Phase 1: Posing Real Questions

Updated 6 years 7 months ago

The most experience that I have with creating textiles is tie dying. It involves cloth, dye, and rubber bands or string. From what I have done in the past, a piece of cloth is tied up with rubber bands or string in a particular way according to the chosen pattern. Then sections are dipped into different colors of dye and it is left to soak. Lastly, it is rinsed with cold water (hot water will wash the dye out) and unravelled to dry. I only have experience with making very simple designs such as the spirals or polka dots. I have learned most of these patterns and techniques in summer camps and classes.

In addition to what I know already, there is some information that I am still unsure about. When I have tie dyed before, artificial dyes with chemicals and cotton cloth was used. In China, silk is a common material, so it is possible that it is also dyed. I am also interested in finding out if the people in Xizhou use resources from their environment to make their own dye, or if they have artificial dyes like the ones I have used before. It is important to me to learn about the whole process of making textiles - materials, dying, washing, drying, etc.

Some questions that I have include:
1. In Xizhou, are natural or artificial dyes used? (answered question - see phase three for details)
2. What type(s) of fabric is used?
3. How long does the entire process take?
4. What washing method is used (cold water, warm water, scrubbed, soaked, etc.)? (answered question - see phase three for details)
5. How many years of experience does one normally have before producing textiles for a living?
6. Where/how are materials acquired?
7. How many different patterns are produced? Are some more popular than others?
8. What resources are used to produce natural dye?
9. Why does natural dye appear to be clear in small amounts, but colored in large amounts? (answered question - see phase three for details)
10. How were the patterns used today developed?
I have also done some 'pre-research' online so that I am more prepared when I begin my research. I visited a few websites and printed out some articles about textiles in Dali and the surrounding area. One article mentions that the nearby Zhoucheng village is known as "The Hometown of National Embroidery and Dying," which is where we are going to observe textile production. Another website says that many steps are involved, including twisting and tying, soaking, dying, steam boiling, drying in the sun, untying, rinsing, etc ( For an understanding of the overall process, I will have to observe each and every step.
Following the 'pre-research' that I have done, some new questions that I have include:
11. What is the composition of the yellow dye that is used to outline the pattern?
12. At what point is the dying of the cloth complete?
13. Does each design follow the same production process?
14. If a design requires two colors of dye, how is this accomplished?
The next step in my research process is to gather information at the Zhoucheng textile factory, and possibly return with specific questions at a later date.


Hi Maddie


A quick story about my experience in a market along the Silk Road a few years ago. I had wandered into an open market area where row upon row of people were selling jewlery, food, clothes, cooking and cleaning items and other small everyday items. And then I found the section of the market selling what I thought was curry powder. It was bright red and there was electric yellow also. I bartered poorly for a very small amount, maybe a tablespoon worth, for nearly 100 rmb. I was excited to return home and tell everyone I had bought exotic spices from the Silk Road. I left that part of the market and walked a few yards down the row and found another person selling more curry powder. But this one had baby blue, purple and coal black. Not your ordinary curry, I thought. I showed my girlfriend what I had bought and she laughed at not only how much I had paid for it and then informed me I had bought dye. What am I going to do with dye, I thought? I put it in a small test tube size container when I got home and put it on a shelf in my apartment. It makes me think of curry every time I look at it.



I am an alumnus of the Microcampus program. I visited Xizhou with 10 other students in March of 2012 as part of the pilot, Group A! I am now 16 years old and attending high school in the United States as a junior. I was first interested in Microcampus because of the amazing travel and environment experience it offers. My time in Yunnan has inspired me to join other unique team programs throughout high school, such as Odyssey of the Mind and the FIRST Robotics Competition. In all the years it's been since I left Xizhou, I still haven't seen grass so green or a night sky with so many stars!