Shibori Dyeing Techniques for Five Beautiful Patterns

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assortment of layered blue dyed fabrics
Photo: Ashley Poskin

Master the art of shibori, a Japanese dyeing technique that results in rich patterns from indigo color. By bundling the fabric in five different ways, you can produce a traditional set of prints including arashi, kumo, itajime, and ne-maki.

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assortment of layered blue dyed fabrics
Ashley Poskin

Shibori is the Japanese word for a variety of ways to resist-dye textiles. There are countless ways to create the effect. Essentially, any way you can think of to fold, twist, stitch, or bind fabric before dyeing will achieve the look. And while the results are currently on trend—you'll find it in all shapes and forms in home décor—the process is also extremely meditative. Folding and binding without really knowing what to expect when you unwrap the dyed piece is a thrill in and of itself, making this art form low pressure with consistently beautiful results. Just remember: With all tutorials, you should always iron and pre-wash fabric before dyeing to remove wrinkles. Then, choose one (or many) of these bundling styles to create a pattern.

This Japanese technique dates back to the 8th century. Traditionally, a white cloth (usually silk, hemp, or cotton) was folded, bunched, or twisted, then tied, and finally dipped into a natural indigo dye. Over the centuries, artisans have developed many methods. In "arashi," the cloth is wrapped around a pole to result a striated pattern that mimics heavy rain from a storm; in "itajime," the cloth is folded accordion style and then held in place with two sturdy pieces of wood to result in geometric grids; in "kumo," the cloth is tightly bound into tiny pleats to result in a series of spindly spiderwebs. These are some of the more popular styles, and there are other techniques like them. Each one results in a different design, although it can be argued that no two dyed pieces come out the same.

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Materials

Shibori dyeing materials
Ashley Poskin

The basic tools and materials include a tub container or bucket for the dye bath (5-gallon is typically a good size), white fabric in a natural fiber (100 percent cotton works best), indigo dye (such as Rit Dye's All-Purpose Dye), long rubber gloves, scissors, and a stainless steel spoon for stirring. Depending on the resist-dyeing technique chosen, you can use household objects like rubber bands, twine, clamps, small balsa wood squares, PVC pipes, and small objects like river rocks, beads, or marbles (this is for the ne-maki technique). Add salt if dyeing cotton or linen, or white vinegar for wool or silk.

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Kumo

Kumo pattern
Ashley Poskin

Kumo, translated in Japanese, means "cloud." This pleat and bind technique produces a spider-like ringed pattern.

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Kumo: Step 1

white fabric laid flat
Ashley Poskin

Lay the fabric onto a flat surface.

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Kumo: Step 2

fabric folded lengthwise
Ashley Poskin

Accordion fold the fabric into a rectangle.

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Kumo: Step 3

rubberbands holding pinched sections of fabric
Ashley Poskin

Pinch and bind off the fabric into equal sections using rubber bands.

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Kumo: Step 4

both sides of fabric pinched with rubber bands
Ashley Poskin

Repeat this step—pinching and binding fabric—on the opposite side in staggered sections.

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Kumo: Step 5

kumo bundled fabric
Ashley Poskin

Continue binding with rubber bands, working towards the center until the fabric is one tight bundle of long knots. The bundled fabric is now ready to submerge into the dye bath.

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Arashi

fabric with blue striated pattern
Ashley Poskin

Arashi, translated in Japanese, means "storm." This pole-wrapping technique produces a striated pattern that is reminiscent of stormy rain.

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Arashi: Step 1

white fabric laid flat
Ashley Poskin

Lay the fabric onto a flat surface.

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Arashi: Step 2

twine tied on fabric wrapped pole
Ashley Poskin

Roll a pole (or PVC pipe) at a diagonal, wrapping in fabric, until it is completely covered. Once the pole is wrapped in fabric, tie a piece of twine into a double knot at the base of the pole.

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Arashi: Step 3

roll of twine with twine wrapped fabric pole
Ashley Poskin

Wrap the twine around the fabric, scrunching fabric down to make it compact. (Note: Each wrap of the string will create a stripe where the dye does not permeate; so, the tighter the wrap, the more contrasted the stripe.)

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Arashi: Step 4

fabric wrapped scrunched around pole
Ashley Poskin

Continue wrapping, scrunching, and tightening until all of the fabric is compacted. Tie a knot above the fabric. The bundled fabric is now ready to submerge into the dye bath.

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Itajime Square

blue itajime square pattern
Ashley Poskin

Itajime is a shape-resist technique that produces geometric shapes like triangles and squares. This first tutorial illustrates how to produce a square pattern, itajime style.

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Itajime Square: Step 1

white fabric laid flat
Ashley Poskin

Lay the fabric onto a flat surface.

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Itajime Square: Step 2

fabric folded lengthwise
Ashley Poskin

Fold the fabric lengthwise, accordion-style, to form a rectangle.

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Itajime Square: Step 3

fabric folded into a square
Ashley Poskin

Fold the fabric in again, accordion-style, to form a square.

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Itajime Square: Step 4

shibori-dyeing-itajime-square-bundled-0619
Ashley Poskin

Sandwich the folded fabric between two square pieces of wood and bind it together with rubber bands or clamps. (Note: The wood and rubber bands will prevent the dye from penetrating the fabric they cover.) The bundled fabric is now ready to submerge into the dye bath.

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Itajime Triangle

Blue and white Itajime Triangle pattern
Ashley Poskin

Itajime is a shape-resist technique that produces geometric shapes like triangles and squares. This second tutorial illustrates how to produce a triangular pattern, itajime style.

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Itajime Triangle: Step 1

white fabric laid flat
Ashley Poskin

Lay the fabric onto a flat surface.

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Itajime Triangle: Step 2

fabric folded lengthwise
Ashley Poskin

Fold the fabric lengthwise, accordion-style, to form a rectangle.

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Itajime Triangle: Step 3

triangular fold started on lengthwise folded fabric
Ashley Poskin

Start a triangular fold by bringing one corner of the folded edge up to meet the open edge. The outer point is then turned inward to form a second triangle.

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Itajime Triangle: Step 4

Itajime Triangle of fabric
Ashley Poskin

Continue folding the fabric in this manner until the entire length is folded to form a triangle.

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Itajime Triangle: Step 5

shibori-dyeing-itajime-triangle-bundled-0619
Ashley Poskin

Sandwich the folded fabric between two triangular pieces of wood and bind it together with rubber bands or clamps. (Note: The wood and rubber bands will prevent the dye from penetrating the fabric they cover.) The bundled fabric is now ready to submerge into the dye bath.

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Ne-Maki

Ne-Maki patterned fabric
Ashley Poskin

Ne-maki is a technique that involves wrapping fabric around found objects and cinching them to produce small rings.

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Ne-Maki: Step 1

white fabric laid flat
Ashley Poskin

Lay the fabric onto a flat surface.

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Ne-Maki: Step 2

rubber bands holding fabric wrapped around small objects
Ashley Poskin

Place a small object under the fabric and bind with a rubber band. (Note: You can use a small object such as a river rock, bead, or marble.)

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Ne-Maki: Step 3

many rubber bands holding objects in fabric
Ashley Poskin

Repeat this in sections for an all-over pattern. The bundled fabric is now ready to submerge into the dye bath.

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How to Prepare the Dye Bath

assortment of bundled fabrics
Ashley Poskin

Set the bundled fabric aside to prepare the dye bath. Cover your work surface with a dropcloth. Fill a bucket, bin, or stainless steel sink (large enough to hold the fabric loosely) about halfway with hot water.

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Dyeing Fabric

dye bath in red-rimmed pot
Ashley Poskin

Wearing rubber gloves, add liquid dye. Add salt if dyeing cotton or linen, or white vinegar for wool or silk; the amount will depend on size of dye bath. For example, use 1⁄4 cup of either salt or vinegar for a bath of about 1 gallon, 1⁄2 cup for 2 gallons, and 1 cup for 3 or more gallons. (These additions help the fabric take the dye.) Thoroughly wet fabric (you can run large pieces through the washing machine's rinse cycle to wet them evenly) and immerse fabric into the dye bath for 5 to 20 minutes, stirring with a stainless steel spoon to ensure even color.

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Dyeing and Drying

assortment of dyed fabric bundles
Ashley Poskin

After fabric has been dyed, repeat the dyeing process if desired. (Note: The more times a fabric bundle submerges into the dye bath, the more saturated the color will be. Keep in mind that the fabric will always look darker when wet and will fade a bit after being washed for the first time.) Let fabric bundles dry completely before untying. Rinse fabric in the sink with lukewarm water until the water runs clear. Hang to dry.

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