A Short History of Shibori
“The stillness and beauty of Shibori really centers me…It feels like a rebellion against the fashion movement, where seems so fast and disposable.”
With the recent popularity and interest in organic fashion, designers and brands are going back to the roots and delving deep into the ancient techniques of creating fabrics. One such sustainable method is Shibori, the traditional Japanese reiteration of tie-dye. The term 'shibori' originates from the Japanese word 絞 or 'shiboru', which loosely means 'wring' or 'squeeze'. It refers to the manual resist dyeing techniques used in Shibori that involves shaping and securing the fabric before dyeing to create various patterns. Although the West may commonly mistake Shibori for simple tie-dye, the original Shibori techniques were ancestral. Each Japanese artisan family had their exclusive techniques passed down through generations.
Origin of Shibori
Known to be one of the oldest Japanese dyeing techniques, the first appearance of Shibori dyed fabrics dates back to the eighth century. It was among the items donated by Emperor Shomu to the Todai-ji inNara. The main fabrics used in Shibori were silk and hemp, and later cotton, while the primary dye used was indigo. Sometimes madder and purple roots were also used.
Traditionally, Shibori used a white cloth that was folded, compressed, or twisted and then tied before being dipped into natural indigo dyes. However, over the centuries, the Shibori artisans have developed many new methods and techniques of amping up the traditional process. The unique aspect of Shibori is that even the same technique creates different results every time.
Types of Shibori
Shibori techniques are of six major types:
Kanoko is very similar to the regular tie-dye in that it is created by twisting the fabric and binding or tying it in small pinches with a string to block dye. Each knot is hand-tied, which is later carefully opened by the artisan one at a time.
Arashi is created by twisting and wrapping the fabric around a pole and fixing it in place before starting the dyeing process.
(image source: https://www.konacoffeeandtea.com/events/natural-dye-art-coffee-japanese)
Itajime is created by placing two pieces of wood on either side of a tightly folded fabric. These blocks are kept in place using strings, and together they create interesting square-like patterns.
Kumo creates spiderweb-like patterns that are made by tying sections of the fabric with a string evenly. There is no standard design for this Shibori technique, and the result lies in the artisan's hands.
Miura, also known as loop binding, is created using a hooked needle and plucking sections of the fabric with it. The final pattern resembles water ripples achieved depending on how tightly the cloth is tied and where it is tied. Every design in this technique is unique, and almost no two Mitura are the same.
Nui is created using a simple running stitch on the cloth and then pulling it to gather it. Each thread is secured tightly in place before starting the dyeing process. Although Nui allows greater control on the kind of pattern created, it is also very time-consuming.
Three different kinds of Shibori have filtered out of the main six types and made themselves famous in the international market. Plangi is a Malay-Indonesian word for the process of gathering and binding cloth; Bandhani is an Indian term for plucking and tying the fabric in small points; Tritik is a Malay-Indonesian word for stitch resist.
How is Shibori different from Tie-dye?
The tie-dye we know originated in the 1960s. It is a very straightforward technique of twisting and tying and applying colours to create patterns on the cloth. However, Shibori is far more intricate and detailed than regular tie-dye. Each Shibori pattern represents a knot tied by the artisan's hands. There is an infinite number of ways in which cloth can be tied, bound, stitched, folded, twisted, or compressed, and each result in very different and unique patterns. Shibori patterns work in close harmony with the kind of fabric used. Hence, the desired pattern only depends upon the techniques but also the properties of the cloth used.
Shibori's aesthetic qualities are two-fold; natural indigo dye and traditional techniques mean that the outcome always feels organic. In addition, handcrafting each product means that each piece has its uniqueness. In short, Shibori is a connection to the ancient, with an outcome that is always slightly new. With such a balance, interpretations of Shibori can be seen all over the place in the fashion world, from local markets to Paris runways.
Creating Shibori is also highly therapeutic. Folding, binding, dyeing but never really knowing what the outcome will be. Unwrapping the fabric at the end is another thrill in itself. Creating it also gives you no artistic pressures at all; instead, it consistently makes beautiful patterns.
Designers everywhere are constantly pushing the boundaries of what Shibori is. They seek to translate it such that it retains its ancient qualities while taking on some aspects of the designer's creativity. We at Organic Symmetry straddle the lines of Shibori was and what it can be.