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The Shibori Project

This week’s National Craft Month project is shibori dyeing. Shibori is a Japanese resist-dyeing technique–a way of creating pattern by preventing dye from reaching all parts of the cloth. Shibori uses some combination of binding/stitching/folding/compressing the fabrics before dyeing, typically with indigo. In other words, it’s fancy tie-dyeing.

Dyeing is a fascinating process, but to someone who has never gone beyond dyeing with Kool-Aid*, the idea of buying all those supplies and fumbling around with them is somewhat off-putting. It would be so much nicer if someone who knows what they are doing could set up all the equipment, mix the dye, and show me how to do it, so I could be assured of success, or at least as much success as I’m capable of when trying a new thing.

Scarf blankCharlottesville Fiber Arts Guild to the rescue! My local(ish) fiber arts guild has some great programs, and this month it was shibori dyeing.  Valerie, our fearless leader, and Susan** came early and set everything up for us. We started with nice clean empty wine bottles***, which we wiped with Liquid Wrench to make them slippery. We used pre-hemmed silk scarves from Dharma Trading Co., which Valerie had dyed; mine was pale blue. The scarves were folded in half lengthwise, ironed, then folded lengthwise and ironed once again.


Now for the hard part: wrapping the bottle. We started by taping the end of our cotton thread on the bottle, then holding the scarf strip at a 45-degree angle as we wrapped the string tightly around the bottle in parallel wraps about 1/4″ apart. Getting started was the hard part and I was glad that Valerie was there to add her two hands to mine. There are no pictures of that (because we were already using four hands, and there were none to spare for the camera) but here’s a picture of the wraps once I got them going.


Every 4-5 wraps, I stopped and scrunched the threads together, causing the fabric to bunch up in between. Wrap-scrunch-wrap-scrunch-wrap-scrunch. This went on for a while until the entire scarf was spiraled around the bottle. Then it was time for a dunk in a vinegar bath to get the fabric nice and wet.


I placed a folded paper towel in the center of an X formed by long strips of plastic wrap. After dabbing off any dripping vinegar, I put the bottle on the paper towel and moved over to the dyeing station.

This was the most awesome  part, because Valerie had already mixed up the dyes and put down drop clothes, and generally done all the stuff that kindergarten teachers do to make sure their students don’t make a complete mess.

We had several colorways to choose from; I chose a mix of 3 greens and a purple. It was a matter of a few moments to paint stripes of color vertically onto my scarf. For me, the hardest part here was remembering which brush went with which color-even though she had them labeled very clearly. I had to make myself slow down and think about it. I found that the purple wanted to wick into the green more than I wanted it to, but since I wasn’t trying to accomplish any particular look, I felt pretty relaxed about it.


Now it was time to wrap that plastic up and around the bottle to form a sealed cover, Then into the microwave with a bowl of water for steaming. Cook on high for 3 minutes, then turn, cook on high for an additional 2.5 minutes. Take it out and wait for it to cool.

Waiting is hard.


Once it was cool enough, I took off the plastic wrap and rinsed under cool water until no excess dye remained. On my scarf, there wasn’t actually any excess dye at this point, but others did have some rinse dye out. Here’s where we went off in different directions.

The Reveal, or Being Patient

Some people wanted to see the results and unwrapped their scarves immediately after rinsing. All the scarves came out beautifully, with chevron-like V’s in the original scarf color, where the thread resisted the dye. When you unwrap the silk before allowing it to dry, the scarf turns out flat, but if you wait until the silk is dry, the true folding aspect of the shibori appears.

I decided to wait.
Waiting is hard.

I knew I had to write this blog post and I would have more interesting results if I waited. So I waited. For science.

The Final Reveal

Here’s a super-quick video of the unwrapping. You can see that it is really tightly folded and short. The chevrons are more evident as folds than as lighter dye-resist areas, which is not what I expected but is OK with me.

Shibori Scarf hangingI haven’t decided yet, but I may try to steam it out just a bit to see if I can maintain gentle folds, but allow it to be a little bit longer. However, I know that if I’m not careful, I can make it too flat and permanently destroy the folds. What do you think? Should I try it, or just see if I can relax the folds a bit by hanging it with light weights attached, like this?****
Shibori Scarf closeup


  • Taking a class is a great way to try out new skills. (I knew that, but this reinforces it.)
  • It’s worth the wait.
  • Be prepared for the unexpected.
  • I need to start with a much longer scarf if I want to keep the folds.
  • I can’t be great at everything the first time.

Would I try shibori again?

You bet! Next time with indigo dye.

Further Reading

World Shibori Network

Shibori DIY

Shibori Techniques board on Pinterest

*One of the first articles I wrote for a magazine, in 1999, was on Kool-Aid dyeing with children. In the interest of family harmony, I am not sharing those photos here.

**Her sister, our program chair, who coerced Valerie to drive 300 miles round-trip to do this.

***That must have been some class-preparation party!

****Completely un-Pinworthy laundry room photo provided gratis, to make you feel better about the state of your laundry room. At least the wall color matches the scarf.

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