Tie-dye on the rise as a pandemic pastime

Maya Joyandeh of Teaneck, New Jersey, enlisted her 6-year-old daughter (center) to tie-dye sweatshirts for her younger brothers.

(CNN)For Danielle Somers, tie-dye has taken on ritual status during the pandemic.

Like all good rituals, it's a mix of order and chaos; the process is deeply familiar while the outcomes remain mysterious. When tie-dying, she takes her time preparing and setting up the different colors, placing the rubber bands on the cloth, dipping the cloth in the ink and then, in time, observing the surprising results.
"Most days during quarantine feel a bit like 'Groundhog Day,'" said Somers, a mom of two young children in Potomac, Maryland, referring to the 1993 Bill Murray movie in which the same day is lived over and over again.
    "It's fun to mix it up sometimes and do something that's just for my enjoyment. Self-care is a bit weird these days."
      Danielle Somers of Potomac, Maryland, has turned to tie-dying as a hobby while social distancing at home.
      Somers is one of many sheltering in place who have taken up tie-dying during the pandemic. Tie-dying instructional videos regularly trend on TikTok and Instagram, and sales of fabric dye and tie-dye kits have risen significantly, according to those in the industry.
      Turn to social media feeds to see entire families covered head-to-toe in newly tie-dyed T-shirts and sweats, with table linens to match.
      This makes tie-dye an unofficial craft of this pandemic moment, rivaling perhaps only homemade bread in popularity and devotion. It's a low-stakes way to inject brightness and levity into a high-stakes moment, distracting us from the literal and figurative schmutz we've accumulated from being stuck at home for months on end.

        Why we tie-dye

        Part of the appeal of tie-dye is practical.
        It's an ancient, time-tested craft that is as complex or simple as you want to make it. A carefully folded fabric dyed in the centuries-old Japanese Shibori method can be as satisfying to a seasoned tie-dyer as a white T-shirt with a few blobs of color is to a preschooler.
        Really, the only requirement to be an effective tie-dyer is the impulse control to not dump over the bowls of dye.
        "People are blown away by how easy it is," said Jonathon Spagat, creative director and part-owner of Rit, a century-old fabric dye company. "There is no bad tie-dye. It's all awesome!"
        Tie-dying is both an art and a science, and appeals to people, large and small, with different interests. Some are in it for the fashion, while others like to see how different folds or rubber band patterns yield different designs.
        There's also an environmental and economic advantage to tie-dying. Few of us see much reason to invest in new clothes right now considering we never go anywhere. So it's exciting to take our old grubby clothes and give them an exciting second life with $15 of fabric dye and a pack of rubber bands.
        "It gives us a chance to upcycle our old clothes. It's a reason not to throw old stuff away," said Spagat, adding that dying old clothes, as opposed to buying new clothes, significantly reduces our carbon footprint.

        Tie-dye as therapy

        The appeal of tie-dye is also metaphysical. There's a powerful, if slightly ineffable, emotional charge from engaging with fabric and color. It soothes us and restores us.
        "Human beings have this need for touch, and during Covid times it has been a no-touch zone, with very little tactility," said Preeti Gopinath, director of the master of fine arts program in textiles and an associate professor of textiles at Parsons School of Design in New York.