A shibori story

It was the last day of my visit home to Deep Cove, and a hot one, so Mom and I set up under the willow in the front yard. Dad has pruned the tree to make a green cavern underneath it, and it stays cool and lovely under there regardless of the weather “outside”. The dappled green shade there feels like a secret nest, a hallowed room.

Armed with just the techniques we’d gleaned from a quick internet search, we jumped in. Shibori is the Japanese term for a kind of resist dyeing that is popular all over the world and practiced by many cultures, but the Japanese have developed it to an artform. Basically it involves wrapping or tying thread around fabric, tightly enough that dye can’t penetrate through the places where the fabric is bound.

We tried dumbed down versions of a few traditional techniques:
arashi shibori (pole wrapped)

and kumo shibori (twisted and bound),

as well as a few improvisations of our own, binding in rocks and marbles, gathering the fabric with safety pins, and variations and combinations of stitching, pleating and gathering.

It didn’t seem worth the effort to go into town to buy some plain natural cotton for our dyeing experiment so as you can see we used some turquoise striped cotton from my Mom’s stash (!).

Traditionally shibori is done with indigo; we used Dylon. We mixed the dye up in ye olde traditional plastic garbage can so that the dye bath would be nice and deep to accommodate the arashi pole.

pvc pole, wrapped and bound -- also a good stir stick for the dye bath

pvc pipe, wrapped and bound with fabric - also a good stir stick for the dye bath

Unfortunately, this red dye bath really looks like a vat of blood.

When the thread is removed at the end of the dyeing process, the paths of the thread and the crevices and valleys where the fabric was bunched up are exposed, bright white in contrast to the dyed fabric. It’s a bit of a mystery as to what the finished material will look like until it’s all unwrapped.

Cutting out the rocks and thread I had bound the fabric with

blue hands from cutting out the rocks. easier said then done!

blue hands from cutting out the rocks. wear your gloves, kids!

Much like the final step in pysanky, when one melts off the wax, it’s a wonderful surprise to uncover your work in the end and see just what a lovely thing it is that you have created.


I admit I was skeptical at first that the turquoise stripe would detract from the finished effect, but I needn’t have worried. I love the way the stripes peak out of the un-dyed portions but are very subtle in the blue dyed portion of the material. I think in fact that as long as you used something that was light-coloured overall,  you could use shibori to overdye any natural fiber print fabric you’ve got on hand (ie. cotton, linen, hemp, silk… although if you’ve got silk just kicking around I hope you’re sharing). This might be just the thing to reinvent all those metres of ugly print yardage you’ve got kicking around… (or is that just me…?)

tree makes a nice drying rack, too

zebra stripes, cirius clouds, ripples in the sand...

eyes, volcanoes, barnacles, nipples...

radical origami-esque geometry

eep! so pretty!

Dad think so, too.

taking a break in the tree cave

After all the fabric was untied and hung to dry in the breeze, we all enjoyed a much deserved beverage in the green cave.

Later that evening I hopped a plane back to Toronto…


When I finally got around to unpacking my suitcase the next day, I unfolded my precious little shibories with such glee. With the a waft of warm cedar/grass/briny sea smell that clung to the fabric a whole day of happy memories tumbled out too.

Thanks for sharing it with me, Mom.

Man, I miss that place.


8 Responses

  1. what a lovely post that fills me with sights and sounds and smells and joy! i want to shibori everything!!

  2. Wow!

  3. What a lovely reminder of a lovely day! XOXOXOX

  4. That place misses you too.
    Isn’t Shibori kinda like a fancy word for tie dyeing?
    They look very pretty and I like the subtle blue stripes too!

    • yup, it is like tie dying, although traditionally shibori is a much more complex and precise method than the kind of tie dye practiced in North America.

  5. Not a surprise to find you making cool stuff Anna!

  6. What a beautiful art! And what beautiful pictures. I wish the weather was like that here this summer.

  7. […] vividly and pleats very crisply, so the finished peice has much more texture and variation then the cottons I dyed last year. See? spectacular colour nuances gorgeous crinkly […]

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