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Think tie-dyeing died (pun intended) with the hippie era? Well, those amateurish, randomly splattered T-shirts are no more, except for kids’ school or camp projects. Some local artist-crafters have taken on the genre, and their finished products don’t look much like the old ones. Sophisticated designs and color schemes make the garments look good enough for anyone to add to a casual wardrobe. In fact, when expertly done, tie-dyeing techniques can be used for high fashion clothing in luxurious natural fabrics, such as silks and rayons.

The Calvert Artists’ Guild last weekend sponsored a tie-dye workshop at the Mt. Hope Community Center. This is one of several weekend art workshops the guild offers every year. The workshops are open to the public as well as members of the guild.

Tie-dyeing is an ancient technique for coloring fabric. It is a process, as the name implies, of creating patterns on fabric by knotting or folding, or manipulating the cloth so the dye colors only certain portions of the fabric. That’s a bare-bones definition, but the whole process becomes much more complicated depending on the ambitions and esthetics of the maker. Although simple effects can be achieved easily by simply tying off and then applying dye to sections of the fabric, the full range of possible designs requires thoughtful planning.

Last Saturday morning, as the eager workshop registrants watched attentively, tie dye experts Mike and Virginia Richardson unrolled examples of their craft — brilliantly colored T-shirts for children and adults, and even some riotously colored infants’ underwear — as they unpacked their dyes and equipment at the start of class. Serious tie-dyeing requires skill and concentration, as the Richardsons demonstrated. Although detailed tie-dyeing instructions are on the Internet, there’s no substitute for a hands-on demonstration from teachers who can guide a novice through the procedures.

Mike and Virginia Richardson, who live and work in St. Mary’s County, have been working in this art medium for some years, “creating, teaching, selling, and promoting art in the county.” Their art activities are in addition to their regular professional academic work lives at the College of Southern Maryland, where Mike teaches business and economics and Virginia teaches computer classes.

The Richardsons’ son, 9-year-old Christopher, came to the workshop with his parents, modeling a nifty blue, green and black T-shirt with the “peace” symbol across the body of the shirt. Christopher usually helps his parents set up for classes and craft shows, as well as making the occasional tie-dyed shirt for himself.

“He didn’t want any advice or help from me, and wouldn’t you know it, the first one he ever did won a ribbon at the fair last fall,” Mike, his father, said.

All three Richardsons wore examples of their craft. In addition to Christopher’s retro peace design, Mike wore a black starburst on a multi-hued field. Virginia’s tee was a swirling rainbow of colors ranging from warm yellows, reds and pinks to cool greens and blues, a shirt that could have been a disaster in less competent hands. Because of her design skill, and her careful planning, however, her shirt was a very attractive example of this craft form.

While Mike set out the dyeing supplies and tools, Virginia explained and demonstrated the basic steps, from preparing the fabric to creating the patterns. The garments to be dyed must be soaked first in a solution of water and soda ash, to remove any sizing or other residues from new fabric. Heavier fabrics, such as denim, usually require a complete prewash cycle in a washer.

Natural fibers take the dye best. Some fiber blends can be dyed, but the results are likely to be less strikingly colorful. The damp garment is then ready for the elaborate business of folding, tying and/or coiling the fabric, which differs according to the pattern. Some patterns, such as hearts, require drawing the design on the fabric with a washable magic marker. The fabric is then folded in several places — sometimes scrunched — to make the pattern, which is then tied into place.

The folds must be precise to achieve an accurate finished design, which is where a lot of the skill comes into play. The entire piece is then coiled into a flat circle and tied tightly several times, back and forth across to hold the design in place to receive the dye. The way the folds and ties are done determines the success of the pattern. The tied fabric is then ready for dye application. The dye can be applied only to the tied sections, or combined according to the tastes of the maker and the desired final product. Most of the workshop participants seemed to want as many different combinations of colors as possible.

As they assisted the students with their projects, the Richardsons described some of the projects they’ve completed. The biggest commission they’ve done so far is a set of bed sheets for a client who was on her way to college and wanted to express some personality in her dorm room. They’ve demonstrated their craft at fairs, in the local schools and in classes. They recently worked with a team of teachers and volunteers at a local school to make 167 tie-dyed T-shirts for a field trip. Their professional name, “Yes, Virginia Creations,” and examples of their tie-dye creations can be accessed on their website and Facebook page, at; and

The Calvert Artists’ Guild, the county’s oldest artists’ professional group, is a membership association founded in 1978, with a mission to promote art in Calvert County. The guild has monthly meetings and sponsors a variety of programs, demonstrations and workshops. The guild also awards an annual scholarship to a graduating high school senior to continue his or her education in the visual arts. For more information about the guild, go to