October 08, 2021

What Is Shibori?

By Jenny Fong
What Is Shibori?

Shibori is a Japanese manual resist dyeing technique, which produces patterns on fabric.1,4 At Modern Shibori, we get asked this question quite often.

Most times we’ll say: “It’s fancy tie dye” because it really is. People’s eyes light up when they hear that because everyone in the US of all generations know what tie dye is or have done it in an art class. Some people ask us: “What does shibori mean?” To define Shibori, it comes from the verb root "shiboru" – "to wring, squeeze or press" is a Japanese manual dyeing technique, which produces a number of different patterns on fabric.4 So that’s what shibori means.

I upcycled this jacket from old army coats and shibori scraps

Photo: A custom Modern Shibori Jacket with upcycled shibori and sashiko embroidery. 

Shibori has an ancient history. In Japan, the earliest known example of cloth dyed with a shibori technique dates from the 8th century; it is among the goods donated by the Emperor Shōmu to the Tōdai-ji inNara. Until the 20th century, not many fabrics and dyes were in widespread use in Japan. The main fabrics were silk and hemp, and later cotton.1 

Is all shibori blue?

Another question we are asked is: “Is all shibori blue?” The main dye was indigo and, to a lesser extent, madder and purple root. Shibori and other textile arts, such as tsutsugaki, were applied to all of these fabrics and dyes.1 At Modern Shibori, we use botanical dyes such as cutch, pomegranate, and rosemary as well. These dyes illuminate natural highs and lows of hand tied shibori.

Modern Shibori pillows dyed using madder and indigo

Photo: Madder root, walnut and indigo blue shibori pillows.

What are different shibori techniques?

Shibori actually encompasses quite a number of different resist-dyeing techniques. Among them are the following:

Kanoko shibori: Like tie-dye, this method utilizes elastic bands to bind cloth tightly before dyeing, creating an organic-looking pattern.

Miura shibori: In this style of dyeing, practitioners pinch small sections of fabric and loop thread around them to create a repeated pattern.

Arashi shibori: A fabric is tightly wound around a pole, tied into place with thread, and scrunched to create a pattern. The result is a diagonal, linear pattern.

Beautiful kumo shibori hanging on the line drying.

Photo: Kumo shibori hanging on the line drying.

Kumo shibori: Small found objects like pebbles are bound with thread into fabric in this technique, which ultimately creates circular, web-like patterns.

Nui shibori: This intricate method uses stitching to create precise cinched patterns in fabric; the stitching is removed after dyeing.

Itajime shibori: Rather than using binding and cinching to create patterns, this technique employs the use of shaped blocks (traditionally of wood, though sometimes of plastic) between which folded fabric is sandwiched.2

So what really is the difference between shibori and tie dye?

Well, as you’ve seen, shibori has so many beautiful intricate techniques that take decades to master. Tie dye is basically tying, scrunching cloth into bundles then pouring dyes over these bundles. Tie dye and shibori share one basic thing in common, which is that they both are made using resistance techniques – ways of binding off sections of fabric and then dipping the fabric in dye, creating relief patterns.3 

Tie dye is rooted in shibori techniques, done in a quicker way. Both are beautiful for their unpredictability and uniqueness. Both reflect decisions and hand work of the artist. For us at Modern Shibori, we are eternally entranced by what comes out of our vats.

Photo of shibori students at a shibori retreat weekend.

Photo: Students at a shibori retreat in Sonoma County, CA.

We used to teach workshops but stopped teaching in 2019 to focus on our product line instead. We do miss the energy students brought to class though. For a few summers we even taught a shibori weekend retreat in Sonoma County, CA. It was such a beautiful, inspiring location. 

If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to do shibori tie dye or how to shibori dye a shirt, there are a myriad of classes online. You can also DIY at home. For the closest method to traditional Shibori Dyeing, utilize the indigo plant in your dye and forego synthetic fabric dyes. Indigo dye kits are readily available online (they typically include an indigo plant reduction and a reducing agent) and are simple to mix and use. Most dye kits will include enough mix to dye yards of fabric and can be mixed and stored for a few weeks, so plan ahead to use each kit to its fullest.

Rendering the indigo plant into a dye paste does require quite a bit of processing, but tutorials are available if you’re interested in creating your Shibori completely from scratch.5

At Modern Shibori, we’ll always have shibori garments in our line. It’s a bit of manual work, but each garment comes out completely original and one of a kind. Have you done any shibori yourself? Do you have a project you’ve been thinking about making? Drop a comment below and tell us what you’re making. 

Resources:

  1. https://craftatlas.co/crafts/shibori
  2. https://www.housebeautiful.com/design-inspiration/a34310971/what-is-shibori/
  3. https://www.theinside.com/blog/what-is-shibori-fabric/
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shibori
  5. https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/what-is-shibori-dyeing-5093951