Friday, September 2, 2011


Lately I’ve been experimenting with a new to me dyeing technique called Shibori. It has Japanese origins, and in my mind I think of it as fancy tie-dyeing. There are many Shibori techniques involving folding, scrunching, pleating, and stitching of fabric, but I have primarily been experimenting with various stitch techniques. Essentially, I hand stitch a pattern with needle and thread, then pull on the threads to scrunch it up tight before dyeing. After dyeing, the thread is removed. In the places where the fabric is scrunched tightly, the dye does not penetrate, thus creating a pattern.

On a recent visit with my Aunt, she asked me how I got interested in Shibori, and I had to think about it a bit to remember where it first entered my brain. I think I was first introduced to the term from my mother’s childhood friend Deborah Gregory. She is an amazing and accomplished fiber artist living near Seattle, and had a show at my mother’s gallery last year. She mentioned Shibori to me, and it just sort of stuck in my brain for awhile, waiting to form into a project idea. Then one random day, I decided that I wanted to try combining Gyotaku fish printing with a dyeing technique that would be “less messy” than batik. I love the effects created by batik, but I find the process of removing the wax long and intensive and somewhat imperfect. I remembered the term Shibori but couldn’t remember exactly what it was. After a Google search, I had some ideas and set about experimenting.

For my first experiment, I tried some stitching techniques on some plain t-shirts. My sister-in-law Jenny was visiting, and happens to be an art teacher, so I thought she might be into doing some Shibori with me. We Shiboried (is this a word?) several shirts together. We used a dye that was supposed to be a color called “warm black” (a black with red undertones), but it actually came out a bluish purple (which I really like). I wondered how much of the chemistry of the water affected the color, as we were dyeing up at my family’s camp on Shadow Lake, and the well water is very sulfurous

These are photos that Jenny took of some of the shirts we made. This one is my favorite - made by Jenny:

Beautiful Shadow Lake - a nice place to practice shibori:

With a better understanding of how the stitches create a pattern, I was ready to undertake my next experiment of combining Shibori with Gyotaku. I started by fish printing on some shirts in black. I then stitched and scrunched over the fish and a few other random places in-between. My 6 year old, and very creative, nephew Asa, also stitched a shirt (all by himself, I might add). We used a navy blue dye that came out less than navy and a brighter blue with a purple undertone. Again, we were up at camp, and I wonder if the chemistry of the water played a part in this or just our technique. Regardless, I really liked the resulting color. I think the gyotaku-shibori combo is pretty neat, but the fish are a little more subtle than I intended. I would like to experiment more with some stitching that would leave more white fabric behind the fish, making it stand out a little more. I’m hoping to have some of these available to sell at the Art and Artisans market later this fall and on my Etsy site.

My silly dyeing assistant, Asa:
Asa and his super cool creation:

Some interesting clouds overhead while we were dyeing (might need to blow that picture up a bit to see what I saw as interesting):
Finished shirt -- a birthday present for my sister Jessica! Would like to figure out how to make those fish pop out more.


Some printed shirts ready for more shibori experimenting:

For another experiment, I tried just sketching a simple fish design on some old sheets that I was making into curtains for the room at work that I use to pump (a little privacy, please!). First I sketched out the design:

Close-up of a fish sketch:
Then I stitched along the outline:
Pulled the strings tight and tied them off:
Died the whole thing blue -- and this is what I got. Kind of neat!
An installed curtain:
I also shiboried a few hand-me down onesies that were in good shape, but a little on the grungy side. I think it would be neat to combine shibori with gyotaku and indigo dyeing – a sort of Japanese fiber art trifecta! There’s something about the Japanese aesthetic that has always appealed to me. I really enjoy the simple elegance and neatness of the style – maybe it’s a sort of mental harbor compared to the rest of the craziness in my life!

My adorable shibori model:

I’ve often found that when I get interested in something, there’s a sort of positive feedback loop that leads me further and further into it. The more I am interested in shibori, the more I seem to bump into it in other places. I recently visited the Rae Harrell Art Gallery in Hinesburg, VT to see a fiber art show called "No Boundaries in Fiber". There are many fascinating pieces on display there and it’s worth a visit if you live in the area. One of the artists, on display is Karen Henderson – a weaver/dyer. I had randomly come across her website a year or so ago and was amazed at her work. When I saw it in the gallery, I immediately recognized it. Really wonderful and subtle landscape-like patterns and earth tone hues. She gave a short talk about her art and the pieces on display, and turns out one of the techniques she used in one of the pieces was shibori! Although instead of hand stitching – she had used her sewing machine. Now, that gave me some ideas… I happened to be wearing one of the shibori shirts that Jenny and I had made together, and Karen came up to me later and said “nice shibori!”. Later, my mother-in-law sent me a book on shibori. Shibori, shibori, shibori. I like to interpret these types of synergistic events as a sign that I’m on a good creative path.


  1. Gretchen,
    The shirts came out so cool and Henry looks very handsome in his!
    A beautiful photo of the lake too!

  2. Who is that cute as can be baby? Let's eat Henry! We love him and shibori!

  3. Thanks, Julie. I'll have to warn Henry to lok out for his cousin Julie, though... just in case she tries to eat him!

  4. I think my shirt is great! Just pulled it out for the warm weather.
    Just tie dyed at the school. I made a shirt for Henry and it is so cool, and will send it to you soon.

    1. Thanks, Jenny. Can't wait to see the tie-dye for Henry!