By now most of us are familiar with shibori, a type of dyeing that’s having its moment in the trend spotlight. But did you know that shibori is surprisingly easy (and very fun) to DIY? Here at Brooklyn Craft Company, we’ve been doing a ton of shibori dyeing lately, preparing for the shibori workshop that will be part of our upcoming Summer Craft Camp event… and it’s been so addictive and fascinating that I thought we’d share a little how-to with you today. Let’s get started! —Brett Bara
Shibori is a Japanese dyeing technique that typically involves folding, twisting or bunching cloth and binding it, then dyeing it in indigo. Whatever is used to bind the fabric will resist the dye, resulting in areas of the cloth that take the distinctive blue dye in patterns created by the resistance, and other areas of the cloth that remain white. Shibori is a very vast technique and there are tons of ways to do it (and a truly infinite number of patterns you can create), but in this post we’re going to look at two methods: using wood blocks and rubber bands to bind and resist the dye.
What You’ll Need
-We really like this indigo dyeing kit, which contains everything you need to do a shibori project. If you don’t go the kit route, you’ll need indigo dye, wood blocks, rubber bands and rubber gloves.
-Items to dye: Only natural fibers will accept dye, so be sure to steer away from synthetics. You can choose to dye simple fabric yardage which you can then make into anything at all, or you can dye ready-made fabric items like clothing, curtains, duvets – the sky’s the limit! For the most traditional shibori look, go with solid white fabric. Cotton responds really well to indigo dye, so cotton is a great choice for your first attempts.
-You’ll also need a large container to mix the dye in (one with an air-tight lid is ideal if you want to keep the dye longer than a day, as oxygen will kill the indigo dye), and if you’re working indoors, you’ll want some plastic drop cloths to protect your surfaces from the dye. If you’re lucky enough to have outdoor space in which to dye, that’s the way to go!
The Shibori Dyeing Process
Start by mixing your indigo dye according to the package directions. Be aware that indigo dye is affected by exposure to oxygen, so try to keep the container covered as much as possible, and avoid stirring it aggressively or splashing it, which will introduce oxygen to the liquid.
You’ll need to fold and bind your fabric before proceeding with the dye; see below for several folding options.
Once you’ve folded your fabric, it’s time to dye! First, soak your folded and bound fabric in water, then squeeze it out.
Now, gently submerge your fabric in the dye. Most fabric will float, so you have to hold in under the surface with your hands or possibly weigh it down (but be aware that if your dye has been sitting for any length of time there may be sediment on the bottom of the container, and it’s a good idea to avoid resting your fabric in the sediment. So it’s often best to just hold the fabric under the surface of the liquid with your hands).
You can soak your fabric for almost any length of time; we found that 10 minutes is usually a good bet. You would think that in 10 minutes, the dye would completely soak through all layers of fabric and dye the whole piece solid blue, but it doesn’t! The layers of folded fabric, along with the wood, rubber bands, or whatever binding method you’re using, will prevent the dye from thoroughly soaking the fabric. Outer edges will take on the dye, but inner areas will not – and that’s what creates the pattern.
The best thing to do when you’re just starting is to dye a bunch of test swatches of fabric to get a feel for the results you’ll get from different types of folds and various dyeing times. You can try soaking a piece for one, ten, and twenty minutes to see the results that will produce. Short soaks result in thin lines of blue with lots of distinct white space, and longer soaks result in more blue and more bleeding of the blue onto the white.
Here’s the cool part – when you remove your fabric from the indigo dye, your fabric will be yellow-green, not blue! That’s normal. Just let the fabric sit out in the air for a few minutes, and as it oxidizes, it will turn from green to the distinctive indigo blue. You can let it oxidize while it’s still folded, or you can unfold it now before it oxidizes. If you leave it folded while it oxidizes, the dye will continue to soak into the fabric, and you’ll have more bleeding in your finished piece. If you unfold it now, you’ll see less bleeding in the finished piece.
It can take anywhere from a couple of minutes to 20 minutes for your piece to fully oxidize, so just hang out and watch your design emerge! During this time, the dye will continue to bleed a tiny bit, and the color will deepen – so you can never fully know exactly what result you’ll get, which is part of the fun.
Once your piece has oxidized, all that’s left to do is rinse your fabric in water, squeeze it out, and let it dry.
Now let’s take a look at four different folding methods you can try:
Square Accordion Fold
Fold the fabric lengthwise, accordion-style, to make a long strip. Then fold this strip again, accordion-style, to make a square or rectangle. (Tip: if you plan your folds so that you have 1-2” of fabric overhang beyond the wood blocks you’ll get lots of chunky blue sections in your finished piece. If you plan your folds so that the folded piece is the same size or smaller than your wood blocks, you’ll only get thin lines of blue and lots of white space.)
Place one wood block on either side of the folded fabric, and secure with two rubber bands per side. You don’t have to worry about securing the wood blocks very heavily or compressing the fabric a lot – even a light rubber band hold will be plenty to block out the dye.
Triangle Accordion Fold
Fold the fabric lengthwise into a long strip (for this pattern, starting with a wide strip results in larger, more distinct triangles). Then, fold the strip again in triangles, accordion-style.
Lightly secure one rubber band on each corner, trying not to scrunch the fabric too much. Then just place it in the dye as is – no wood pieces are necessary for this one. Believe it or not, even without wood blocks, the folded fabric will resist the dye, and the triangle pattern will emerge. (Magic, right?!)
To create a diagonal fan pattern, fold the fabric accordion-style, with all folds originating from one corner of the fabric. Once this fan shape has been created, fold the fabric again accordion-style, creating a messy-square type shape. Place the square wood blocks over the messy folded shape and secure with rubber bands, then proceed to dye.
To make an abstract ring pattern, simply bunch up a small wad of fabric anywhere on your larger fabric piece, and place a rubber band around it. The areas covered by the rubber bands will create small, abstract rings of white.