Not Your Camp Counselor’s Tie-Dye

Jessica Kaufman’s tie-dyed and batik wearables are earthier and more sophisticated than their pop-neon predecessors.
Photo by Morgan Ford

“When we think of tie-dye, we think of the neon rainbow spiral where we’re using every single color in the ROYGBIV” [red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet],” says Jessica Kaufman. “It’s the pattern where it swirls around into the center of your chest and it’s very bright,” she explains. “That’s not everybody’s look.” 

Instead, Kaufman, owner of WAXON Batik & Dye Studio, colors cloth in almost every way imaginable: via painting, dripping, folding, and immersion. She uses wax, paraffin, ice, thread, brushes, rubber bands, and stamps. Though she embraces all forms of hand dying, including the classic summer-camp tie-dye, she is most taken with what she calls “weird neutrals.” These include “deep, moody, blue-gray-mauvey colors from the darker side of the spectrum.” Such colors, she says, appeal to people who never thought they’d set foot near something tie-dyed.

This dye stamp, which the artist had custom made in India, is one of many methods she uses to make one-of-a-kind patterns.
Photo by Morgan Ford

At her workshop during the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair this fall, Kaufman hopes to change people’s minds about what tie-dyeing is, guiding participants through the many variations on hand dying that use these sophisticated colors and unexpected methods. “There are so many ways we can use the same dyes and just vary the technique to get wildly different . . . hand-dyed clothing,” she says.

Kaufman will demonstrate how she uses her “weird neutrals” on long, flowing dresses and jumpsuits. Ice-dyeing is her preferred method for achieving these rich yet subtle patterns and shades. She sprinkles dry dyes on the fabric and applies ice; as it melts, the dye splits and fractures into many colors — a single color often producing five or six on the cloth. The result hints at a style Kaufman calls “Asheville Earth Goddess” — while being subdued enough to wear to work or on a night out. 

A longtime friend of the Fiber Fair, Kaufman also holds a Masters degree in craft education. The artist says she borrows from the ancient Japanese Shibori method, along with “modern fusion techniques of binding fabric and using these fiber dyes that I consider more desirable.” 

Going for the “weird neutrals” look.
Photo by Morgan Ford

Jessica Kaufman, WAXON Batik & Dye Studio (4 Mulvaney St., Asheville). Call 828-367-7537 or see waxonstudio.com for a schedule of classes. (Follow her on Instagram at @waxonstudio). 

GET MORE FIBER

Kaufman will teach a workshop, “Tie-Dye for the 21st Century,” at The Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair on Thursday, Oct. 25, 9-12am. $100. 

SAFF runs through Sunday, Oct. 28, at the WNC Agricultural Center (1301 Fanning Bridge Road, Fletcher), with fleece and livestock shows, vendors, spinning demonstrations, animal-husbandry tutorials, and fiber-art workshops in knitting, crocheting, weaving, tapestry, felting, basketry, wool painting, lacemaking, embroidery, dollmaking, beadwork, fashion design, and more. 

See saffsite.org for more information.