DIY Shibori: Designs & Folding Techniques

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I have a long list of summer DIYs, and at the very top of my list was shibori, a Japanese method of tie-dying with indigo dye. It's really the perfect DIY project for a lazy summer afternoon. You want the right space (ideally outdoors) to get a little messy, and enough time to actually enjoy the process without feeling rushed. Last weekend - which I spent in the Santa Cruz mountains in a secluded, woody "glamping" retreat - was the perfect opportunity to try shibori: surrounded by friends to chat with and beers to drink while we waited for the dye to do its magic.

Time: At least 1 hour
Cost: Around $15

Before I launch into the DIY tutorial, there are a few different shibori techniques, but the dyeing process is the same for all of them. So, first, I'll go over how to dye and then second, I'll go over four different shibori techniques:

Itajime (Fold & Clamp)

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Ne-Maki (Object Binding)

Kumo (Spider Web)

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Arashi (Pole Wrapping)

So here we go! Put on some fun music, gather your friends, and get ready for a fun day of shibori tie-dye!

Things you will need:
- Indigo dye kit (I got a $10 kit on Amazon)
- Rubber bands
- Additional items for different folding techniques (e.g., wood boards)
- Scissors
- Rubber dishwashing gloves
- Two big buckets or small trash cans that fit several gallons of water
- Plastic container to put your dyed items as they oxidize
- White natural-fiber fabric to dye
- Ideally, a hose or big sink to fill and rinse your bucket

A couple notes on supplies: You'll probably want to wear old clothes in case you splatter everywhere like I did. Also, my indigo dye kit had rubber bands, wood pieces, and short rubber gloves. However, I still recommend using dishwashing rubber gloves because they provide more coverage. Lastly, for fabric to dye, all natural fibers (cotton, linen, hemp, silk) work best!

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How to Dye

Preparation

1. Prepare your working space by laying out any plastic covering to protect the ground or surfaces you're working on. Fill one bucket of clean water (halfway full is enough) and set aside, and then make sure you have your plastic container out.

2. Prepare the indigo dye according to the kit's directions. In my case, I mixed my indigo dye into four gallons of water in the second bucket, added the soda ash, and let it sit for 15 minutes. I then removed the "flower" (layer of foam) at the top of the indigo dye using my glove-protected hands.
 

Folding

3. Fold your fabric (using a technique below). I folded my fabric while I waited for the indigo dye to settle!
 

Dyeing

4. Wearing gloves, dunk your folded fabric in the clean water bucket and wring it out so it's damp (but not dripping).

5. Submerge your fabric in the indigo dye bucket for 5 to 20 minutes, making sure it doesn't sink to the bottom where there is likely sediment. I was feeling lazy and didn't want to hold it (I wanted to drink a beer! :D), so I put my pieces in an open plastic bag, so it was in the dye but protected from the bottom. 

6. After the 5 to 20 minutes has passed, squeeze it out and set it out (in the plastic container) to oxidize for at least 5 minutes, ideally 10-20 minutes. The fabric will look yellow-y green / teal when you first take it out, but the air will turn it blue, (Super cool, right?) You may want to flip your pieces so any areas on the bottom are also exposed to air and turn blue.

7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 *two to four more times* for a darker color. Keep in mind that the color will fade as the fabric dries and after you wash it. Also, remember that it is the number of iterations (not the length of time in the indigo dye) that will achieve darker results.
 

Finishing up

8. Now the exciting part - time to unwrap! Cut off the rubber bands and string, and see how your design came out!

9. Rinse one more time in the clean water, and then throw in the washing machine with warm water. Keep in mind to wash these with similar colors for the first few washes so the dye doesn't turn any of your other clothes navy!*

Alright! Now for the folding techniques - read on for the how-to, and some before and after pictures!


Itajime Shibori
(Fold & Clamp)

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In this method, you are folding the fabric and protecting certain sections from the dye to create a repeating pattern of shapes (usually squares or triangles).

Additional materials you will need: Wood boards or thick cardboard cut to shapes

Instructions for square itajime shibori: 

  1. Fold your fabric like an accordion/fan in one direction, with each strip being at least 3-4 inches wide.
  2. Now, fold that strip like an accordion/fan in the other direction. 
  3. Sandwich your stacked folded fabric between two wooden boards, and secure with rubber bands in each direction.
 
 

To do triangle itajime, instead of a regular accordion/fan fold in step 2, fold the fabric in triangles, starting with one corner and still going back and forth like an accordion/fan. In step 3, make sure the shapes are triangles to match your fold.


Ne-Maki Shibori
(Object Binding)

In this method, you are tying/rubber-banding the fabric around (usually circular) objects to create a series of white rings.

Additional materials you will need: Round objects like rocks, wood beads, etc. (optional but recommened))

Instructions

  1. Wrap the fabric around one of your round objects, and secure with string or rubber bands. You can actually do this without the objects, but the rings may not come out as distinctly.
  2. To create clusters of rings, group the objects close to each other, and consider using one long, continuous piece of string to scrunch/secure the fabric around each object

Remember, the thicker rubber band or string, the thicker the white ring will come out. You can wrap string/rubber bands multiple times to achieve greater thickness.

 
Ne-Maki Shibori Instructions
 

Kumo Shibori
(Spider Web)

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Kumo Shibori After

In this method, you are twisting narrow sections of fabric and wrapping with rubber bands or strings to create web-like patterns

Instructions

  1. (Optional) Fold your fabric in an accordion/fan pleat in one direction
  2. Pinch one section of your fabric
  3. Holding the tip with your hands, twist the fabric in one direction and secure the "nubbin" with multiple rubber bands or string
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 in evenly spaced sections (like I did below in the video) for a consistent pattern, or more randomly (like pictured above) for a more organic pattern.
 
 

There's a ton of variation you can do, and depending on how tightly you tie the bunches or how many rubber bands you do, they can come out really differently! All of these below except the top right are done with kumo shibori methods!

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Arashi Shibori
(Pole Wrapping)

In this method, you are twisting fabric around a long pole with string, scrunching the fabric as you go to create long diagonal stripes.

Additional materials you will need: PVC pole or long thick stick, and string

Instructions

  1. Wrap your fabric diagonally around the pole
  2. Tie a double knot with string around one end of the wrapped fabric on the pole.
  3. Wrap the string around the fabric/pole several times, and scrunch the fabric up.
  4. Repeat 3 until you've gotten to the other end
 
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Now you know how to do four popular methods of shibori! Once you get started, it's hard not to want to dye every single white piece of clothing in your closet. Aren't they great? I think I'm going to make a bunch of dinner napkins or pillow cases for gifts!

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