What is Shibori Dyeing?

A centuries-old dyeing technique that originated in Japan, Shibori dyeing involves folding and binding fabric to resist-dye it in intricate patterns. While most Shibori seen today is created with indigo dye to yield a deep blue result, it was traditionally done with not only indigo flowers, but purple root and madder plants as well, to produce varying shades of blue, purple, and deep red.

The Shibori dyeing method can be applied to light-colored cotton fabrics, but also works with other natural materials like silk and linen, too. Modern tie-dye takes its inspiration from Shibori and a few other ancient fabric-dyeing techniques, but mostly utilizes synthetic fabrics and dyes (as well as rubber bands to hold the fabric folds in place) to produce vibrant, non-organic colors and psychedelic patterns, while Shibori dyeing relies on organic materials and practiced, technique-driven patterning. 

Types of Shibori Dyeing

The final result of a Shibori-dyed piece of fabric depends greatly upon how it’s folded and bound, as well as how long it’s exposed to the dye. True indigo dye develops with oxygen, so when dying a piece of fabric with indigo, repeatedly dunk and remove it to allow the blue color to deepen and more accurately reach your desired shade.

Most Shibori fabric binding techniques begin with an accordion fold, so long, rectangular pieces of material work best (as opposed to dyeing pre-made garments like tee shirts or dresses). Achieving your selected color and pattern with Shibori dyeing does take a bit of practice, but building your fabric-dyeing skills is rewarding and fun, and the results can be truly spectacular. 

In one Shibori binding method, a running stitch made through an accordion-pleated material with a regular needle and thread is pulled tight before the piece is dipped into dye. Once the stitches are ripped, the gathered areas will have maintained their light color while the exposed bits of fabric will pick up the most intensity. This stitching method is customizable, too — you can tailor the dye pattern with the path of your stitches. 

Another common Shibori technique involves rolling a piece of fabric around a wooden dowel (or a bit of plastic piping), then securing the fabric with twine before scrunching everything tightly together. The entire setup (dowel included) is then dipped into the dye before laying flat to dry. This method yields a beautiful, rippled chevron pattern. 

Finally, folding a piece of material tightly around wooden craft sticks (or paint stirrers depending on the size of your project), then securing with twine will produce a set of wavy stripes throughout the fabric. This striped pattern is one of the most recognizable Shibori techniques, and also one of the easiest to master for beginners. 

About Shibori Dye

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. For indigo alternates that require a little less processing, consider using other organic materials (think: basil or elderberry) for simple, all-natural garment dyes.

When mixing and applying any fabric dye, and especially organic dyes, be sure to test first for any allergies and wear gloves to avoid staining your skin. As always, lay a drop cloth to protect your crafting area from splatter. Dedicate a bucket and mixing tools to fabric dyeing only to avoid any cross-contamination, and be sure to clean any tools well with hot water after each use. 

How to Care for Shibori Dyed Items

Before using or wearing your Shibori pieces, always rinse well with warm water, allow to air dry completely, then wash in your machine on a hot cycle (if your fabric is pre-shrunk) with a mild detergent.

It’s always best to line-dry your Shibori dyed items, if possible, and iron on a low setting. Because of the intensity of most natural dyes, it’s a good idea to always wash dyed items separately from other light-colored laundry.