From the Editor’s Files: The secret life of a tie dyer

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By Paul Rhodes, publisher and editor

Remember tie dye? Boy, I sure do. In fact, tie dye has made a couple of resurgences over the decades, and is once again back by popular demand.
And now…drum roll please…it is time for a confession by yours truly. Back in the 1980s I was actively involved with a sideline business making tie dye T-shirts and other garments. Yup. It was one of my early forays into entrepreneurship, and I did pretty well with it.
I had a tie-dye workshop set up in my basement, and produced garments that I sold at arts and crafts shows all around Kansas. At one point I was even employing a handful of part-time people to help me make the T-shirts and work the shows.
It was quite the little cottage industry.
I hung up my tie-dye equipment when I moved to Georgia in 1990 to run a daily newspaper near Atlanta, and never returned to my little sideline business. That is…until now.
Earlier this year, my girlfriend Kim’s sister Karen was asking me about my tie dying days, and if I would teach her how to do it. As I pondered that prospect, it really did get my wheels turning.
So, a few weeks ago, I contacted the company that I used 40 years ago to purchase all of my supplies – dyes, chemicals, T-shirts, you name it – and sure enough, they are still in business. Old hippies never die…they just get more technologically advanced.
So, I stepped up to the plate, went on line, and ordered some shirts, dyes and chemicals. I still had the dying tubs, bottles and buckets that I used four decades ago in my business, and in pretty short order, we were ready to do some tie dying this past weekend.
Karen was in tie-dye heaven. I showed her some of the basic designs we used on our shirts all those years ago, and everything came back to me as quickly as I started in. Karen even did some research of her own on other patterns she wanted to try out.
On Saturday, we were ready to tie dye almost 50 shirts ­­– some for ourselves, and others that Kim and I now have for sale in our antique booths in Wichita. It was a lot of fun, a little bit of a mess, and wildly tiring. We were exhausted after an afternoon of tie dying, but it felt good to get that much accomplished in one session in the new and improved tie-dye workshop (my kitchen).
With the annual Walnut Valley Festival down in Winfield rapidly approaching, the timing was perfect to make some tie dye shirts. We’ll be wearing them proudly at the festival, and Karen even wants us to wear tie dye every day while we’re there. Since we’re going a week early for Land Rush to get our camping spot, that will require a lot of tie dye.
On the bright side, I can probably wear some of my new tie dyed shirts more than one day – the dirty spots just blend right in.