding and staining skills since she was a child.
When her city league soccer team in her Wisconsin hometown needed game shirts more than two decades ago, then 16-year-old Scheck “gave it a shot” with tie dye and found she had a knack for it.
“I just love the vibrant colors,” she says, hence the name of her 7-year-old business, The Vibrant Owl.
Scheck carried her passion to college at the University of Wisconsin, where she taught more than 150 people the process that bonds dye to fabric in random or intentional patterns.
While her active-duty husband was stationed in Germany, she manned a booth at a spouses’ Christmas craft show, featuring baby onesies as a signature product.
“I spent $1,000 on supplies and made $438 that first day,” she said. “I thought I was a total failure.”
Scheck found her groove in 2016, when an unexpected April snowstorm in Colorado Springs led her to try a contemporary twist on the printing style, using ice cubes to induce a reaction as they melt over the textiles that have been sprinkled with powdered dye. In the traditional method, powered dye gets mixed with water to make a liquid that’s squirted on twisted or tied fabric and left to cure.
Regardless of the method, “It’s super bright and colorful, with brilliant and saturated colors,” she said.
In addition to being easier to do, ice dye can produce different motifs, such as a feathered touch, a fine art appearance and markings that resemble a mandala or a geode.
Scheck’s efforts soon became a profitable venture.
As an Army wife and mother of three young children, today she wears one of her handmade creations daily, sells her wares weekly at the arts and crafts show on Saturdays at the Old Colorado City Farmers Market and regularly stocks displays at both Eclectic shops in Colorado Springs.
The latter is an art-cooperative that curates local artists who hand-make sustainable merchandise. Shoppers will find Scheck’s tie-dyed reusable grocery bags, paperless towels, compostable dish cloths and a green alternative to plastic wrap.
“I’m a creative person and a problem solver,” she said.
Sellers say their creations do well at the arts and crafts portion of farmers markets in Colorado, a tie dye hot spot.
Tourists and locals crowd the Woodland Park Farmers Market every Friday, where Susie Norton has expanded her Colorado Mountain Tie Dye business from one to two booths.
“It keeps me busy,” she said.
She’s part of the team that runs the arts and crafts section, and when the event’s tie dye vendor called it quits five years ago, Norton kept getting requests for tie dye items but said she couldn’t find a new vendor. So she started doing it herself.
A steady flow of shoppers perused her large display last weekend.
“It’s kind of nostalgic,” said Daniel Cummins. He and his wife, Elizabeth, bought from Norton’s stand a tie dye bonnet for their baby, who was strapped to his chest and squinting in the bright sun.
“It’s counterculture from the 1960s and summer camp from the ’90s,” he said.
In this decade, tie-dye wine parties are a thing, said Elizabeth Cummins, who has been to several such events.
“We all got tank tops and picked our colors,” she said. “It was pretty easy. It’s a fun way to express yourself.”
The choices for all ages and sizes are endless at booths of Scheck and Norton: T-shirts, crop tops, tank tops, pants, shorts, leggings, dresses, skirts, hoodies, shoes, hats, bandanas, aprons, jumpsuits, baby clothes and anything you can think of, like custom-order bed sheets.
Plant-based fiber, including cotton, linen, rayon and hemp, work best because the dye adheres more readily to natural fabrics, Scheck said.
Tie dye also is popular in Portland, Ore., where the Schecks lived in 2018, but not so much in Alabama, she said, where her goods proved to be a tough sell.
Banding textiles and using stains to form colorful patterns is 4,000 to 6,000 years old, depending on the historical source. Most records agree that the technique originated in Peru and then spread to Egypt, India, Japan and China.
In West Africa, communities have distinguished themselves with variations, such as clamping, not tying, the cloth, or wrapping small stones or seeds into the fabric.
In the United States, government pamphlets from the 1920s and 1930s presented tie dye as an economical way to decorate homes and build a new wardrobe.
Flour and sugar sacks could be turned into tablecloths, curtains and even clothes, using dye from such sources as the juice of blackberries, onion skins, boiled red cabbage or marigolds, according to materials from the Great Depression.
Tie dye became wildly popular nationwide in the late 1960s, when psychedelic clothing developed as “protest art” in opposing the Vietnam war and rejecting the status quo and establishment.
It went mainstream as “pop fashion” in the 1970s and over the decades has waxed, waned and resurged, never being relegated to merely a fad but remaining a trend.
In recent years, it’s common to find tie dye clothing in muted or bright colors at department stores and discount retailers.
The image of tie dye has matured from hippiedom to art that anyone can appreciate, Scheck said.
She also works on spreading the love.
“I am 100% willing to give away all my secrets because my goal is to make the world a more beautiful place,” Scheck said.
Norton also uses the ice dye method, which she said can bring about brilliant shades as well as subdued tones.
“It looks like watercolor painting to me,” she says. “You can’t really mess it up.”
And if Norton ends up with an item she doesn’t care for, “I’ll put it on the rack, and somebody will fall in love with it.”
Part of the attraction: “You’ll never get two of a kind.”
Many people who walk by Norton’s booth say her apparel reminds them of the ’60s and ’70s.
“I don’t think it’s ever totally gone out of style, but it’s definitely coming back,” she said. “My dad rocked his tie dye ‘til he died, and he was 86.”
In her garage and laundry room, where the bulk of her one-person manufacturing occurs, Scheck coaxes a mood out of her tie dye batches that wait in large tubs in varying stages of development.
One plastic bin that has yellow and orange powdered dye sprinkled on top of a layer of ice cubes, is “all red energy and fire,” she said.
Another tub with shades of blues and greens evokes “really happy” feelings, while a batch with darker browns and blacks give off vibes of being “deep and mysterious,” Scheck said.
Creativity is involved in knowing which dyes should be paired together, whether to tie or merely crinkle the fabric, the length of time to soak the material in soda ash and other aspects.
There’s a dash of luck sprinkled in, too, as pieces lined up right next to each other on wire racks perched on top of glass jars don’t turn out similar, despite being dusted with the same colors of dye.
Like clouds, people have different ideas of what’s emerged.
“I see a butterfly in this one,” Scheck says. Or maybe a dove, she says with a laugh.
Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.
Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.
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