Like me, you were probably captivated with tie-dye when you were a kid. Folding, tying knots, mixing colors and not knowing how it would turn out. This summer this childhood fascination resurfaced in the form of Japanese shibori. A trend that has popped up all over in fashion and home decor, indigo dyeing is everywhere and I can’t help but be in love.
While we have added a selection of ready-made shibori style fabrics to the shop, I really wanted to try my hand at dyeing my own. I started researching the art of shibori and discovered it truly is an art. Totally unlike your childhood tie-dye it is very meticulous and planned, there are specific techniques each used to produce a different look to the resulting piece. I decided to try my hand at some of these techniques to see what worked, what I liked and what I wanted to try in a larger piece.
To start I gathered my supplies. For the indigo dye I used the Natural Dye kit found in our shop and I prepared the dye vat using the detailed instructions provided. Not only does the kit come with the best all natural components/reagents, it also includes gloves, cotton string, wood pieces and a practice piece (amazing value)! For my test fabric I selected this fine cotton poplin that I pre-washed and cut into various size pieces (roughly 14″ square). With my dye vat ready, my fabric pieces and supplies at hand, I was set to prepare my pieces. I settled on trying out some traditional Japanese techniques and a couple less conventional styles. Here are my methods and results!
1. Kanoko (Tied/Bound Methods)
This technique covers a wide range of patterns and designs that are tied or bound using string or more common nowadays rubber bands. The combination of binding and folds prevents the dye from spreading and creates some amazing burst and ring patterns.
To start I tried the common burst design- pinch the middle of the fabric and bind however many times you would like, each bind creating a ring.
To add a little interest I experimented with the difference between using string (top) vs. rubber bands (bottom). Which do you prefer? I think I am leaning towards the rubber bands- a bit more of a statement, bolder lines.
I also experimented with folding the fabric first and then pinching and binding. In the piece shown below I folded the fabric in quarters and alternated binding portions on each side.
With this method I got lots of smaller burst in somewhat of a geometric pattern. A really cool all over pattern without a lot of work.
Last but not least for the bound methods I experimented with actually tying the fabric! I tied each corner of our sample piece and then decided to wrap tie the center. I pinched the center, secured a piece of string to the end and then wrapped the string up the fabric creating kind of a spiderweb look.
The knots were a little difficult to get out in the end, next time I might not tie them so tight. But the look is really fun and if you just tied the whole thing, no string or rubber bands required!
2. Itajime (Resistance Method)
This method uses objects to create resistance and prevent the dye from permeating the fabric creating crisp, bold designs. In our experiment I used the wood pieces and diamond pattern instructions included in our kit.
Pretty simple, you simply accordion fold the fabric in quarters and then accordion fold it in quarters again the other direction. Place a wood piece on either side of the fabric at an angle and tie them tightly together.
The results are really striking! Next time I might try some different shaped wood pieces or I have even see where people have used keys and other found items to create unusual designs. One tip I learned, for really crisp lines let the fabric dry completely before removing the wood pieces to prevent bleeding. Although the slight bleeding does give it more of a authentic look.
3. Nui (Stitched Methods)
Rather than binding the fabric on the outside as in the kanoko technique, this method uses various length basting stitches to create the gathers and designs. Pulled tightly these stitches create a different sort of internal binding that restricts the movement of the dye. I tried two different nui techniques, mokume and karamatsu, creating lines and bursts respectively.
For mokume, I created a 1″ grid of dots on our piece of fabric with a washable fabric pen. I then stitched the length of each “line” using various length basting stitches. When pulled tight these strings gather the fabric up into really interesting, intricate folds. Tightly secure each end of the string, trim and it is ready to dye.
Looking at our sample above, the far right shows what happens when the basting stitches have the same length and placement creating more structured gathers. The left side is how it looks when the lengths are all random creating more of an organic look. Moral of the story- the more random the better! Use the grid as a guide to keep your lines nice and straight but change up your stitch length.
Karamatsu is a very similar technique just a slightly different style. For this I folded portions of the fabric and drew a series of half circles on the fold using the washable pen. I then stitched long basting stitches on each of the half circles, pulled the strings tight and secured them place.
The result gave me these intricate bursts, much more detailed than the tied bursts we saw earlier. While these are rather small scale (about 4 inches across), can’t you just imaging them with 5 or 7 rings on a much larger scale!
By far, these stitched methods are my favorite- Sewing + Dyeing = Amazing!
4. Folded and Bound Method
Last but not least, I wanted to try another stripe method to compare with the mokume stitching technique. Really basic, I accordion folded the fabric in eighths, rolled it tightly and secured it with a rubber band.
Not as impressive as the mokume stitched lines but still a great look. I love how the dyed portions kind of have an ombre effect due to how it was bound.
Overall, I love how my first experiment in shibori dyeing turned out! It was surprisingly easier than I thought it would be. Although it does take some time (and patience is key!), it was a ton of fun and so exciting to see each result! Since finishing these I have dyed a few larger pieces, each a couple of yards, that I can use to actually sew up some garments. Watch for another post with all my lessons learned- same principles just on a much larger scale!
Until then, happy dyeing!