Humans have been painting on fabric for thousands of years, basically since people started twisting and weaving fibers together to make the first fabrics. Techniques that were used to decorate the body began to be applied to the earliest fabrics that were developed. Two basic methods emerged: coloring (directly applying an image with color to the fabric) and patterning (painting or printing with resists in patterns and then coloring the fabric).
The continent of Asia has a long history of decorating fabrics. Printing blocks have been discovered that date back to around 3000 BC! By 327 BC when Alexander the Great invaded India, colorfully printed and painted fabrics were commonly found. As trade routes began to develop, these beautifully patterned Indian fabrics were traded throughout Asia, Egypt and Greece. In the second century AD they made their way to Europe and Africa. At the same time in China, beautiful block printing on fabric was taking place. The Chinese introduced resist and stencil techniques to Japan. The Japanese developed this art into beautiful forms of patterning on fabric. In Peru there have also been found some very early examples (around 200 BC) of resist techniques. Similar techniques were developing into unique forms in these different parts of the world and have evolved into what we know today as batik, tie-dye and shibori.