Phase 3: Interpreting Information

Updated 8 years 4 months ago

On April 29th, day 12, we all went on a group trip to a tie dye factory in the village of Zhoucheng. There, we got to make our own tie dyed cloths. I got to watch the cloths go through all the steps of the process which takes about two or three hours for a "professional," not including drying. First, a yellowish dye is used to trace a pattern. In our case, this was a butterfly. Then, a needle and thread is used to stitch the outline of the butterfly. The strings are pulled together to form clumps of cloth. The clumps are tied up tightly and the string is knotted. Afterwards, the entire piece of cloth is dunked in boiling blue dye to soak. The cloth gets stirred around for about ten minutes and is then dumped into an empty bucket. The bucket is filled with cold water, swished, and emptied about five times. Lastly, the still-tied up cloths are laid on the ground or hung up to dry for about a day in the sun and wind. After asking Lucas, one of the Linden Center staff, Mirabel and I found out that the dye used was indeed made of chemicals. The factory had an enormous container of natural dye made from flowers. Lucas mentioned that even though only the flower part of the plant was blue, they also use the stems and leaves for the dye. The reason they had us use chemical dye, though, was because the cloth would have to spend more time soaking in the natural dye than the chemical dye. One interesting fact we found out on our own was that the natural dye isn't very blue. After sticking our fingers in it to see what would happen, we realized that our fingers came out clear. The giant container of natural dye is really a lot of light blue dye so that it looks dark. 

This information is exactly what I wanted to know. My question was, what are the steps to the process and how long does it take to go through the entire process. By actually doing it myself, I got the chance to understand completely every single stage of the process as well as watch the experienced workers do the dying and washing. I now have a solid idea of the tie dye in the Bai minority. 

The only thing we did that day was work on our own tie dye cloths and ask Lucas a few questions. Talking to Lucas wasn't part of my plan, but the information he provided was useful to m inquiry project. The tie dyeing gave me a general idea of the overall process, but I still don't know the specifics, for example what the yellow dye is made of or when you know the cloths are done soaking in dye.

What I already know mostly consists of basic tie dye designs and the simple, cheap process of tie dying. This basically means that I know you have to tie the cloth before dyeing, and tight enough that the dye doesn't seep in. I also know that you have to heat the dye before you use it. What I learned from the trip to the factory pretty much agrees with this knowledge. We did have to tie the strings very tightly and the man who dyed the cloths for us put them in boiling dye. 

There are only one or two facts that don't match with the information I already know. One of them is that the Bai minority's style of tie dye actually requires you to stitch the outline of the pattern. From what I know, stitching with a needle and thread isn't necessary. You just tie it up instead of using the already-stitched thread to wrap it up. Another point is that I always thought you would dip different clumps or section into the dye. At the factory, the man soaked the entire cloth and made sure the dye sunk in before taking them out. 

From gathering this new information, I have come up with a few more questions:

1. What is the blue dye made of? - The most commonly used blue dye is made of a plant called flax or linseed. Even though the stem and leaves aren't blue, the whole plant can be used for dye. 

2. When do you know the cloths are done being dyed? - Is there a sort of "signal"? There is no signal. After ten minutes, you take the cloth out of the dye. 

3. Does it take the same process for every design? - Yes.

4. How do put two colors of dye into a fabric? - Like the tie-dye I've done, you dye half of it with one color and the other half with another color. 

The questions that have already been answered are:

1. Do the people of Xizhou use natural or artificial dyes? - They use both artificial and natural dye. The natural dye takes longer to soak, so we used artificial dye.

4. What washing method do they use (cold water?, warm water?, scrub?, soak?)? - You put the just-dyed cloths into a bucket, fill the bucket with cold water, and swish it around. Then you empty it and fill it again about five times. 

9. Why are drops of the natural dye clear while buckets of it aren't? - The natural dye is a very light color. The vat makes it look dark because there is a lot of it put together. When you stick your finger in, it looks clear because there isn't a lot of it on your finger.

Phase four has no questions about finding additional information, so I will start that phase when I am confident that no more research is necessary. 

I am an alumnus of the Microcampus program. I visited Xizhou with 10 other students in March of 2012 as part of the pilot, Group A! I am now 16 years old and attending high school in the United States as a junior. I was first interested in Microcampus because of the amazing travel and environment experience it offers. My time in Yunnan has inspired me to join other unique team programs throughout high school, such as Odyssey of the Mind and the FIRST Robotics Competition. In all the years it's been since I left Xizhou, I still haven't seen grass so green or a night sky with so many stars!