This past weekend I facilitated a workshop on Shibori dyeing for some family and friends. According to the very reputable source known as Wikipedia, Shibori is a Japanese manual resist dyeing technique, which produces patterns on fabric.
It is traditionally used with the vibrant blue color of indigo. The dyes were historically made with the leaves of the indigofera plant, but today is largely produced from synthetic materials.
I have been dyeing paper with indigo for a year now, and have tried out the Shibori technique a dozen or more times since I started those dye sessions. I am particularly attracted to linear patterns, but also really enjoy the slight variation and inconsistencies inherent in the technique. Many of you also know I am fond of process based arts, so I was naturally drawn to learning this method of dyeing.
Below is a very basic step-by-step process I use for Shibori dyeing.
DIY Shibori Instructions:
- Indigo Kit ( * indicates items come in kit)
- Indigo powder
- Soda ash*
- Rubberbands* (though you may want more than kit offers)
- Woodblocks* (you can also use thick pieces of cardboard, or other scrap wood pieces)
- Clothespins (or other clamps/chip clips)
- Tub and lid for dye bath (5 gallon tub per kit)
- Tub for h2o bath
- Something to stir the dye bath with
- Things to dye! (I like to use white, or close to white cotton or natural fiber fabrics)
The first step is to create the dye bath. If you get a box kit, the instructions are included and very straight forward. You basically mix the thiox, soda ash, and indigo powder with the recommended amount of water (usually 4 gallons per kit) in an opaque container that has a lid. Mix the ingredients until they are dissolved, then cover the bath, and let it sit for at least 15 minutes.
After that you remove the "flower", which is the dark bubbly substance that floats on top of the water, and put it into a small opaque container with a lid. I usually never do this, especially when I am dyeing paper, because it will leave beautiful marbled marks on the paper for me. I have not noticed any difference in markings on fabric though. However, the idea is that the flower can be saved for a future batch, but I'll talk about that at the very end of the post.
I spend the time the dye bath is sitting to prep my fabric. Below is my step-by-step instructions for folding and binding and the results of those folding techniques!
1. Itajime Shibori
In the first photo I accordion fold the fabric one way, and the second photo I accordion fold the other way, creating a shape close to a square. The wood is used to sandwich the fabric, and the rubber bands are used to secure the wood in place, but also create some linear marks where it touches the fabric on the edges.
It may be obvious but the wood and rubber bands are used as the resist, blocking any dye from the area the wood and bands touch. The final photo shows how the block shape translates to the fabric!
Below is another version of the Kanoko technique with a triangle shape. I accordion fold the fabric into a small triangle, then bind. The desired affect includes diagonal lines, diamonds, and triangle patterns. You can use pieces of triangle shaped wood or cardboard to have less of the corners exposed too.
2. Kanoko Shibori
This technique can be done in several variations. The example above is one of my favorites, it produces an ombre affect due to the rolling. I start with the fabric in one layer, or folded in half, then roll from the top to the bottom. I use several rubber bands to pinch the fabric in sections. The lines are created by the rubber bands, and the ombre affect occurs because the inner fabric is not as exposed to the dye as the outer fabric.
Below is another example of the Kanoko technique. It is much simpler, but the affect is just as beautiful. Since there is much more fabric exposed to the dye, more indigo comes through.
Below is yet another example of the Kanoko technique, where I used the triangle accordion folded fabric, and randomly bound it with rubber bands. It created both a random and intentional pattern.
3. Clothespin Technique
You can experiment a million different ways with clothespins or any clips you have laying around the house. I have used chip clips, bulldog clips, and binder clips, and loved every outcome. Here, my friend Alysha accordion folded the fabric, and then clipped all the way around. She staggered the clips, and the final outcome was a very cool random pattern. And now you have beautiful blue clothespins too!
The next step is to soak the folded and bound fabric in your water bath. I do this for around 15 minutes, but as long as the fabric is soaked through, you're all good.
Once the fabric is soaked through with water, take the pieces out, wring out as much water as you can, and then drop into the indigo dye bath. I like to leave the fabric in the bath for at least a half hour, but the instructions on most dye kits say "several minutes". I have noticed the fabric becomes darker the longer it sits in the bath, but not much darker after about 45 minutes.
When you take the fabric out, try your hardest to wring out the excess dye without creating too much splash. Then you can unbind it immediately, and either hang it on a line, or open it up on a flat surface that you don't mind turning blue (grass works really well!). You'll notice the fabric is green when you take it out of the bath, but will start oxidizing pretty quickly, turning deep blue. The dye bath will oxidize if it is left exposed to UV and air, so I try to minimize the splashing and I keep the lid on the bath while I am hanging.
Let the fabric oxidize for at least 20 minutes, and then you can throw everything in the wash. I wash these loads with about a quarter of the detergent than a normal load. I do this twice, to insure no bleeding during future washes.
Some other things to keep in mind:
Dye sets differently for each weave and fabric type, so keep an open mind. Use a variety of fabrics and do a test batch if you want to get more consistent pigmentation for future sessions. If you want to do larger pieces of fabric, consider your containers and the space you have. I will often double or triple my batches, so I can get more pieces dyed at one time.
I recommend using gloves to protect your hands, but if you don't want to deal with that business (I just HATE rubber gloves) your skin will stay blue for a couple days, but your nail beds will stay blue for longer, usually a couple weeks if you don't have polish on. Dawn soap works well to get dye off your skin.
I always wear clothing that I don't mind getting permanently dyed, and try to keep my hair up out of my face. I also always work outside, but if you are feeling brave, just know this stuff stains everything, including porcelain tubs (hehehe), so be careful!
The dye kits say you can reuse the dye bath (with instructions on how to remove the "flower" and place it back in later) but I have never had much luck with this. The dye comes through in a much more muted blue, never as vibrant as with the initial session.