Home » Yunnan Tours » Intangible Cultural Heritages in Yunnan » Tie-dyeing technique of the Bai Nationality

Tie-dyeing technique of the Bai Nationality

Tie-dyeing technique of the Bai Nationality

Tie-dyeing, a kind of ancient textile dyeing technique, was called “Jiao xie” in ancient times. To date this traditional technique remains strong in ZhouCheng village in the Bai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan City and also Taicang and Miaojie in the Weishan Yi and Hui Autonomous County. The Bai Tie dyeing industry in Zhoucheng village is the most famous, named “National Tie-dyeing Hometown” by the Ministry of Culture.

According to historical records, dyeing and weaving techniques first appeared in the area of Dali during the Eastern Han Dynasty. During the sixteen year reign of Tang Zhen Yuan, the Nan Zhao dancing group came to Chang’an to perform.  Their costumes were tie-dyed with pictures of animals and plants and lines of eight colors. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties dyeing and weaving techniques in the Erhai area had reached a high level among the Bai people. A cloth-dyeing association was founded at that time, and cloths like Erhai Weihong cloth during the Ming Dynasty, Xizhou cloth during the Qing Dynasty and Dali cloth were all best-sellers and won considerable fame in their time. Today the Dali dyeing and weaving industry is continuously developing and Zhouchen village is known to all for its famous manual dyeing and weaving techniques.

The raw materials of Tie-dyeing are usually white cotton cloth or white mixed cotton-flax cloth. Its major colour comes from the indigo plant (known as Indigowoad Root by the folk of Yunnan), so most Bai Tie-dying is blue and white. The key steps include drawing and brushing patterns, woolding or knotting, soaking, cloth-dyeing, heating, drying, string-removing, cloth-grinding, while the main tools involve dye vats and jars, dye sticks, hangers and stone mills.

Bai Tie-dyeing uses a wide variety of techniques for both dyeing and tie-dyeing to achieve beautiful results, with many intricate and delightful patterns using flowers, plants, animals and symbols thought to bring good luck. It has a strong reputation at home and abroad for its significant aesthetic values and also its usefulness, whether as clothing or in furnishings.  There are over 1000 patterns that belong to the Bai people, many going back into distant history and reflecting Bai’s conditions and customs as well as aesthetic interests. 

This is now an endangered tradition, and these beautiful hand-dyed cloths are becoming increasingly rare.  The trend of current industrialization threatens traditional Tie-dyeing techniques and the original folk characteristics are at risk of deteriorating. Pollution is becoming a problem, and the operation of the market exerts continuous economic pressure on traditional methods.  Supplies of the natural plant dye (from indigowoad, are becoming scarcer. However, there is some recognition of the problem, and of the value of preserving this centuries-old tradition, and although at risk it is hoped that the problems will be solved so that Dali traditional dyeing and weaving techniques continue to be passed on, and to develop.