Design & Make

The Art Behind Shibori Dyeing

by Sarah Jones May 31, 2018
ReadThe Art Behind Shibori Dyeing

Kaleidoscopic stars, rippling lines and blossoming circles are a few signature motifs created with the ancient textile dyeing technique shibori.

Derived from the Japanese root word shiboru, shibori means “to wring, squeeze and press.” It is a method of stitching, folding, binding and clamping a textile by hand to create a “resist” (the tightly bound area of raw cloth that cannot be penetrated by dye). Once immersed in dye and unbound, the fabric not only holds the pattern, but also retains a slight memory of the folds. Shibori is unique in that it seeks to create a flat pattern through accentuating the dimensionality and form of fabric. The technique also embraces the element of chance and the individuality of the maker, since no two pieces are identical.

Shibori is part of the larger family of resist-dyeing techniques that can be found in different forms across many cultures. Scholars believe the shibori-like process utilizing stitching and wood clamps dates back to the 8th-century, beginning in India, traveling to China by way of the Silk Road and then on to Japan. Shibori grew in popularity alongside indigo dyeing at a time when finer fabrics were banned in Japan from the lower classes, and people sought to create beauty with the modest materials available to them. Each region and group of artisans built up their own design vernacular, drawing inspiration from the landscape and the surrounding elements in nature. They transformed utilitarian pieces made of hemp, cotton, silk thread and wood with the detailed patterning.

During 17th-century Edo period, Japan enjoyed great prosperity and stability. Urban centers sprang up, and with them the ruling Samurai class, who increased the demand for fashionable clothing. This new customer wanted fine silk kimonos with innovative designs, ultimately launching a vibrant Japanese textile movement. Shibori was used to create painterly landscape scenes and blossoming flowers across the kimono’s large swaths of cloth. In the early 20th-century, the technique became less popular, as industrial and mechanized forms of pattern making replaced the human hand with mass produced wares. Today, the ancient art form is practiced on a small scale by dedicated craftsman, textile artists and DIY enthusiasts alike. In Japan, the technique is held as a point of cultural pride and is still used to create traditional garments and house wares.


Arashi Shibori (pole wrapped)
In this method, textiles are wrapped around a cylindrical pole, then secured repeatedly with silk or cotton thread. The fabric is scrunched together along the pole, puckering the bound areas. Once dyed, it shows a pattern of consecutive lines that evoke the frenzy of a storm with pelting sheets of rain.

Kumo Shibori (pleated)
To create a spider web pattern, the cloth is plucked from a single point and radially pleated in groupings. The thread is then wrapped around each section, from bottom to top, creating rippling, expanding lines. The pattern can be manipulated by increasing or decreasing the tension of each bound section.

Miura Shibori (looped)
What first appears as a field of water droplets running down the fabric is actually the result of this intricate yet efficient technique. The cloth is plucked in tiny areas and wrapped with a loop of continuous thread. This process is relatively quick, and the length of thread makes it easy to unbind the pieces after dyeing.

Itajime Shibori (clamped)
Utilizing wooden shapes and sticks, this method involves folding the fabric in strict geometric patterns, then clamping them together. Similar to thread techniques, the area that is secured with the wood remains sealed from the dye, producing neat rows of stars, octagons or squares.

Nui Shibori (stitched)
The diverse patterns of this technique come from intricate hand stitched motifs made on the fabric before it is dyed. Subtle variations develop through differences in the length of each stitch, the width of the thread used and the lines created by the stitch. Once the threads are embedded in the design, they are drawn tightly together and secured with knots. This method is an efficient way to create flowers and other organic motifs.

Woven Shibori
Rather than hand stitching threads into cloth, the threads can be woven on a loom as the piece is being made. Weaving allows for more precision and creates a clean geometry that is difficult to attain by hand. Like nui shibori, the threads are gathered, knotted and untied from the cloth after dyeing.

Looking for more patterns to change up your space? Take a look at our textiles to discover more beautiful fabrics.

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