Shibori Dyeing: Part one — experimentation

For me, crafting is so much fun because it gives me an excuse to constantly learn new skills and put them to the test. Learning new skills is sometimes carefully arranged and planned out, but then sometimes it starts when I randomly sign up for a class after reading a brief description.

And so it was that I found myself attending a class on Shibori Dyeing in early March at the Pittsburgh Knit and Crochet Festival.

Shibori is a Japanese art form in which one folds, ties, stitches, binds, rubber bands, clips, scrunches, rolls, or in some other way manipulates plain cloth into a small, tight bundle before exposing it to dye.

That dye is traditionally indigo, and the spaces that are bound together are where the dye does not take. It is a form of resistance dyeing, meaning that certain areas of the cloth are kept from dyeing in order to make the patterns on the cloth.

If the reader’s mind went to tie-dying, they are in the correct proverbial ballpark. However, as I soon discovered, saying that tie-dyeing and shibori are the same thing is like comparing a ground beef patty to a filet mignon steak.

The three-hour class began with the teacher telling us that shibori is such an intricate art form that entire books exist on how to create the most common dye patterns, and that the art form takes a lifetime to master.

Knowing I would only have about three hours in this class, I chose to disregard the numerous technical Japanese terms for what I was doing, and instead focused on performing the tasks.

Each student was issued one and three-quarters yards of plain white fabric, which looked and felt like common muslin. We cut about one-quarter of a yard off of the 60-inch-wide material, and cut that into small squares that we would use to sample different shibori techniques during the class.

I numbered each of my samples one through five, although I was ultimately defeated in that the indigo dye completely covered the numbers so I could not tell which piece was which when dyed, I was able to experience what happened during the process.

For my first sample, numbered with a 1, I decided the bag of glass marbles looked like an interesting prop. I placed the marble behind the cloth and folded the cloth over it, then secured it in place with a very small rubber band. This sample ultimately produced little round spots of white on a blue background.

For sample 2, I folded my cloth like an accordion in about one-inch-wide sections. Then, I placed some waxy string around it, tied it in place, and bound it so tightly in a spiral pattern that the cloth began to twist. This produced a series of white patches with small white sections along the edges from the presence of the wax binding.

For sample 3, I folded the cloth in accordion style one-inch sections, then folded that in half. Using a delightfully minty length of waxed dental floss, I whip-stitched around all four of the edges, and then stabbed the wax through the center in short running stitches. This produced a blocked pattern with white loops around the sides, and small dots in the middle.

Sample 4 was wrapped around some tongue depressors, clipped in place at a 45-degree angle with binder clips, and had the ends roughly sewn shut with dental floss. This created a wide rectangular pattern with occasional accents and strange looking edges.

For sample 5, I chose to do a series of running stitches on unfolded material using dental floss. After sewing the whole piece, I placed a few marbles inside, then pulled all of the stitching tight to bunch up the fabric. This produced a series of small, white dashes and circles in an otherwise blue cloth.

In about thirty minutes, I learned a lot about how to fold and manipulate cloth using everyday items in order to create some basic shapes. Although I have already revealed how these pieces looked when finished, in that classroom, I still had to learn how the indigo dye would react with my fabric.

Join me next week to learn how my husband turned his hands blue after volunteering to be the dye-dunker of the classroom samples, as my adventures in shibori dyeing continue.


Gretchen Richards-Meunier is special to the News and Sentinel. She is a fifth-generation artisan, and skilled in multiple art forms.