To dye for

Woman's chapan robe, ca. 1860–1870 Uzbekistan, Bukhara Silk; warp-faced plain weave, warp-resist dyeing (ikat)Fashionistas won’t want to miss The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s (FAMSF) exhibit To Dye For: A World Saturated in Color. It investigates one of fashion’s hottest trends by exploring its history of fabric dying, which has been honed for centuries by cultures spanning the globe. From pre-historic to modern times, the unique art of tie-dye is resurging.

The exhibition opens July 31 in the Lonna and Marshall Wais Gallery and Diana Dollar Knowles and Gorham B. Knowles Gallery for Textile Arts. To Dye For runs through January 9, 2011. It will feature more than 50 textiles and costumes that include a diverse array of “resist-dye” examples. They come from the comprehensive collection of textiles from Africa, Asia, and the Americas at FAMSF, as well as several Bay Area private collections.

The “resist-dye method” is an inclusive term describing the process of dyeing textiles to form patterns by preventing dye from reaching specific areas of the cloth. Tie-dye is just one example of it. Methods of resist-dyeing also include stitch-resist, batik or wax-resist dyeing, stencil-resist, mordant-resist, and ikat (warp- or weft-resist dyeing). FAMSF textile curator Jill D’Alessandro explains, “To Dye For not only highlights the museum’s impressive permanent collection of textiles, but also shows how cultures across the world have used similar techniques for centuries – with results that are sometimes similar, and at other times startlingly different. The end result will be a stunning array of textures, patterns and color.”

The museum describes the exhibit as “a truly cross-cultural presentation”. This exhibition showcases objects from a variety of cultures and historical periods, including a tie-dyed tunic from the Wari-Nasca culture of pre-Hispanic Peru (A.D. 500–900), a paste-resist Mongolian felt rug from the 15th to 17th centuries, and a group of stitch-resist dyed 20th-century kerchiefs from the Dida people of the Ivory Coast. These historical pieces are contrasted with artworks from such contemporary Bay Area artists as Judith Content, Ana Lisa Hedstrom, Angelina DeAntonis, and Yoshiko Wada.

Included in the exhibition is an elegant tie-dye evening gown from Rodarte’s 2009 collection, and an ikat trench coat from Oscar de La Renta’s 2005 collection. Both looks foreshadowed the current spring/summer trend of tribal-infused fashions such as Dries Van Noten’s and Gucci’s ikats and Proenza Schouler’s and Calvin Klein’s tie-dyes.”