Slow Projects: Shibori and Indigo Dyeing

I started getting interested in shibori when I was doing some “internet research” for an Alabama Chanin style project.  Although I love the look of AC-style garments, I couldn’t help worry about looking like I was wearing my farm clothes rather than something that had taken countless hours to create.  Country Chic in a farming community is very hard to pull off.  I kept being drawn to images of Japanese textiles using shibori or sashiko in a very controlled way.   Here are some examples  of what appealed to me.



Last year I bought Jane Callender’s book ‘Stitched Shibori’ and I’ve been wanting to try some of the techniques in the book.  The push came when I picked up an indigo dye kit on sale.  The final shove came with the “New Technique” contest on PR.  While I’m not planning to enter, I am using it as a good excuse to finally get going on this project.

The style I’ve chosen is ori-nui stitching.  It is done with running stitches on a folded edge, which when gathered and dyed, produces two parallel lines.  I’m going to an all-over pattern, hopefully, that will look like this.

Design chosen

The fabric is a slub cotton that I had in my stash.  A little too sheer in white, but will be fine in a darker colour.  It is 2m long by 120cm wide.  Enough to make a short sleeve blouse. First up, was making up a grid with a 4cm spacing and creating the diagonal lines at 60 degree angle.

Drawing th grid for shibori stitching

Then transferring it to the cloth.  The fabric was sheer enough that I could see the template through the cloth, so I could trace the fold lines and mark them using a water soluble pen.

transfering grid to fabric


Each 2m column of was stitched continuously with using a double thread.  I have a ‘good’ supply of heavy thread for sewing awnings and it worked well for the stitching.  Using a 4.5m length, doubled over, I didn’t have any hassles with it knotting and it is slid through the fabric with ease.

orinui stitching progress

The first couple of columns took ages to stitch – like 40 minutes each.  Some more ‘research’ let me to a couple of You-tube videos which showed Japanese techniques for doing running stitch.  This video shows a sashiko technique, where the needle is stationary and the fabric is ‘walked’ onto it using thumb and index finger.   This second video also keeps the needle stationary and ‘waggles’ the fabric back and forth over the needle.  It is well worth watching as it shows a very different and efficient way of handling fabric and hand-stitching.   With a little practice, I ended up doing a modified walking/waggling stitch, keeping the needle as stationery as possible.  I did need to reposition it a few times when jumping from one section to the next.  But, once I got the rhythm going, I was stitching a column in under 10 minutes.  A huge saving in time.

Stitching completed

Next came the gathering and knotting.   2m of fabric gathered up to just 12cm!  Starting at one end and pulling each column up in term, the fabric first started to look like a shirred bodice with flared skirt, then a mushroom with a frilly cap,  then a coral polyp as the last columns were gathered up.  It was quite hard on the hands, and I ended up using a pencil to wrap the thread around to get enough tension.  Each line was tied off with a double knot.  A piece of string placed between the fabric and knot to give it something to bite onto.

gathering 2m into 12cm

Indigo Dye Vat

As I’m writing,  the cloth is going through it’s cycle of being immersed in the dye vat and being pulled to air and oxidise.  It’s a slow process, much slower than I thought it would be.   It has taken most of the day.   But fascinating to watch the fabric switch between lime green in the vat, to inky blue in the air, and back to lime again in the vat.  According to the book, successive dunkings gives a deeper colour and the oxidising locks in the colour and prevents crocking.  So I persist with the process…

just out of the indigo vat and starting to change colour from lime to blue
getting air into the soft folds
Indigo dye oxidised

Each time, I’m holding my breath that it will all work out well in the end.   It’s now had  its 6th soak.  The colour is looking more even among the folds and all the knots have held.   At this point, I have a nagging doubt that I’ve soaked it too long and there will be no resist and all the stitching and gathering will be for nothing.

I’ll let it air overnight before washing it out and unwrapping it.  Keep your fingers crossed that I have something usable at the end of all this.

7 thoughts on “Slow Projects: Shibori and Indigo Dyeing

  1. Fascinating! Can’t wait to see the finished product! (And even if there isn’t much resist, it’s not for nothing, you’ve learnt and shared a fascinating technique)


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