The beauty of imperfection. Pattern design with Shibori techniques

Nella tecnica Shibori spesso si utilizza un cordino per realizzare i pattern tessili

Shibori is a Japanese expression to define reserve dyeing and different decorating techniques used to create motifs on fabric.

It is an ancient method (Edo period in the history of Japan), still used in different cultures around the world.

Motifs can be realized with various methods: binding, sewing, bending, twisting or compression, always before immersing fabric in a dyeing bath.

You can bend fabric in the desired way, fixing it so that it remains bent, then you can immerse it in the bath of colour until it is fixed.

Key word is to experiment: mixing ideas, techniques, textiles and colours, possibilities multiply.

Pleating and color in Shibori textile dyeing techniques

In creating new patterns, it may be a good idea to document every step through photos and a visual diary: this way remembering the process will be simplier.

Each fold has the power to create a variant and affects the final design, and non-dyed areas affect as much as the coloured ones.

Considering pattern space and placement in garments design means considering its symmetry and dimensionality.

All these elements together contribute to make a truly unique hand-dyed creation.

Choice of fabric and technique

The easiest thing is to start with light fabrics, such as cotton voile, silk or muslin, all traditionally used in Japan.

Being thin, they have the advantage of making dye coloration quicker.

On the other hand, even if dye could take more time to decorate thicker and heavier fabrics, these could be more suitable for the desired use, such as coatings or heavy curtains.

Size of garments too is a determining factor in choicing a reserve technique: techniques with more demanding workings, such as sewing reserves, could be more suitable for small garments or for placed prints.

Pre-soaking phase

Always recommended before dyeing phase, it has the function to guarantee a uniform dye colouring.

As fabric can shrink when wet, it is possible that the applied reserves will loosen up and are no longer effective in preserving these areas from colour. Pre-soaking phase reduces this risk to a minimum.

In addition, water acts temporarily as a barrier, making it less likely to reach reserve-treated areas.

Heavier fabrics will need a longer soaking period.

Winding Shibori technique

A simple method that involves the use of stones around which fabric is wrapped, then tightly tied with a string or elastic. Although this technique is simple, it creates very interesting motifs.

Pebbles to put into practice a Shibori technique of textile dyeing

How to:

    1. Wrap fabric around some stones, tie it tight, and immerse it in water for at least an hour, preferably all night long.
    2. Remove fabric from water and plunge it into the chosen dyeing bath.
    3. Once desired colour shade is obtained, remove fabric from dyeing bath.
    4. Rinse fabric while it is still tied.
    5. By opening fabric you finally discover the created motif.
    6. Wash fabric with neutral ph soap, rinse and hang to dry.

Mokume technique – basting

It is a Shibori technique with a sewing dyeing reserve, known for its structural, wood effect motif.

This kind of dyeing reserve provides for parallel lines of basting stitches. Pulling threads you create a fabric curl of compressed areas in which dye cannot penetrate.

There are different types of sewing dyeing reserve techniques and this is one of the simplest.

Mokume technique lends itself well to light fabrics and dense textures (voile and Habotai silk), requires precision and the realisation of a pattern.

With a ruler and a seamstress chalk you can draw the basting lines, which will be better if made with a thread of contrasting colour.

Experimenting with small fabric samples you can better understand the amount of tension needed to pull threads.

Mokume technique also opens the door to a whole range of different stitches, offering different results each time.

Needle and thread to create a special Shibori technique in reserve

How to:

    1. Press your fabric sample.
    2. With a seamstress chalk and a ruler draw horizontal lines at intervals of 2 cm.
    3. Using a double thread, fix it with a tough knot. Make basting stitches along first line. When end is reached, cut thread at a distance of 15 cm and knot the ends.
    4. Repeat process for each drawn line.
    5. For each line, take the ends of threads and pull gently, creating a curl. Tie pulled threads with a tight knot.
    6. Let fabric soak all night long. Once removed from water, stop the water excess with a towel.
    7. Put fabric in the chosen dyeing bath.
    8. Rinse with running water, cut off all knots and remove all stitches. Rinse until water is transparent.

Wrinkling technique

The simplest technique is often the most effective.

Fabric is randomly wrinkled, then tied with cord or elastic before dyeing phase. The resulting pattern is random and abstract, with directional lines similar to branches over the entire fabric.

The most important factor is the ligature tension: too much tension (or too little) creates very few motifs and effects.

If you are not satisfied with the results, you can always retry by wrinkling again.

The twine, useful in different Shibori techniques of textile dyeing

How to:

  1. Wrinkle various parts of fabric randomly.
  2. Tie various crumples with elastic or cord.
  3. Soak fabric in water, preferably all night long. When finished, stop the excess of water with a towel.
  4. Check that elastic bands (or cords) are tight enough to resist the dyeing bath (wet fabric shrinks).
  5. Plunge fabric into dyeing bath.
  6. After finishing dyeing process, rinse with running water and remove ligatures. Rinse again until water returns transparent.

Cultivating colour: making textile dyes naturally

Una dalia, fonte naturale di colore per le tinture tessili

Natural textile dyes (when made with plants from biological cultivations, correctly harvested and preserved) are an ecological alternative to synthetic colours because they derive from renewable and biodegradable resources.

Ingredients and colour palette

  • Dyers chamomille (Anthemis tinctoria) By flowers you can get shades of yellow, bright gold, grey-green and dark green; by leaves and stems: from light to bright green and grey-green shades.
  • Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) By leaves you get light and dark green.
  • St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) By flowers you can get light brown and yellow tones; pink and green.
  • Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) By berries: shades of violet, dark blue and gray.

  • Mint (Genus Mentha) By leaves you can get colours from acid green to blue tending to green.
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) You can obtain shades from green to brown.
  • Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) By fruits, leaves and stems you can obtain tone from light pink to dark blue-grey.
  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa) Even without the use of mordant you can get a bright yellow, which with some heat becomes darker and tending to orange.

Curcuma, a simple ingredient for natural textile dyes

  • Red onion (Genus Allium) By the skins you will get bright yellow, green and pink-orange.
  • Red cabbage (Brassica oleracea) It yelds shades of colours ranging from lavender to deep blue; with salt you get blue shades, with lemon colour tends to pink.
  • Avocado By the skins you can get a flesh-pink shade without making use of mordant.
  • Carrot (Daucus carota) By the ends you can obtain a shade of yellow.
  • Tea By sachets and leftovers you can realize shades of brown.
  • Coffee (Coffea arabica) Using coffee grounds or roasted coffee beans you can achieve different shades of brown.
  • Grape (Genus Vitis) By the skins of grapes you can obtain blue-violet tones.

Grape berries to make a textile dye

  • Olive tree (European olea) By leaves or by fruits and kernels: shades from light salmon to dark blue-green (depending on the mordant used).
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) Using flowers, leaves and stems: from bright yellow to dark green.

  • Walnut (Juglans nigra) By husks you can create brown; without mordant you can get a light brown.
  • Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) By the dark red leaves you get a light pink without the use of mordant.
  • Bamboo (Genus Bambusa) By pruned or fallen leaves and branches: golden yellows and shades of cream.
  • Poplar (Populus) By leaves you can get gray and black.
  • Larch (Larix pinaceae) Using larch needles you can obtain brown tones.
  • Spruce (Picea abies) By cones you get shades of red.
  • Oak (acorns) Without mordant use: light beige.
  • Wild apple tree By bark: tones from pink to orange.

  • Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) Using both flowers and leaves you can get shades of yellow and green.

The dandelion, an ingredient for natural textile dyes

  • Marigold (Calendula officinalis) You can get shades of yellow.
  • Wood sorrel (Oxalis pes-caprae) By flowers and leaves: colours from bright yellow to gold, dark green.
  • Dahlia (Genus Dahlia) Shades of yellow.
  • Lavender (Lavanda angustifolia) Antique pinkish grey; by leaves and stems: shades of yellow.
  • Jasmine (Jasminum officinale) Light yellow and pale greens.
  • Rosehip (Genus Rosa) Rosé beige.
  • Amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus) Pink.
  • Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) Shades of blue-violet.

Natural textile cornflowers and dyes

Extracting colours from nature

In this process, place plant material in a stainless steel container, with enough water to cover the fibres. Approximately 4 litres of water are used every 100 grams of dry fibre.

You can opt for rainwater collection (it contains few minerals and favors bright colours rendition), putting a bin under your gutter and then transferring it into a tank.

Rainwater, excellent for natural textile dyes

If you want, you can also use seawater. The alkalinity of salt water is in fact a modifier agent or an additive for all those recipes of tinctures requiring alkalinity.

What to dye

Once you have extracted dye, you can colour almost everything that is made of natural fibres.

Dye is suitable for many types of natural fibres, both plant and animal, in particular silk, linen, cotton and wool.

Vegetable fibers

  • Hemp
  • Linen
  • Organic Cotton
  • Organic Bamboo

Animal fibers

  • Alpaca
  • Angora
  • Cashmere
  • Silk (cruelty free)
  • Sheep wool

It is also possible to experiment on knitting yarns, paper, lampshades and carpets, and other objects such as wood beads, shells and leather, or shoes and clothes (old or new). You can also try to renew or restore the colour of old synthetic garments.

Keep a diary, a cookbook and a sample book

The success of a natural dye depends on several variable factors, including:

  • Lenght of procedure
  • Amount of used heat
  • Freshness of plant materials
  • Parts of plant used
  • Dyeing method
  • Type of water and mordant used

A cookbook for natural textile dyes

If your result is satisfactory, just write down the whole process in the recipes book, inserting a sample result, so that you are able to reproduce the same colour shade next time.

To create samples you can hold pieces of fibre or fabric and pin it on cardboard. On the back you can write recipe, date of the experiment and some notes on the used method.

Samples also allow to check colour, once washed or exposed to light.

Materials

Tools that can be used are often kitchen tools, but once destined to colour dyeing are no longer usable to prepare food.

Pots must be sufficiently large: dipped fabrics must be able to be “stirred” easily and without any danger.

Lids help to boil quickly and prevent odors and fumes from dispersing.

Stainless steel is the material of choice because it does not harm dye’s colour or modify it.

Cold dyeing method

Preparation phase is important with animal fibres: at least one hour (or even all night long) they should remain immersed in water. Then proceed with dyeing bath.

Dyeing baths can last from one night to several days, depending on the desired colour gradation.

Vegetable fibres are very well dyed at room temperature, but must be immersed and kept in dyeing bath for several days.

Lavender is one of the ingredients that can be used to make a natural textile dye

Insights

Permacouture Institute

Slow Fashion

Pattern design with Serti technique

Set di pennelli per dipingere

Serti technique is a particular reserve dyeing technique, used to paint on fabric.

It is suitable for any kind of subject, but it is essential to make drawings with closed shapes.

Gutta-percha, a waterproofing that prevents colour from expanding, is applied to contours.

The ideal design has therefore well defined shapes and a clean graphic structure, consisting of closed shapes, avoiding large background surfaces, or too small and meticulous details, more suitable for direct painting.

Materials and equipment

    • Worktop (a table)
    • Wooden frame and drawing pins
    • Cut of fabric (Habotai silk is very used)
    • Brushes and pads
    • Gutta-percha and water-based specific colours for fabrics (available in fine arts shops)
    • Applicator

Work surface

It will take a good table on which to place your frame. Frame is essential, because fabric should always be detached from table’s surface.

In case dimensions require it, frame should be supported by stands.

You can choose to work seated or standing, but in second case you will have a more complete overview.

With a plastic towel or with old newspapers protect the working area.

Frame

To stretch fabric well, which must not come into direct contact with table, it is necessary to use a frame.

The more fabric surface is stretched on a regular basis, the easiest will be the entire work.

Different types of frame are commercially available, but the quality of wood is an important factor, because to stretch fabric you will use drawing pins.

To realize a simple frame choose four strips of seasoned wood (section 3-4 cm, lenght from 60 cm to 1 m approx.), and with a a hacksaw make some notches at regular intervals. (Notches allow to assembly your frame according to the size of fabric).

The wooden frame to paint on fabric

In the photo example, each notch measure 1,5 cm in length and depth, and is about 8,5 cm from the others.

Fabric preparation

By applying some drawing pins, you can attach your fabric sample to the frame.

There are different types of pins: those from architect (three-pronged) have the advantage of penetrating completely into wood.

It is important to always start from a corner, fixing fabric to the frame every five cm, and proceeding on the side perpendicular to the previous one.

After a little practice, a good tension of fabric will require less pins: a square of silk of 45 cm (side) has 4 pins to the 4 angles, and 2 pins on each of the sides.

Brushes and pads

The most suitable brushes for Serti technique are those used for watercolour: round, soft and with a thin tip.

Watercolor Materials

For all backgrounds it is better to use a flat brush, or to use some pads.

To prepare a pad, tightly ball up a piece of absorbent cotton, then wrap a gauze around it and stop the whole thing with a clothes peg.

For more limited surfaces use simple cotton-buds.

Pads and cotton-buds, each for one colour, must be discarded after use. Wash brushes immediately after use in a bath of lukewarm water and mild soap, or pure alcohol.

Washing operations must also be carried out when changing colour. Dry residual water or alcohol thoroughly to avoid stains or halos.

Colours

Specific Serti technique colours to paint on fabric (silk, cotton and sythetic fabrics) are available in fine arts stores, ready for use and water-dilutable.

The range of available colours is usually wide in assortment.

In addition, there are other types of colours in a concentrated form: professional inks for silk an wool, 50% water or industrial alcohol dilutable.

Gutta-percha

Gutta-percha is a resin. It comes in the form of dense and semitransparent liquid (but coloured variants are commercially available).

Two types of gutta (transparent and coloured), applicator and Tiralinee

Once applied and dry, it becomes a rubbery substance that adheres to fabric, making the treated part waterproof.

Colorless gutta-percha washes away after fixing.

Proceeding

Motifs are realized by first tracing contours with gutta-percha, which once dry, prevents liquid colours from expanding beyond the established zones.

The first operation is therefore to draw your pattern using a frame as to stretch fabric.

There are different possibilities:

  • Tracing a previously prepared model, using a pencil if fabric is sufficiently light or – in case fabric is heavy – carbon paper, taking care to trace the signs with a light hand.
  • Freehand, using a pencil (although it is advisable to follow preparatory sketches) or for the more experienced, directly with gutta-percha, without any guiding path and following the inspiration of the moment.

The important thing however, is to circumscribe in close forms all the colouring areas.

Next step: gutta-percha. You can use a brush or a specific applicator: a soft plastic container, provided with a cap, to drill as finely as possible with a needle.

In order to obtain a thinner stroke you can also screw a special tip.

Residues should be immediately eliminated, cleaning the container.

Colouring is the penultimate stage: if gutta-percha is dry, you can paint inside and eventually outside resin strokes.

Colour must be given starting from the center of the surface, leaving it to reach up to the contour line.

For the final drying phase: simply follow the indications given on the colour packages. Usually it is enough to iron on fhe reverse side of fabric.