Shibori is the traditional, Japanese incarnation of tie-dye. The term shibori is simply the Japanese word 絞り, which translates as to wring or squeeze. The artform pre-dates the 1960s flower power era by over 1000 years, and continues to be a vital practise today.
Shibori is considered to be one of the oldest indigo dye techniques in Japan. Originating in China, shibori dyeing really gained mainstream traction in Japan during the Edo Period from the 17th-19th centuries, as people from the lower social classes needed an alternative to the silk that they were banned from wearing.
The earliest examples of shibori textiles date all the way back to the 8th century. It was during that time that Emperor Shomu included a piece of shibori dyed cloth in a collection of items donated to Nara’s Todai-ji Temple. As time progressed, new variations of the technique came into being, and additional dye techniques like tsutsugaki, the art of creating patterns using rice paste before dying, began to follow suit.
Difference Between Shibori and Regular Tie-Dye
Shibori artists use thread to isolate many small repeated points on the fabric; after dyeing this spots of color create captivating designs, that tend to be far more intricate and detailed than modern tie-dye.
The tie-dye we know from the 1960s generally uses one more straightforward technique of twisting and tying the middle of the shirt to create a psychedelic spiral design. Finally, while tie-dye tends to draw from the entire rainbow color spectrum, more often than not the shibori dye is only one color.
Types of Shibori
There are several different branches of the shibori family tree, each with a different technique, design style and aesthetic. There are six standard shibori techniques.
Kumo Shibori is the most conceptual technique. The process uses miscellaneous found objects to create the patterns. Shibori designers tie fabric around these items which are used as the resist and the outcome is as unique as the objects selected.
Miura Shibori uses the processes of looping and binding to create patterns. A slightly more involved process, miura designers need to pluck pieces of the cloth with a hook and needle. The outcome is more intricate repeated deisgns.
Kanoko Shibori is the style that most closely resembles tie-dye. Like their western counterparts, kanoko practitioners today often use elastic bands to tie the fabric, as opposed to the threads of fabric they would have used in the past
Arashi Shibori is another take entirely. Also referred to colloquially as pole wrapping shibori, the process uses, as you may have guessed, wooden or copper poles to twist, wrap and bind the cloth. The outcome is typically a diagonal style pattern that looks almost like the veins of a leaf.
Nui Shibori is the most detailed of all the shibori techniques and is as much about stitching as it is about dyeing. By using hand stitching techniques and wooden dowels to create resists, the outcome of this process is carefully crafted designs with accurate patterns.
Itajime Shibori is the technique that creates the most robust patterns. Itajime practitioners use wood, and in more contemporary times, plastic and clam resist to craft thick, bold patterns like repeated squares, triangles, circles.
Shibori’s aesthetic qualities are twofold: the use of indigo dye and traditional techniques means that the outcome always feels organic. In addition, the artisanal handcrafted quality of the process means that each piece is still unique.
It’s a connection to the ancient, with an outcome that’s always slightly new. With such a balance of qualities, it’s no surprise that modern designers are increasingly avid fans of shibori.