Of infinite possibilities.
What is shibori?
The verb shiboru means "to wring, squeeze and press" in Japanese. While the word shibori is often associated with the famous style of fabric dying particular to Japan, it in fact encompasses a wide gamut of fabric manipulation and dying found worldwide.
Shibori has come into popular usage to cover this full range of techniques and styles because there is no English equivalent. "In fact, most languages have no term that encompasses all the various shibori techniques, nor is there any English terminology for individual methods, which often have been incorrectly lumped together as "tie-and-dye." Three terms for separate shibori methods have come into international usage: plangi, a Malay-lndonesian word for the process of gathering and binding cloth; bandhani, an Indian term for the same process; and tritik, a Malay-lndonesian word for stitch-resist. However, these three terms represent only two of the major shibori techniques. In this context, the word shibori seems the most useful term for the entire group of shaped resist textiles."
World Shibori Network
Shibori can also be defined by what it is not: shibori as a technique for dying cloth differs from that of ikat where the thread is dyed prior to weaving the fabric, and from techniques like batik, ajrakh, mud cloth and tsutsugaki which make use of resists and mordants painted onto the cloth, such as wax, mud or rice-paste.
the making of our itajime shibori textiles
Itajime, literally meaning "board-clamping" in Japanese, is one technique of shibori which uses pieces of wood clamped together around sections of folded fabric to resist the dye in particular shapes. Traditionally, the cloth was clamped between 2 wooden blocks intricately carved with the negative of the design one wanted to achieve. In modern times, more simple shaped blocks are used to resist the dye.
The first step is planning and preparation.
Shibori can be a complex process of folding and tieing, dying, unfolding then repeating for several more rounds of colour discharge and dyeing.
Fabric selection is also important - it should be light enough to fold several times and still allow the dye to penetrate the inner-most folds, and cut to size. We work with sections of 2.7-3m.
Next comes folding and clamping - the soul of the itajime technique.
The fabric is first dyed if a base colour other than white is desired. Then the folding is done; this can be done in an unlimited number of ways. The only limit is the imagination and skill of the artisan.
The result is a small, tight, and neatly folded bundle of fabric that now needs securing. In other shibori techniques, the securing is done using other tools, such as string or stitching. In itajime, wooden shaped blocks are clamped onto the fabric. The shape and positioning of the blocks determines the final pattern on the fabric.
Our partner artisans fold and clamp each and every piece of fabric by hand - one piece of fabric is used for one item of clothing. Therefore, slight variations will always exist between each piece - this represents the vast amount of time and effort that goes into hand crafting the fabric.
Differently shaped blocks and the position they're placed in will result in vastly different patterns.
We also experiment with alternative tools for securing the fabric, like butterfly clips.
The fabric is now ready for dying. Perfecting the colour and shade of the dye bath to meet our colour story requires skill and a keen eye. We use AZO free chemical dyes and dye the fabrics in small batches.
The clamped bundle is immersed for up to 20 minutes in the steaming vat, allowing the colour to seep into the inner-most folds of the fabric. One of the common characteristics of folded shibori is that the inner fabric will often be a lighter shade than the outer fold. The areas covered by the wooden blocks will resist the dye altogether and retain the original colour.
The fabric is washed and left to dry in the hot Bhuj sun.
This process is repeated as necessary, along with discharge baths which will remove the colour from the areas not covered by blocks.
And now the magic!
For me, as a novice, I often find the opening of the fabric to be a joyous surprise. The final design which emerges as the fabric is unfolded - the interplay of patterns and colours - is always unexpected.
All that is required is drying and ironing. We sell the finished cloth as scarves, or bring it back to our stitching unit in Delhi to create one-of-a-kind itajime clothing of unsurpassed beauty!
Our itajime partners are the Master Craftsmen Brothers Khatri: Abdullah and Jabbar, who live and work in Bhuj, Gujarat. The Khatri caste originally came from Punjab. They migrated to Sindh, where they converted to Islam, and then moved into the Kutch region of today’s Gujarat. Khatri artisanal families settled in areas where they had access to resources - like fresh, running water.
Since the 17th century, the brother’s ancestors were practicing the local and ancient art of bandhani tie-dye. When Abdullah was 17 years old he began learning bandhani from relatives and took it up to earn some pocket money. This grew into a business with his brother.
Today they work with 200 rural women on bandhani and are known far and wide for their innovation and exceptional work. Jabbar developed his innovations in bandhani to such a level that he was awarded the prestigious UNESCO Seal of Excellence in both 2006 and 2007.
Clamp dye (itajime), on the other hand, is a relatively new technique. According to Abdullah, a very simple version of clamp dye has been in practice for some 40 years in this region. In 2004, a US-based designer visited the Khatris. Together they experimented to create the elaborate clamp dye that the Khatri brothers practice today.
To create the itajime cloth, Abdullah and Jabbar work with a team of 10 men in their workshop in Bhuj. The brothers do all the folding and clamping, while their team assist in dyeing and additional tasks.
the story of shibori
The ancient art of manipulating cloth through tying, stitching, knotting or otherwise securing it, and then dyeing it to achieve specific coloured patterns binds cultures across space and time: from the earliest surviving examples of tie-dye found in Peru dating from around 500 AD, to the clamp-and-dye practiced in Japan, zha-ran of the Bai ethnic group in China, bandhani from the Indus River Civilisation and leheriya in Rajasthan, to plangi and tritik in Indonesia, nambu tigma in Tibet, to the tie-dye in West Africa and Berber communities, and to the psychedelic tie-dye of Western hippies.
Though each group has their own methods and styles, and final patterns and colours differ greatly, the overall technique is common to all.
This technique is called shibori.
Where did shibori come from?
“Many different types of shibori techniques have existed in the world. The oldest examples – pre-Columbian shibori alpaca found in Peru and silk found in fourth century tombs along the Silk Road in China – are from regions where the shibori traditions have not survived to the present day.”
“Shibori traditions existed for centuries in the Middle East and in the Indian subcontinent. Presently, active production in great quantities continues in western Africa, in southern China by minority people, and in the western regions of India. A lesser degree of production continues in northern Africa, the Middle East, Indonesia, and in the Himalayan region.”
“The materials and methods found in different shibori traditions vary widely, reflecting environmental, economic, and social specificities. The fibers may come from alpaca in the highlands of the Andes, sheep in the Himalayas, cotton grown in southwestern China, or from abaca grown in the jungle of the Philippines. The basic concept of shaped resist dying is apparent throughout a wide range of aesthetics, which are manifestations of cultural diversity.”
World Shibori Network
Shibori: the technique
There are countless ways in which fabric can be manipulated to create shibori - it can be bound, folded, twisted or compressed; stitched, clamped or knotted. Each method results in different patterns, determined by how the fabric absorbs and resists dye; thus the intensity of the dye bath and the fabric composition and thickness are equally as important to the end result. But part of the mystery and magic of shibori is that the artist can never be sure of the final look. An element of surprise is always present.
"Perhaps it is the lack of control one has in using the shibori technique that creates its allure. It is a meticulous process, and yet, there is an element of surprise as there is no way to predict the outcome once the cloth has been dipped into the vat of indigo. Colours, patterns, and hues bleed into each other, bringing life to each piece, and ensuring that no one outcome will be the same. The popularity of shibori today has emerged alongside a renewed focus on slow fashion, workmanship, and functionality."
Sophie Lo, Madesmith
Shibori in Japan
Shibori as practiced in Japan is a 1300 year old technique which evolved following its introduction from China. Given its age, it's surprising that the methods that are used today to create shibori are very similar to traditional methods used in Japan. Supposedly having been introduced from China, along with the Chinese style of dress, shibori was adapted in a unique way by the Japanese and is one of the oldest indigo dying techniques in Japan. It was among the goods donated by the Emperor Shoumu to the Toudai-ji Buddhist temple in Nara in the 8th century.
Shibori dying in indigo was especially popular amongst the lower class in feudal Japan. Unable to afford expensive fabrics like cotton and silk, cheap hemp clothing was widespread. This was particularly the case during the Edo period when the lower class was forbidden from wearing silk. Shibori emerged as a technique to renew old, faded, stained and damaged clothes.
Later on, during the peaceful Tokugawa Era from the 17th to 19th century when trade, arts and culture flourished, shibori further developed and took on a wider appeal. Many different regional techniques emerged and shibori became popular for not only the hemp dying of the lower class, but also for decorating silk for the aristocracy, who would commission artisans to create stunning kimonos. Methods differed from region to region and the art continued to develop at all social levels. The main production centers are Arimatsu and Narumi villages in Nagoya Prefecture.
Shibori in India
Regionally-developed techniques for fabric manipulation and dying have existed for millennia in the sub-continent; the best known of these being bandhani. Bandhani derives from the Sanskrit word banda meaning "to tie" and developed during the Indus River Civilisation, where the earliest evidence of dying dates back to 4000 BC. However, the typical bandhani style of concentrations of small dots that we are familiar with today dates back to the 6th century AD where evidence of this style is found in the Ajanta caves.
Bandhani makes use of every colour under the rainbow, though the predominant colours used are red, yellow, blue, green and black. Bandhani is today only practiced in the areas where it was developed - Sindh (Pakistan), Punjab, Gujarat and Rajasthan (India). Bandhani is made through covering small pinches of fabric with thread, creating geometric patterns through the concentration of small dots.
Another technique practiced in India is leheriya; leher meaning “waves of the ocean”. This technique is practiced only in a few areas of Rajasthan, making it quite unique. Leheriya is created through a complex method of rolling, folding and re-rolling the fabric to create waves.
The Japanese style of shibori was introduced to India, supposedly by Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, in the early 20th century and is now practiced in craft clusters in Delhi, Gujarat and Rajasthan though the quality and mastery of shibori is far advanced in Japan.