What is Shibori?

What is Shibori?

What is Shibori?

You’ve heard me throw around this word SHIBORI many times and always in conjuncture with INDIGO. What on earth does it mean?? Well…let me tell you it is one of my favourite “things”…but it’s not really a thing. It’s an action, a verb actually. It comes from the Japanese word SHIBORU (meaning to wring, squeeze or press) and is really a general term for the Japanese form of tie-dyeing. Although I hate it when people just say “oh! You tie-dye” because this Japanese craft dates back many many centuries and has far deeper meaning and complexities to it compared to the average NorthAmerican style tie-dye (no disrespect as I have seem some very complicated and beautiful tie-dyes as well). But generally speaking shibori is a manual resist dyeing technique that produces patterns on fabrics. Many many different kinds of patterns. So really, Shibori is just the umbrella term for quite a few different resist techniques. A few I will outline below with some examples.

sample of Arashi shibori

There are 3 categories and under these categories there are specific techniques that have their own description and set of instructions:


kōkechi shibori: tied or bound resists

Kanoko Shibori: This is much like the West’s tie-dye. The cloth is bound in specific ways by thread. Patterns are formed depending on how the fabric is manipulated. My “Blue Water” collection falls under this category. I use elastics and thread to achieve the “random” harmony of the dye markings. The fabric is pressed tightly upon itself to resist the dye in certain areas. The thickness of the fabric and the tightness of the bind determines the overall patterning.


tightly bound shibori piece of fabricwoman with shibori scarf around her neck

Arashi shibori: This is a “pole wrapping” shibori. The fabric is wrapped around a pole and string is used to tightly clamp it down on the pole. The fabric is then pulled up and it becomes scrunched upon itself.  I use it quite a lot in my work as I just love the lines on the cloth. It resembles so many things but apparently the word “arashi” means storm in Japanese and the diagonal lines are meant to suggest the driving rains in a heavy storm. Beautiful!


fabric wrapped around a pole, arashi shiboriindigo dyed cushion with arashi shibori

kyōkechi shibori: the fabric is folded and clamped between two carved wooden blocks.

Itajime Shibori: This is a shape resist technique. The cloth is folded in a very specific way and clamped between 2 blocks of wood. Where the wood is pressed together forms a barrier resisting the dye. When folded correctly the patterns are mirrored throughout the fabric and a repeat pattern is created. I love this technique and use it quite a lot. The simple geometry of the all over pattern is very satisfying and modern.

shibori resist blocksindigo napkin with knife and fork

rōkechi: wax resists

This is very similar to batik where liquid wax is applied to the cloth in a specific pattern and when the fabric is dyed, that area gets resisted of the colour. This is a very beautiful and complex technique that I tend not to use in my work.

This is just a small sampling of the wonderful world of Shibori! There are so many designs and styles and everyday the true masters of shibori are working on more complicated techniques to delight the eye and the souls of textiles aficionados all around the world. I still find an enormous amount of beauty in the simplest of binds and the relationship between the bind and the dye is where the real magic occurs. Indigo is just one of the many natural dyes that loves being in the company of a great Shibori resist!


Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.