To date, we have 53 days left of summer. That means fifty-three diminishing days of ocean dips, late-night dinners, and forgetting you even own a sweater. It’s around this time that I find myself clinging, with perspiring palms, to the multitude of reasons summer is my favorite season. For example, blue and white textiles–especially Shibori dyed textiles.
Surely you have noticed the Shibori mania.
Shibori, an ancient Japanese method of folding fabric and dyeing it with indigo dye, dates back to 8th century Japan, but has been trending heavily for the last two years and, at the moment, its popularity is waxing more than waning.
Shibori stems from a Japanese word meaning “to wring, squeeze and press” and arose during a time when those who did not have a budget for buying cotton and silk garments repaired and dyed their faded hemp attire, giving it a new life and new style.
Today Shibori patterns are formed using various techniques of folding and twisting undyed natural fiber fabric (100% white cotton seems to work the best) and dipping it into a vat of indigo dye. Once the bound fabric is unwound, the resist pattern reveals itself.
A blog site that offers a great visual tutorial of the folding methods and dyeing process can be found here. But I found there was nothing like the trial and error of doing it myself and I have tried to round up my best pointers for this post as I found some conflicting information between various DIY posts and the directions that come with the dye kit.
Itajime fold using a drop cloth for the fabric and squares of cardboard in lieu of wooden blocks.
Select the items you will dye bearing in mind that natural fibers will accept the dye the best. Be resourceful. Use cardboard, binder clips, PVC pipes, rubber bands and twine as your “tools”.
Prewash and dry your fabric, then submerge it in clean, cold water and squeeze out the excess. I used a Home Depot bucket to mix my dye. Wearing gloves, I lowered my fabric into the dye bath holding it just below the surface (it will want to float). The instructions warn you to not let the items sink to the bottom as they can pick up fallen sediment. With my first dyeing attempt, I held mine just below the surface with my gloved hands and within 10 minutes, my brand new rubber kitchen gloves started to fail and my hands were dyed a lovely shade of blue. Eventually I decided it didn’t actually make a difference if items touched the bottom, and towards the end of my dyeing endeavor, I was shoving as many pieces as I could into the bucket, weighing them down with rocks from our garden, and I did not notice any marks made due to touching sediment at the bottom of the bucket.
Home Depot bucket for indigo dyeing
The package advertises the kit can dye more than 15 shirts or 5 lbs of fabric. I dyed somewhere near that and still had dye left over to share with my neighbor, but you must keep in mind that it lasts 3 – 5 days. On day 4 it went from full intensity to losing nearly all potency and my poor neighbors ended up with shorts dyed with the palest of baby blue patterns, not the deep indigo they intended.
The longer you dye your fabric, the deeper the hue. You can also remove the dyed fabric, set it out to oxidize for a bit (20 minutes is good) and then stick it back into the dye vat (just make sure not to unbind the piece until you are completely finished dyeing it). After some trial and error, I began to prefer dyeing pieces for 30 minutes, setting them out to oxidize for 20 minutes and then redyeing for another 30 minutes and leaving them to oxidize for an hour or more before unwrapping. This gave the intense indigo I was after. You may want to experiment with a scrap and start with ten minutes of dyeing as a baseline.
Our outdoor ping pong table made an impromptu drying rack. Good thing it was already a dark blue!
Once removed from the dye, the fabric will take 20 minutes or so to fully oxidize. When you first pull it out, it will look yellowish-green, but before your eyes it will begin to appear deep blue. (Note: it will lighten as it dries so don’t trust this initial blue as the final color.)
I read conflicting advice on the next step, (the kit says one thing; DIY blogs another), but found that the best way to keep the indigo color as dark and vibrant as possible was to let my oxidized, unbound fabric dry in the sun; once dry, hand wash it with cold water and mild detergent; then either dry it in the dryer set to the hottest setting or line dry it and then heat-set it with an iron set to the hottest setting
There are various folding techniques that can be found online. My two favorites were the Itajime technique (accordion fold fabric lengthwise flipping it back and forth as you go, then accordion fold your long rectangular piece into a square, then sandwich the folded square between two pieces of wood; hold the wood pieces in place using rubber bands). All of the instructions seemed to recommend using two blocks of wood for this process, but the dyeing kit only comes with one pair of wood blocks and they are fairly small, so I experimented using squares of cardboard and happily discovered they worked just as well although you will need to use new pieces for each time you dye.
The Itajime fold
The dyed and unfolded Itajime looks like this which I could definitely see being used as pillow, bedspread, or even window treatment (I’m picturing a Roman shade for a kitchen with all-white cabinets).
The Itajime fold, unfolded
Not knowing the name of this next technique (although please tell me if you know; it was one of my favorites), I called it Rubber Band Circles. I’d twist the fabric either randomly or in rows and tightly secure the twists with a rubber band. The area where the rubber band was resists the dye and leaves a colorless circle.
The “Rubber Band Circles” technique
I was so crazy about how this particular technique turned out (I dyed linen for the piece shown below), I have been draping it everywhere (on the sofa, on the back of a dining room chair, on the chair in our office, shown below).
I sewed mine into a bolster pillow for our bed.
You know, the other design craze of the moment: the exaggeratedly long bolster pillow for the bed!
Note: they aren’t kidding when they say use natural fiber fabric if you want to dye your fabric dark indigo. However, I was running out of some of my higher quality fabric so I cut a drop cloth (from Home Depot) in half and while it didn’t take the dye as well as the other pieces, it resulted in a more of a faded denim look, I can still see using it as a tablecloth, picnic blanket, or “blanket” to throw on the floor for our toddler to eat messy food on. The drop cloth fabric is also so thick it could definitely be used for upholstery (i.e., a bench seat or dining room chairs, a floor cushion or…the possibilities are endless!)
I realized I had a Shibori dyeing addiction when I rounded up all the fabric for this photo. It was hard not to want to dye every bit of white or light colored fabric in sight!
If Shibori dyeing sounds daunting at all, It shouldn’t. It’s really very simple. And you can always enlist your friends to help and host a Champagne and Shibori soiree!
Some great items to dye:
Flour sack dish towels (can be found at Target),
Fabric napkins (World Market is a good source)
Pillow covers, duvet covers, reusable grocery sacks, drop cloths, scarves, shirts, onesies (great baby shower presents), fabric for upholstery or fabric to sew into pillows
Indigo dye kit. I used this one.
Natural fiber fabric. I also used a drop cloth from Home Depot although it turned more light denim blue than indigo.
Cardboard (can be used instead of wood blocks for the Itajime technique)
Drop cloth (or plastic trash bags) for an area to work on that you don’t mind dyeing blue
Rubber bands (the kit will come with some but I found I needed about 3x that amount; two packages from the 99 Cents store solved that problem)
Long wooden stick to stir the dye (ask a paint store if they don’t mind you taking a stir stick)
PVC pipe (if you want to do the Arashi pole wrapping technique which you can find examples of online)
Happy Shibori-ing! 🙂