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Rainbow Explosion

Jan Hearne • Jan 23, 2012 at 9:12 AM

Ginger Jesel has a journal she kept when she was 9 years old. In it, she talks about owning her own store one day. On Nov. 14, she met her childhood goal when she opened 2Dye4 in downtown Johnson City, where she sells the clothes and accessories she tie-dyes.

Because her trajectory was so straight, it’s difficult for Jesel to talk expansively about the shop’s genesis. “I don’t know how it happened,” she said. “It just happened.”

Of course, there was much more to it than that. First there was the dream, then the training. She graduated from East Tennessee State University with a degree in fashion merchandising with a minor in art. She worked retail at Atlantis, where she still works part-time until she can get her shop up and running, and she kept her eyes open.

“Before I opened, I started paying attention. Every single day I would see at least one person in tie dye, so I knew there was a market for it.”

Unlike love beads and fringed jackets, tie dye did not fade away with the hippie era; it’s appeal spans generations. “Tie dye has never gone away,” Jesel asserts.

What has changed is the process. In the 1960s and early ’70s, tie dyeing was a messy affair, involving Rit dyes and vats of hot water, repeated dippings and smelly vinegar used as a fixative to keep the dyes from running and fading when washed. Today, fabric paints are mixed in squirt bottles, fixers are more sophisticated though still natural, and tie-dye colors can be set in the microwave in one minute.

Jesel learned the basics from a friend’s mother in Hilton Head, S.C. Then as head of children’s activities at Salty Dog Cafe in Hilton Head, she put her newfound knowledge to work. It wasn’t until she served as an unpaid intern on the Blue Plum Merchandising Committee, however, that she began to explore the craft.

She returned to Hilton Head for more instruction from her friend’s mother. “I spent three or four days with her, and she taught me all about tie dyeing and what websites to go to for the supplies and everything that I needed.”

More than 80 people had T-shirts tie dyed at Blue Plum that year, she said. The fundraiser’s success piqued her interest.

Though Jesel was proficient in the craft, she began to see tie dyeing as an art form. She moved from the standard peace symbols and hearts to creating her own designs: ladybugs, coffee cups, bats and pumpkins for Halloween, sports symbols and guitars. The more she did, the more possibilities opened up to her. She moved to handpainted clothing, sketched freehand then painted with fabric paint thickened with sodium alginate (dried ground seaweed).

“I use it like any other paint,” she said. “Once it’s thickened, it doesn’t run like regular fabric paint.”

Rubber bands are her most basic tools, and her medium is natural fabric — cotton, hemp and bamboo. “Bamboo is a good fiber to work with because it holds the color so beautifully and it’s so soft,” she said.

Jesel is an enthusiastic proponent of upcycling, another word for repurposing, in which an item is reworked and reused rather than thrown away.

“I go to thrift stores; I go to consignment shops,” she said. “I look for natural fibers that need some life.”

She orders some things, like bags, and tie-dyes or handpaints them. Her most popular item is socks, but her inventory includes fingerless gloves, hats, scarves, dresses (one described as “so incredibly soft, you could melt into it”) and lots of T’s.

She hopes to add a line of supplies so that other tie-dye aficionados can create their own pieces. “If I can do this, imagine what others can do?”

Though Jesel tends to use more earth tones than hippie brights, and she is careful to avoid the “head shop” look at her store, she took a look around the shop and said, “It does look like a rainbow exploded in here.”

2Dye4 is located at 111 Spring St., Suite 4, which is in the breezeway between Spring Street and the Downtown Square parking lot.

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