Shibori musings, part I

After a long dry spell in coming up with threads to blog about, I awoke this morning with the awareness that I have more than enough fabric to blog about, I just forget that there are people out there who haven’t the faintest idea what shibori is, how it’s made, etc. much less understand what ikat, meisen and kasuri are (I’ve posted some meisen samples already, but I’ll go into more depth later this month). I take a lot of what I know for granted because I surround myself with this information and soak it up like a sponge pretty much 24/7 (yes, I do dream about textiles. It’s what got me into this business!).

Shibori is a tie-and-dye (or rather bind and dye) technique from Japan that evolved over centuries and was introduced from other parts of Asia. Some of the earliest surviving pieces of shibori textiles in Japan date back almost 1500 years. Over time certain regions developed their own specific styles of shibori using different methods of binding such as board clamping, or finding ways to make different patterns by tying the threads closer or wider. Fawn dapple, spiderweb, willow leaf and woodgrain are but a few different styles found on older shibori textiles, but today some of these are dying out as the artists who produce these are aging and few or no new apprentices are keeping the techniques alive.

Today I will post images of some shibori cottons I have in my collection (my mother most graciously passed some of her pieces on to me last year because she knows I’m some sort of crazy addict and she wasn’t using them).

3 pieces indigo shibori cotton

From a distance you get the overall view and sense of design, color and style. Let’s take a closer look at that white flower in the lower right.

shibori flower

Now you can see the puckering that remains after the fabric has been tied and dyed. The fabric starts out as plain white cotton cloth, on to which a design is stenciled by an artist. He then passes the cloth on to be tied, a process that can take up to several weeks or even months for a bolt 12 meters long (standard length to make a single kimono or yukata). Once the ties have all been completed, the cloth is sent to the dyer, who will add to the design by fixing the color or colors to compliment it. It will then be rinsed and — my favorite part — the knots will be removed by pulling the cloth sharply on the bias to pop the threads. It’s tricky to do this without ripping the fabric, so this is not to be taken lightly! A rip in the fabric will ruin the entire bolt, making it unusable for yukata or kimono production.

After all that, the bolt is often steamed to remove the points left over from the tie dye process. Sometimes, however, you can find bolts that have not been steamed flat, and they are the most fun, in my opinion. These points add a textural dimension to the fabric that makes it like reading braille, in a way.

indigo shibori cloth

I tried to capture the 3-D effect, but couldn’t quite get it. Maybe next time. More to come in Shibori musings, part II.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Susan says:

    Have you tried this yourself? I’ve seen demonstrations and it’s fascinating. I love your samples, would love to get my hands on them. Thanks for article.

  2. I made my first and only shibori piece as a little kid. I’m not the type who enjoys getting her hands dirty, I guess! For now I’m much more content to appreciate the work of professionals and leave it at that.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. wakuwaku says:

    I love shibori! I am fortunate to have visited Arimatsu 3 different times, and on one visit got to make a handkerchief. And the best past of that trip was the class was taught by a Living National Treasure.

  4. Funki Planet says:

    Very interesting. I had no idea. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Kristen says:

    That is actually quite awesome. I had heard of shibori before, but my knowledge of it was limited to “don’t they use that to make kimonos?” It looks complicated, but now… I really, really want to try it.

  6. Morgen says:

    Hi there!
    I followed your links from Flickr to find your very lovely blog. I enjoyed reading this article on shibori and your description of the technique.
    I am a textile artist and designer and also have a shop on Etsy (inkyspider) and I too love shibori. Most of my shibori is stitched patterns but I do some bound ones too. One of the things I love most about doing shibori is that I feel like I am helping to hold onto a tradition which, like so many things in the world these days, is under threat of disappearing due to mass production and economic changes.
    I’m going to add a link to your blog on mine. I will be back to visit again.

  7. FranIAm says:

    I do not know one thing about the fabrics, but I do know this- this looks so gorgeous.

    Thank you!

  8. How intricate… It’s amazingly detailed. I admit I am not familiar with this process/textile type. I love when I learn something new!

  9. - says:

    Amazing – I wouldn’t have noticed the details if it weren’t for you!

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