Phase 3: Interpreting Information

Updated 2 years 6 months ago

In Phase 0 I chose the Environmental Impact on the Tie-Dye Industry as the topic of my Inquiry Project. In Phase 1 I looked more into my topic and created questions that I will use to help guide me through my research in Xizhou. In Phase 2 I found helpful resources and people that I can talk about my topic during my time in Xizhou. This is Phase 3, a file of my background information, information from my 3-to-5's, and information from the contacts that I have made throughout my stay here. 

Background Information (from Phase 1

Tie-dyeing previously known as "Jiao Xi" during ancient China dates back over 1000 years ago.[7,4] According to historical records, tie-dye was first done in Dali, a small town 20 kilometers from Xizhou which is where we are going to stay for a month. [7] There is also a village nearby called Zhoucheng, and it is very famous for tie-dyeing and there is also a small textile factory there. [4,1] 

In the Yunnan Province as tradition, many local Bai women start learning and improving their tie-dyeing skills since their early childhood.[4] Instead of classifying their tie-dyed pieces as clothing Bai people consider their tie-dye pieces as art.[5] There are over 1000 patterns that belong to the Bai people.[7] Many villagers design their own patterns, these patterns include flowers, plants, animals, folk characters/symbols. Some patterns also reflect upon Bai history and their cultures, customs, and aesthetic preferences. [4,5] While researching I also came in-between the differences of Batik and Tie-dye. There are usually mistaken for being the same technique, but it is not. Batik is made with wax so that a part stays undyed and tie-dye is created by sewing fabric into tight clumps.[3,1] 

Nowadays tie-dye is an endangered tradition, and hand-dyed cloths are increasingly rare.[7] In ancient times when more tie-dye pieces were made they used natural products. In ancient times. The fabrics used are made out of cotton, linen, and silk which absorb water. Dyes were originally made from powder made out of herbs.[6]cPollution is also a reason why natural tie-dyeing is an endangered tradition, this is because pollution can affect the growth of plant dyes like indigo wood. [7] Naturally dyed products are also becoming rare because when making products with natural dyes the process takes longer and there is not a variety of colors that chemical dyes provide. [2]

Xizhou is a waterfront village, the lake their town is surrounded by is a lake called " Lake Erhai". Lake Erhai is heavily polluted with phosphorus and nitrogen. [8] This leads to problems with clean water. Although this can affect its people drastically health-wise it can also affect textile production factories. In many parts of rural China it is difficult to find clean water, and when making tie-dye pieces you need to use clean hot water. [5,9] 

 Information From 3-to-5's:

Mr. Tafel [10] 

  • Zhoucheng used to have over 200 factories 
  • Around 7 years ago when Mr. T used to visit Xizhou he could see indigo being drained from the streets in Zhoucheng and Xizhou
  • The blue stains on the streets had an impact on the streets and also on pedestrians

Ms. Mai [11]  

  • Zhoucheng is a village where people have been making tie-dye pieces for decades
  • Some families and businesses make pieces traditionally to preserve this traditional type of art
  • Many other families and businesses use synthetic dyes because the economy in Xizhou has changed and tourism is a big part of their economy
  • To produce products faster businesses are using synthetic dyes 

Ms. Song [12] 

  • Xiao Bai is a woman who is very experienced in the tie-dye industry
  • Most people who create pieces in the industry are elders 

Ms. Linden[13]

  • Pieces that have a lighter shade of blue are most likely natural
  • Pieces that are darker mostly have a chemical boost


Information From Local Contacts:

Zhang Jie[14]

  • Colors blue and white are preferred because they resemble traditional pieces 
  • Cost Varies on factors such as size, technique, and the time it took to make a piece 
  • Older people usually make pieces because it is time-consuming and it also does not pay a lot 
  • Workers are usually paid 20-30 RMB per day 
  • Needlework shows quality (small holes from stitching) 
  • The Cheese factory sells pieces with synthetic dyes 
  • The dyes that are used does not affect the prices 
  • For younger generations of families who work in the tie-dye business, learning tie-dye is irrelevant because most children want to move out to big cities
  • Elders who now work in tie-dye factories learned when they were very young (6-7)
  • Zhang Jie learned when she was 10 years old. 
  • There is a very small proportion of young adults working in the tie-dye industry
  • Fewer tie-dye artists have profited from their work as there is a major competition with big and famous companies

Xiao Bai[15]

  • Many ingredients used to make dyes are made from natural ingredients, some of the natural ingredients are also even used for TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine)
  • Some ingredients that are used to make dyes are beggars tick, gardenia, turmeric, onion skin, and the famous indigo plant
  • Xiao Bai buys her ingredients for dyes locally 
  • Fabrics used to make pieces are silk, cotton, denim, and linen
  • Some fabrics take longer to dye 
  • Some people from younger generations are becoming more interested in tie-dye 
  • Owns two stores, one in Zhoucheng and one in Xizhou 
  • After they make products in her store, dyed water is drained into a converter and changes dyed water into clean water again 
  • Because of the government's plan to reduce water usage hotels near Erhai Lake were closed which affected her store by losing many foreign customers from outside of Zhoucheng near Dali. 
  • In the Tang Dynasty, kingdoms started to exchange their arts (music, instruments, drawings, designs, etc.) 
  • Every piece usually has a design 
  • The Horsetooth designs were made in honor of the horses that were used in the carbon route from the past 
  • The difference between modern and older designs is that the designers have different thought processes 
  • Older generations usually thought of nature and younger generations think of wealth and trends 
  • Tourists from outside of China prefer traditional colors like blue 
  • Tourists from China prefer colors at first, but after they learn about traditional versus modern most lean towards blue colors 
  • Younger tourists prefer any type of tie-dye that matches their home decorations.

Yang Nai Nai[16]

  • People care about patterns in pieces 
  • In the past, his customers preferred small pieces like handkerchiefs 
  • 50% of customers from China prefer older pieces and the other 50% prefer modern patterns 
  • In the future, there will be less older patterns 
  • Yang Nai Nai focuses on embroidery 
  • When Yang Nai Nai makes embroidered sweaters tie-dye pieces are put in it 
  • Pieces made with older techniques take 15 days to make 
  • More modern pieces take less time to make (around 2 hours) 
  • In her shops, older pieces are more expensive than newer pieces 
  • Older pieces have more complicated designs 
  • Prices: Older: 200 RMB, New: 180 RMB

Mr. Yang[17] 

  • His customers prefer blue
  • His store has been opened since 1990
  • He buys his pieces in Xizhou and in Zhoucheng
  • They make marijuana leafs because young tourists buy them 
  • Marijuana leafs are easier to make than actual tie-dye pieces
  • Some newer designs are painted with a hand brush 
  • Some designs like dragons and mountains also connect with folktales 
  • Needlework shows quality in a piece
  • Many famous pieces bought in Xizhou are Zhoucheng style designs with embroidery made out of white yarn 
  • Older pieces are more environmentally friendly 
  • New pieces are made of machinery when being and dyed and also embroidered 
  • Age of pieces does not affect prices 
  • New: 80 RMB, Old: 30 RMB 
  • When customers go to their stores they prefer more modern pieces
  • In the 80's he used to sell baba but the industry impacted his life because tourists and tourism companies preferred visiting tie-dye stores, so he would gain a bigger profit. 
  • Many customers ask to ship products and pieces to Shanghai 

Answers to Previous Questions (from Phase 1)

1. What plants make natural dyes?
2. What type of dyes ( manufactured or natural) are mostly used?
3. Do naturally dyed and chemically dyed pieces have the same prices?
4. Which natural dyes are preferred?
5. When do they start learning and who teaches them?
6. Where do they sell their products? 
7. Is tie-dye used more than Batik? 
8. How important is tie-dyeing to the Bai culture? 
9. How will the tradition last in the future/ how can we preserve it?
10. From ancient times how have techniques or the process evolve?


While in the middle of my field research I decided to change my focus towards tie-dye instead of the environmental impact. Below are the questions I used to guide me during the rest of my field research. 


1. How has the tie-dye industry changed since you have first opened your shop?

More people are paying attention to tie-dye and a lot of people have started to make workshops and also younger people have partnered with their families and parents.

2. What colors are preferred by tourists?

Tourists from outside of China prefer colors like blue and white because it has a more natural and antique look. Tourists from China prefer any color that matches with their home decorations, but after they learn about the process of making a piece most prefer pieces an "original piece". 

3. When are people taught to make a piece and why do they make pieces as a job? 

Workers learn how to make a piece when they were very young between the ages of 7 to 10 years old. Some experts in the industry learn after with professionals when they are older. Some businesses make traditional styles to encourage an eco-friendly lifestyle. Others make pieces because it is a traditional Bai culture role and more people need to be encouraged so that this art is preserved. 

4. In 50 years how do they think the tie-dye industry will be like?

For some companies that are based in houses or courtyards, the government is interested in taking over traditional courthouses in hopes of having a bigger profit from the tourism industry by making hotels. Young adults also have become interested in this slow process for making products and many young adults enjoy it can be a break from their face past lifestyle.  

5. What is the most famous type of pieces and designs? What are some pieces that hold meaning to Bai locals personally? 

Some famous pieces are scarfs and tapestries and some famous designs are flowers, fish, honeycombs, and horse teeth. Fish and flowers hold meaning to Bai locals because it represents their surroundings. Flowers, horse teeth, honeycombs, and butterflies. Fish stand for a saying said 年年有余 (Every new year is there is fish), this saying shows economic prosperity as fishing is another big part of their society and economy. 

6. How do you price a piece?

Pricing has to do with the cost of production and quality of work. Although when pricing pieces a little more is added so that companies and artists can maintain business sustainability and are able to profit from their work. 

7. If you had to decide which style new or old, what would you pass down to younger generations? 

Most artists and businesses would pass down traditional styles, but Xiao Bai an expert in the tie-dye industry would pass down a traditional and modern piece. She would pass down this type of piece because it is a mix of the understanding of a tie-dyed piece years ago and she would add a modern twist because it would show this generation's understanding. 

8. How has tourism impacted your life and your business?

It has a big impact on some stores because tourists are a big customer base as are sightseeing companies. Most stores would probably still be open because many do not do it for tourism. 

9. When they were young, how was it like if you grew up with the tie-dye industry as a part of a family business?

For experts like Xiao Bai and her family, she was always surrounded by family members making pieces and selling them, and she and her family members explain it as a lifestyle.

10. What are the steps to making a tie-dyed piece?

Step 1. Harvesting Indigo
Step 2. Processing Indigo
Step 3. Pattern Design and Template Production 
Step 4. Print Pattern 
Step 5. Manually Embroider Pattern
Step 6. Soak
Step 7. Purify with Soy Milk
Step 8. Dye - According to specific color requirements, we need to repeat step 8 through 9 between 4-10 times. 
Step 9. Oxidation
Step 10. Remove Stiches 
Step 11. Wash
Step 12. Air Out to Dry 


1. Online: Marisa K. (Alumni E.),, accessed on November 5, 2017 
2. Online: Maddie O. (Alumni A.),, accessed on November 5, 2017
3. Online: Mirabel F. (Alumni A.),, accessed on November 5, 2017
4. Online: Chinese Tie-Dying: An Ancient Tradition,, accessed on November 5, 2017
5. Online: Tie-Dying of Bai Ethnic,, accessed on November 5, 2017
6. Online: Tie-Dye,, accessed on November 5, 2017
7. Online: Tie-Dye Technique of the Bai Nationality,, accessed on November 5, 2017
8. Online: China's lake pollution cut by a third but water quality is still an issue,, accessed on November 6, 2017
9. Online: Meeting Rural Water and Sanitation needs in Yunnan, China,, accessed on November 6, 2017. 
10. Mr. Tafel. Personal Interview conducted by Ana M., 20 November 2017
11. Ms. Mai. Personal Interview conducted by Ana M., 20 November 2017
12. Ms. Song. Personal Interview conducted by Ana M., 20 November 2017
13. Ms. Linden. Personal Interview conducted by Ana M., 28 November 2017
14. Zhang Jie. Personal Interview conducted by Ana M., 22 November 2017
15. Xiao Bai. Personal Interview conducted by Ana M., 24 November 2017
16. Yang Nai Nai. Personal Interview conducted by Ana M., 29 November 2017
17. Mr. Yang. Personal Interview conducted by Ana M.,  28 November 2017

I have now completed my phase 3 work and I have more than enough information to help me create my final product. I have also had a sit and talk session with Mr. Tafel and told him about my ideas for my final product. and how I want it to look like. I will now be moving onto Phase 4,where I will be making an outline for my final product. 

Hi there! My name is Ana M. and I am a proud representative of the Ultimate Microcampus group! I was born in the United States, but since I was 4 I have been living in different places like Brazil and China. I am now back in Shanghai and I am getting used to my old schedule. Being a part of the November-December 2017 trip was the best decision I have ever made. I will remember the great and the not-so-great parts of the trip. I have been able to learn many life lessons and I hope to carry these forever. I am missing the fresh air, the delicious food, and being able to see the brightest stars at night!