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Shibori – Indigo Tie Dye via Ancient Japan

In the western world, tie-dye fabrics are synonymous rock ‘n’ roll and the hippy counterculture of the 1960s. Pictured on iconic acts such as Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in their performances at Woodstock, tie-dye became a symbol of psychedelia and rebellion that would go on to resonate with other cultural movements such as New-wave and Grunge.However, tie-dye was not a new concept by any means. The Japanese had been tying and dyeing fabrics for hundreds of years, using an intricate and labor-intensive technique known as shibori.

What is Shibori?

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Multiple shibori patterns via Cassie Stephens

Shibori is the Japanese word for a variety of manual resist dyeing techniques that involves shaping and securing the fabric before dyeing to create patterns. Known to be one of oldest Japanese dyeing techniques, the first appearances of shibori dyed fabrics date back to the eighth century.

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Hiroshige Blockprints of Arimatsu Shibori via Oh My Handmade

The name shibori is derived from the word Shiboru which means to wring, squeeze, or press. Amongst other methods, fabrics are bound, tied, sewn, compressed, twisted, and folded to form sections that will resist the dye and form contrasting patterns.

Regardless of the material, a finished shibori-dyed fabric can simply referred to as shibori, i.e. a shibori shirt. Shibori fabrics are traditionally dyed with indigo, but the term shibori simply refers to the physical processes applied to the fabric before dyeing, not the colour.

The Six Traditional Shibori Techniques

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Wrapped Shibori via Seam Works

Some forms of shibori are now known in the West as tie-dye. There are infinite combinations of shaping the fabric before dyeing, there are six key methods of shibori that are each designed to achieve specific results:

Kanoko Shibori

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Kanoko shibori via Kiriko Made

This form of shibori is physically the most similar to common western tie-dyeing. This method involves binding small, pinched sections of the cloth to create circular patterns. Each thread is hand tied, resulting in intricate variations in the shapes created. Different tensions and tying locations can be used to create different patterns, and folding of the fabric can also be incorporated into this process before binding.

Miura Shibori

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Miura shibori via Kiriko Made

Also known as looped binding, this method of shibori is achieved by plucking sections of the fabric with a hooked needle and looping thread around each plucked section. The thread is not tied, creating a unique and irregular pattern similar to shimmering water. As no knots are required, this shibori technique is less labor-intensive and therefore widely used.

Nui Shibori

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Nui Shibori via Pinterest

Nui is a stitching technique used to create more accurate and precise patterns. A simple running is worked into the fabric and the threads are then pulled tight to gather sections of the fabric. Wooden dowels are sometimes used to help tighten the treads as much as possible. Each end of the thread is then tied before dyeing.

Kumo Shibori

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Kumo Shibori via Kiriko Made

This technique involves pleating and binding. The cloth is folded and then bound with thread on either side in close, staggered sections until the whole piece of cloth is a bundle of binds. This method results in spider-like patterns.

Arashi Shibori

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Arashi shibori via Common Fold Blog

Also known as pole wrapping shibori, this technique involves tightly twisting and wrapping the cloth diagonally around a wooden or metal pole. The fabric is then tightly bound with thread before dyeing. Arashi is the Japanese word for ‘storm’ and the patterns arashi shibori creates are made up of irregular contrasting diagonal lines that can resemble heavy winds or stormy seas.

Itajime Shibori

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Itajime shibori via Tes

This shaped-resist shibori technique is achieved by folding the cloth and sandwiching  it between two pieces of wood. This only allows the dye to only penetrate the edges of the folded cloth, leaving contrasting un-dyed sections once the fabric is released.

Examples of Shibori

Kiriko Made Furoshiki Shibori

As you may have noticed from the image captions above, Kiriko knows a thing or two about shibori. This Furoshiki piece measures a grand 48 by 36 inches to serve as everything from a scarf, wrap, or even tablecloth.

Available for $225 at Kiriko Made.

Kapital Sumi Jersey Indigo Shibori Dye Crew Tee

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This T-shirt from the avant-garde Japanese label Kapital is constructed from sumi ink-dyed cotton jersey that has been shibori dyed with indigo to create a distinctive wave pattern that’s completed by an embroidered surfer. Each piece is made in Japan and dyed by hand.

Available for Dkk 1,675 ($262 USD) at Hansen.

Curious Corners Indigo Dye Shibori Workshop

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In addition to their ongoing sashiko classes, Curious Corners also hold shibori workshops on a regular basis. Attendants are provided with a pre-washed cotton bandana or tea towel, and a tote bag, both of which they can tie, bind, and dye themselves with Japanese indigo to produce completely unique pieces.

Classes available for $45 at Curious Corners (workshops held in NYC).