Here's an easy shibori definition: Shibori is a Japanese manual resist dyeing technique, which produces patterns on fabric.
What is Shibori?
We love this question because we love shibori! Another way we define shibori is “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 are familiar with tie dye or have done it in an art class. We love to create elegant, timeless shibori for our collection Modern Shibori.
The Definition of Shibori
Some people ask us: “What does shibori mean?” To define the word 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. What is so fascinating is, shibori traditions vary widely depending on the artist, the region and the fabric being used.
Photo: A custom Modern Shibori Jacket with upcycled shibori and sashiko embroidery.
History of Shibori
Shibori has an ancient history. Shibori traditions existed and still exist in so many cultures. Each culture adds its own take on shibori and as you can guess, each culture calls their separate shibori methods something different.
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 in Nara. Until the 20th century, not many fabrics and dyes were in widespread use in Japan. In Japanese shibori dyeing, the main fabrics used were silk and hemp, and later cotton.1 As you can see, shibori-dyed cloth has been coveted in Japan for centuries.
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 the natural highs and lows of hand-tied shibori.
See some of our other plant-dyed colors in our dress collection.
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. Below, we'll go through the major shibori 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 from pole wrapping shibori.
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 shibori traditions and the beauty of coming out of our vats.
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. We counted the years and did a fun retrospective on 5 years of teaching shibori. Take a look at what our students made and get inspired.
Do the patterns wash out?
No, the patterns don't wash out. If you've prepared your vat correctly, the indigo is fixed to the fabric. Learn more about how to care for your shibori garments.
DIY Shibori Workshops
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.