When people think of dyeing their own fabric, they imagine the typical tie-dye. Bright colors, swirled pattern. It’s time to expand your dyeing vocabulary. Shibori is a Japanese word that does not have an equivalent in the English language. It’s also a method of manipulating fabric so that dye creates unique shapes on the cloth. This art has an expansive history with many different techniques.
It is unknown when shibori was first used, but it gained popularity in Japan in the 17th century (Modern Archive). During this time, typical people were banned from wearing silk (the right to wear silk was reserved for royalty) so they needed an alternative that allowed them to feel good about their clothing. The main difference between shibori and tie-dye is shibori utilizes threads to create tiny and intricate designs, while tie-dye mainly involves quickly twisting a garment. Shibori usually uses only one color and traditionally uses indigo.
Kumo Shibori uses found objects that are wrapped tightly in cloth, then dyed so it takes on the shape of the object. Miura Shibori involves looping and tightly binding cloth with a thread and needle. Kanoko Shibori is most similar to tie dye, utilizing rubber bands to create swirling patterns. Arashi Shibori is reminiscent of the ocean–by wrapping cloth tightly on a pole then winding thread around it, a wave like pattern is created on the textile. Nui shibori uses a needle and tiny stitches to create the most intricate patterns out of all of the methods. Itajime shibori uses blocks of wood to make geometric patterns.
The Arashi technique is easy for beginners but produces beautiful results. To get started, pick up a 100% natural fabric (synthetic blends will not hold dye). Wash it with warm water and dish soap to remove any finishes. Allow it to remain a bit damp. Fold the fabric over once so it is in the shape of a triangle. Grab a wide piece of pvc pipe–you don’t want the fabric to be overlapping if possible. Use two rubber bands to attach each end of the fabric to the pipe. Grab twine and start tightly wrapping it around the pole and fabric. As you wind, scrunch fabric up to the end of the pipe Your finished fabric should all be tightly wound and scrunched together. Tie the twine off tightly.
Make Your Own
Fill a container with hot water, indigo dye, and salt. The salt helps evenly distribute dye. Mix it together until the color is dispersed. Place the end of your pole into the container so the fabric is completely covered. How long you leave the fabric in will determine how much white space is left on your design–10 minutes is a good starting point. Do not remove the fabric from the dye bath–add soda ash or dye fixative to ensure the color will not bleed. Allow it to sit for 5 more minutes, then remove your pole. Here’s the fun part: Cut your twine and unwrap it to reveal your wavy, elegant design. Rinse in HOT water until the water runs clear. Add a bit of dish soap, continue to wash the fabric, then finish with a cold rinse. Hang to dry.
For more dyeing techniques inspired by history, check out our article on Ghana’s exports.