Shibori: A Japanese Resist-Dyeing Technique

Handmade textiles possess a specialness machine-made fabrics seem devoid of. It’s perhaps because we know that an extensive amount of effort has gone into making the cloth, or that countless fingers have labored over a design that we find these handcrafted creations infinitely more delightful. However, the painstaking creation process isn’t the only reason why handmade cloth is coveted, it’s also because handmade fabric usually boasts of great quality. Human insight, vigilance and care prevent unsightly errors and weave fabric that is blemish-free, elegant and exquisite. Over the years, various civilizations have come up with their own unique processes for manufacturing and designing textiles. In this article, we’re going to explore ‘Shibori,’ a traditional Japanese resist-dying technique that imprints cloth with unique designs. Here’s all you need to know about this interesting manual designing technique.

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In Japan, Shibori has been used as a colouring technique since the 8th century. The country shied away from experimenting with artificial textiles for a while and so, up until the 20th century, natural fibres like silk, hemp and cotton were used for making cloth. Similarly, extracts from the indigo plant were used as dye. Shibori makes use of natural dyes and is applied on natural fabrics. However, of late, because of the proliferation of artificial dyes, craftsmen have begun using artificial colours for Shibori.

The Shibori process begins by sketching a design onto paper. The design could be a floral pattern, sea waves, geometric patterns, nature-inspired prints or a combination of all these. Holes are hammered along the outlines of designs or where the cloth needs to be dyed. Then, the punctured paper is placed over cloth and by rubbing a dye-soaked cloth over the paper, the design is stenciled onto the fabric. After this, craftsmen bind sections around the printed areas using thread. The more intricate the design, the more painstaking the binding process. For some designs, the process can take up to 20 days. The bound cloth is then immersed in dye, squeezed and sun-dried. After the cloth dries, the binds are untied and the fabric is stretched to reveal the design.

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However, this isn’t the only Shibori dyeing technique that exists. Over a hundred such techniques have been developed by Japanese craftsmen and they involve folding, pinching, twisting and crumpling cloth before binding them with strings, rubber bands and bamboo strips. To make certain complex designs, more than one Shibori technique is applied. Unlike most other forms of resist dyeing, Shibori is still done by hand and so, textiles coloured with Shibori patterns are highly sought after. If you happen to make a trip to Japan, don’t forget to inquire after these textiles. More importantly, try to spend some time watching a Shibori craftsman at work. It’ll teach you more about Shibori than any article or video can!