Blog Post

Can Catholics Wear Tie Dyed Clothing?

Anonymous asks: “I recently purchased some clothing, with the tie dye on them. Sometimes, I think they are strange designs that don't make sense on the clothing. I googled tie dye to know if there are any spiritual origins to the tie design and apparently there can be in certain cultures. Is this true or am I overthinking?”

It’s always “better to be safe than sorry”, especially in spiritual matters because of how easy it is to be deceived by the devil, so it was wise of you to make a few inquiries into the art of tie- dye. Like you, we discovered that it does have a history beyond what most Americans think about tie-dye and its association with the hippie culture of the 1960s.

First, for those who do not know what tie dye is, it’s a form of “resist dyeing” in which a portion of the cloth is tied in knots to resist the absorption of the dye. There are different methods of tying the knots to produce different kinds of patterns.

As this article appearing in National Geographic explains, “Each culture found unique twists to add through their designs, including dyeing cloth tied to sticks, drawing patterns in wax, or making knots with rice, rocks, or seeds.”

Different cultures had their own methods of tying the cloth in order to create designs that had spiritual or cultural meaning to them.

For example, we find the oldest known form of tie-dye which dates back to 4,000 BC in the Indus Valley Civilization which is based in the northern region of modern day India.

Known as bandhani, it’s patterns were created “by plucking the cloth into tiny peaks and binding it with thread before applying dye. A series of these small knots, which allowed fabric underneath to be untouched by dye, form whirls and patterns on clothes such as sarees, scarves, and turbans,” the article states.

Bandhani cloths are seen as symbols of love and affection and are often given as wedding gifts.

Another tie-dye cloth, known as amarra, was found in Peru 1,500 years ago and came to the southwestern United States where it was created by the Pueblo peoples.

“A distinct feature of amarra is the gridded design of diamonds with dots in the center, a pattern symbolizing snakeskin or fields of corn,” the article states, both of which were sacred motifs to Indigenous groups in the Americas. Religious figures and deities were often depicted wearing amarra.

Shibori tie-dye techniques date back to fourth century China but are more often associated with a Japanese art form that emerged over a thousand years ago.

“For one method of shibori, craftspeople place a grain of rice or a small piece of metal for each knot of cloth and bind it tightly in thread. After the textile is dyed, the threads are released, creating small circles. It takes many hours to complete the process of tying, dyeing, and untying the fabric to create intricate patterns,” National Geographic explains.

This very time consuming and laborious technique is highly revered in Japan. Although peasants make shibori designs on hemp cloth using indigo, it is also very popular with nobles and the wealthy who wear shibori kimonos made of silk.

Eventually, this association with wealth found shibori being banned as part of Japan’s sumptuary laws.

The Yoruba people of Nigeria had their own form of tie-dye, known as adire, which was made by pleating cloth before tying it with thread and then dyeing. They also created circular patterns by wrapping stones and large seeds in the fabric, similar to shibori.

Among the Yoruba people, adire designs often carried symbols of a person’s social status or age.

As for the US version of tie-dye, it actually made its first appearance during the “roaring twenties” and was a cheap way for people to decorate their clothing during the Great Depression.

It came back in vogue during the 1960s with the hippie era because its flashy swirls and vibrant colors reflected the free-spirited style of the era and rebellion against the status quo. Stars like Janis Joplin and Jerry Garcia wore it and started a trend among American youth that made it one of the most iconic looks of the time period which was all about “making love not war.”

There’s no reason why a Christian should hesitate to wear tie-dyed clothing or use it to decorate their homes. If you like the look, go for it!

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