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What Is Shibori?

By Drue Tibbits
Updated May 16, 2024
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Shibori is a Japanese technique of creating designs in dyed fabric. It is a dye-resist technique, using items that bind the fabric to create areas where the dye will not penetrate. Depending on the materials used and how the fabric is bound, the dyed designs vary from random splashes of color to highly symmetrical patterns. There are several different styles of this technique that are identified by the particular resist method used.

The arashi shibori technique creates a diagonal pattern of color. The cloth is folded or twisted before being wrapped around a pole. After being wrapped around the pole, the cloth is compressed from end to end, scrunching the fabric along the pole. String is wound around the fabric to hold it in place while it is dyed. The resulting pattern often resembles lightning or rain.

Kanoko shibori involves gathering the cloth in sections and tying the sections with string or rubber bands. This dying technique is also known as tie-dye. The pattern is varied by gathering different amounts of cloth into sections and by changing the tension used to secure the sections. The dye absorbs into the fabric in a starburst style.

Yet another technique, in kumo shibori a person wraps sections of cloth around objects before the cloth is dyed. The cloth is wrapped around hard items, such as rocks or stones, and secured with string. This dye technique makes a spiderlike design in the cloth.

Creating color patters by using compression is how itasime shibori works. The fabric is folded into pleats and then placed between two pieces of wood. String is wrapped around the assembly to secure the fabric and hold it in place. The design is varied by taking smaller or larger pleats and by binding the assembly tightly or loosely.

Nui shibori uses stitching to create intricately dyed patterns. A design is first stitched into the fabric. The stitched threads are then pulled very tight to provide as much dye resist as possible. The stitching is removed after the fabric has been dyed and dried, revealing a pattern of undyed fabric. This technique allows for highly specialized designs, but it is very labor intensive.

There are many other shibori techniques, including oboshi, miura, and suji. The techniques use different methods and produce designs specific to that style of dyeing. The method used is often determined by the cloth. Stiffer, heavier fabrics are better suited to the folding itasime method, while fine, gauzy fabrics perform well with the arashi method.

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Discussion Comments

By sunshined — On Jan 04, 2012

@anamur - If the colors in the design match an area in your house, you could use the fabric to make some pillows. Even if you aren't very familiar with sewing, making pillows is very easy.

I have also seen large pieces of shibori fabric hung on the wall as a tapestry. This way you don't need to cut the fabric up into small pieces.

This would certainly be a conversation piece.

One of my best friends has a scarf made of some shibori fabric. There are many things you could use your piece of fabric for. Just be creative and make sure you use it in a way where you will get a lot of enjoyment out of it.

By LisaLou — On Jan 03, 2012

I was familiar with tie-dye and had even made some t-shirts when I was a kid. The first time I heard of shibori was when a very good friend of mine gave me a shibori apron.

My friend is from Japan, and she has taught me many new things. I love the unique designs that are in this apron.

She had made things before using the shibori technique, but bought this apron at a specialty store. I would not have had any idea what it was, but she knew right away what kind of technique was used to make it.

By serenesurface — On Jan 03, 2012

I bought a piece shibori fabric from a seller selling Japanese textiles at an International market I went to over the weekend. I didn't know that the white designs are made by tying pieces of the cloth together. I thought they used white dye or bleach to make it!

My shibori is called origami shibori and is blue with white designs. The seller said that it was made with indigo dye. I'm guessing that it's called origami because that was the inspiration for the designs.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it yet. The only thing that comes to mind is a table cloth. But it's so pretty and unique, I would feel like I wasted it that way. What do you think I should do with my shibori fabric?

By fify — On Jan 03, 2012

My aunt is really interested in shibori art and she makes the most beautiful fabrics I have ever seen. I watched her do it a couple of times and it really does have a lot of steps.

My aunt has been doing it for years and has a lot of practice though. She learned about shibori when she went to Japan as a teacher in the early 90s. She took a couple of shibori dyeing classes while she was there and continued when she came back to the States.

She can even do nui shibori. She first draws various designs on the cloth with special cloth pens in one color. Then she stitches over them and gathers parts of the design together and ties them. Finally, she dips them in fabric dye.

One of these used to take an entire day but now that she's faster, she can do two in the same day. I get exhausted just watching her though.

By discographer — On Jan 02, 2012

Does this mean that the tie-dye design was founded in Japan?!

I've actually seen pictures of shibori Japanese fabric in my arts and crafts class. Some of it did remind me of American tie-dye t-shirts but I wasn't sure because the designs in Japanese shibori looked a lot more intricate and varied.

I remember there was one that had a design in the shape of snowflakes. I really liked that one and thought to myself how hard it must be to make that. I can't imagine being able to do that with the tie-dye method we used in 9th grade to make tie-dye t-shirts.

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