Of infinite possibilities
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." Source: 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 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.
“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.” Source: World Shibori Network
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." Source: 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.