« Previous | Nancy Flynn log in to write entries / comments

Nancy Flynn

Print Your Own Fabric: Shibori!

comments (1)
Written on July 12, 2007 2:14 AM

I haven’t forgotten about my promise to learn something new every two months and share it with you! I’ve been so busy with the learning that I’ve taken forever with the writing, and I hope to make up for that in the next few weeks. I’ve been saving up for you, so stay tuned for weekly posts on new crafty techniques to try for the rest of the summer!

The first few will be a series, inspired by Bitter Betty Industries’ Hand Printed Fabric Swap. I thought this was a brilliant idea and signed up right away. Unfortunately the swap is closed, so while you can’t get the benefit of several fat quarters of handprinted fabric in the mail, I’ll share what I’ve learned in my hand printing and dyeing adventures so you can try it yourself. For a look at what the other swappers are doing, including beautifully carved stamps, check out the Flickr group.

Instead of sticking with one method and dyeing/printing several yards of fabric the same way, I decided this was a good opportunity to try out a few different printing and dyeing methods that have been rattling around in the “crafty projects to get to” box in my head. Namely:
*Tea Dyeing
*Gocco fabric printing
*Honest-to-goodness screen printing

While I normally believe in buying the best materials available for your budget, in this case I decided to buy a 25-yard bolt of 36” wide muslin from JoAnn’s. Probably not the best quality fabric, but certainly a good palette for a beginner. I knew I’d have plenty to work with, and wouldn’t feel so guilty or anxious about screwing up “nice” fabric that I’d be paralyzed by indecision. I wanted to be able to jump right in and be as messy and adventuresome as possible. I set aside my first yard of fabric for a shot at shibori.


Despite several flash-in-the pan moments of being in style, for the most part tie-dye maintains its reputation as a head shop fashion staple. This is a shame, since so much can be done with what we think of as tie dye. Enter shibori: the ancient Japanese technique of bound-resist dyeing. In shibori, instead of t-shirts scrunched with rubber bands and knots, natural fiber fabric (often kimono silk) is bound and stitched with cotton, linen or hemp thread and then dyed. It has a much more respectable reputation, and is taught in textile design programs. What sets it apart if you encounter it without knowing any history is that it is much more subtle than tie dye. Typically the colors used are pure and harmonious (no clashing day-glo rainbows here!), and the dye patterns have a delicate, intricate quality. The level of precision involved in traditional techniques is mind-boggling. True shibori takes time, patience and very, very good eyes. Lacking patience, I melded some tie-dye methodology with a common shibori pattern before I’d even delved into the resources generously suggested by the professionals in the All Things Shibori Flickr group. So blame for improper technique can be assigned only to me! But it was fun, and the results seemed to me amazing for an impatient and imprecise beginner. I am definitely inspired to try again, perhaps with a more intricate design.

Seat-of-the-Pants Shibori
1 yard natural fiber fabric (cotton, linen, silk), washed with detergent and dried- it is KEY to wash the fabric before dyeing, because some fabrics have coatings that will resist dye if you don’t wash first.
1 bottle Rit dye in midnight (you could use the dry packets too, just follow the directions on them in lieu of the ones provided here for the dye process)
A box of rubber bands
A pencil
A bucket for dyeing
Boiling water for dyeing
Rubber gloves to keep the dye off your hands
A stick or wooden spoon for swishing the fabric around in the bucket.

1. Grid out your pattern by making pencil dots at even intervals on your fabric. Mine was a grid of 4”x4” squares. I staggered every other row so that it wouldn’t be just lines of one pattern.
2. Pull up and twist the fabric at each dot, then bind the twist with a rubber band. Keep your twists a relatively uniform height of about an inch. It is fine if a nub of fabric is sticking out at the top of the twist—this actually looks neat in the end.

3. Keep going until you’ve got a pretty, smocked-looking length of fabric like this:

4. Prepare your dye bath according to the instructions on your dye. I fudged a little because I didn’t want to use my washing machine (it would pull the rubber bands right out!), nor did I feel like simmering and stirring for AN HOUR on the stove. Nor was I dyeing a pound of fabric. So I boiled up about 8 cups of water, poured in ¼ cup salt and ¼ bottle of the dye and let it sit for an hour, stirring gently every so often to keep the color uniform. This seemed to work fine.
5. Rinse out the fabric in cool water until the water runs clear. I have a stainless steel sink so it was fine to do in there. Be aware that if you have white porcelain it can be stained by the dye and require immediate treatment with bleach. Rinse in cool water outside, or in your bucket if you are worried. Be gentle so that the rubber bands stay in place.
6. Gently remove the rubber bands and untwist the twists. It should look super neat, like little star bursts of white in the blue ground.

7. I recommend drying on the high heat setting in your dryer to set the color a little bit before washing and drying the finished piece. No doubt about it, you will lose some color and perhaps a bit of the definition in the white parts of the design when you wash again, but I think that the high heat before re-washing helps keep it more true.
* Be sure to wash the finished piece with other very dark things you don’t care too much about, because Rit does bleed in the first few washings and you don’t want to ruin anything precious. If you are using the finished fabric to make a quilt or other piece of wearable/usable art that will be laundered, definitely wash and dry it at least twice before you get started, to avoid it bleeding onto other fabrics in your piece.

For the record, I must repeat that this is not traditional shibori technique, but a little hybrid to dip your toe in. For a wealth of information on the traditional styles and methods of the art, please check out the following resources (by no means exhaustive, so if you have favorites please share in the comments!):
*All Things Shibori Flickr Group
*Shibori Girl
*World Shibori Network
*Karren K. Brito's blog, Entwinements

In Print:
(provided by helpful members of the Flickr group)
Shibori: The Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing Tradition Techniques Innovation by Yoshiko Wada
Shibori: The Art of Fabric Tying, Folding, Pleating and Dyeing by Elfriede Moller
Shibori: Creating Color and Texture on Silk by Karren Brito

Check in next week for adventures in Gocco stamp ink for cloth!

comment by chase on July 12, 2007 4:39 PM:

awesome and beautiful! you're right, it's like subtle, tasteful tie-dye! brava!