The beauty of imperfection. Pattern design with Shibori techniques

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.