This year, I have decided to commit to a number of handmade classes. I am keen to explore new techniques beyond my beloved sewing and paper craft. Handmade classes are increasingly popular and approachable. Techniques that were reserved to professionals are now available for anyone to try out and produce something of their own. For my first handmade class of the year, I elected to learn Shibori at Work-Shop.
Work-Shop in Redfern
Work-Shop is a creative project located in a warehouse in Redfern, Sydney. They offer affordable classes based on creative techniques, life skills and alternative art. There are plenty of subjects and things to try out, it’s a great place to learn a few skills and gain a little confidence in trying things at home…
Jessica Organ taught the Shibori class, more information is available on her website.
There is no shortage of fabrics and styles out there but doing your own dyeing is a great opportunity to increase the creative challenge. Learning how to create your own designs means you are no longer dependent on other people’s ideas and colour selection.
Shibori offers endless possibilities of creating interesting shapes on fabric. There is an element of unknown about it, you have to try something and see how it will turn out. Every attempt produces a different result and the possibilities are endless.
What is Shibori?
Shibori is a Japanese dyeing technique that involves folding, bunching and twisting fabric, and then dyeing it in indigo. The principles are based on the resistance of various elements against the white fabric. Any shapes or tools used against the white fabric will resist the blue dye and create various designs. Shibori typically starts with folding the fabric, then adding blocks, rubber bands or twisting it around a pole. The dyeing process is fast, simple and requires no particular skill. It is a little messy though, so you need to prepare your space.
Different Techniques of Shibori
There are various techniques for creating Shibori, delivering an infinity of results and patterns. The class at Work-Shop focussed on three of those techniques:
Itajame or Hitajame is known as the shaped-resist technique. The folded fabric is sandwiched between two pieces of wood and held together with with string or rubber bands. The pieces of wood will prevent the dye from penetrating the cloth and will create a shape. Itajame shapes can be made of wood but the dye is likely to penetrate the wood and may stain the cloth at the next use. Itajame shapes are available in plexiglass and are easy to wash.
Creating a strong pressure between the shapes is important, so that the dye doesn’t seep into the folds of the fabric, so using clamps is recommended.
Kumo is a pleated and bound-resist technique. Various sections of the cloth are pleated very finely and precisely. The cloth is then bound in very close sections, very tightly. This creates a very specific spider-like design.
Arashi is known as pole-wrapping shibori. In this technique, you wrap the cloth on a diagonal around a pole, and then very tightly bind itby wrapping thread or string up and down the pole. Then, the cloth is scrunched on the pole. This technique results in a diagonal rain-like pattern, with tight pleats. My attempt below is not the best, but I’ll try again…
What You Need to Create Shibori
- Indigo Dye Kit: indigo, soda ash, hydrosulfide
- Natural fibre cloth, 100% cotton or silk, no synthetic fabrics
- A medium to large bucket, depending on how much you want to dye.
- Rubber gloves
- Itajame shapes
- Rubber bands of different thickness
- PVC pipe
- Wooden stick
- Drop cloth or plastic sheet
The Process of Shibori
Indigo is an organic compound and produces a deep blue colour when applied to natural fibres. As it doesn’t dissolve in water, it requires a chemical transformation or “reduction” with the addition of soda ash and hydrosulfide. This chemical change removes the oxygen from the dye bath and allows the dye to adhere to the cloth.
The first step is to mix the indigo, soda ash and hydrosulfide in a bucket, and stir with a wooden stick. Close the lid and wait for half an hour. You can keep the dye bath for up to 5 days, so I recommend to use a bucket with a lid. A deposition will form on the surface of the dye bath, you can scoop it off or stir it back into the mix when ready to use.
While the dye bath is sitting, you can prepare the Shibori. Initially, it is easier to use medium sized fabric. It is essential to use natural fibres, like cotton or silk. Synthetic fibres won’t absorb the dye.
Shibori starts with folding and there are many ways to do it. However, it is worth trying to imagine how it would turn out to understand how the folding creates the patterns. I didn’t do that part very well, my stuff was quite random so it’s going to be my mission when I do Shibori at home!
Getting the Pieces Ready
You can use any of the techniques described above and many more, but you can also let your imagination run free. Using the basic principles of folding, tying and twisting, you can create any shape you want. Apart from Itajame blocks, string and rubber bands, I used marbles and plastic bits resembling needle caps to create patterns. The trick is to work patiently and tie the fabric very tightly. The more pressure you create, with blocks, string or rubber bands, the better the contrast between white and blue. Traditionally, Shibori pieces are pressed together with string. A very effective way to create strong pressure is to use clamps, it creates very good contrast.
Dyeing the Shibori
Now your pieces are ready to be dunked in the dye bath. Get them wet first, to make sure the dye is absorbed well. Stir the pieces in the dye bath for a bit and let them be for ten or twenty minutes.
At Work-Shop, we were told to leave them in for ten minutes but this could depend on the dye you are using. Traditionally, indigo dye is made of natural compounds. However, synthetic dye is now readily available and easy to use. Some say the synthetic dye produces a deeper colour but I haven’t done the comparison. Understandably, the natural dye is more eco-friendly.
Using tongs, remove the Shibori pieces from the dye bath to have a look. They will look a bit green, which is normal. The indigo has yet to oxidise and turn into its typical deep blue colour. It’s important to wear rubber gloves at this stage, otherwise you will have blue hands for several days, which could look a bit weird… Squeeze out some of the dye bath and lay your pieces on a drop cloth or plastic sheet. Leave them out for ten or twenty minutes, and turn them over to make sure all the dyed areas oxidise evenly.
When the pieces are a deep, almost black blue, they are ready to be rinsed and opened. The inside of the cloth folds will still look green, which means it still needs to oxidise. Rinse well to remove any indigo dye. At this point, you need a plastic sheet spread out to receive your Shibori pieces.
You’re almost done, take a seat and watch your pieces change colours. Marvel at the different shapes you created. I bet they turned out a little differently than you expected but, nevertheless beautiful and intriguing!
When the Shibori is a deep blue, you can hang it to dry. As a final step, wash it cold and let it dry naturally. Finally, iron it on both sides in order to help set the colour.
We created many beautiful shapes and patterns that day at Work-Shop!
Shibori at Home?
Shibori is easy to make with the right tools and ingredients. However, using dye and water indoors can present some challenges. You don’t want indigo dye on your nice floor, clothes or soft furnishings. Therefore, I would recommend doing it outside or in a laundry or basement.
Another technique for decorating plain fabric is screen printing, which I describe in this post.
Have you tried creating your own Shibori? I would love to hear your tips and techniques!