Home-cooked shibori

Next term at Morley College we’re going to be looking at shibori dyeing, a technique that uses tying, pleating, stitching and wrapping cloth before dipping it in indigo it to produce pattern and texture – I’m really looking forward to this.

But this term I’ve been using a similar technique, without the dye, on nuno-felted net scarves to produce pleats (it also softens the net). After tying the scarf around a piece of plastic drainpipe, I put it in a tea urn for about an hour to steam. You can see the result left.

However, the term is now finished and I want to make some scarves to sell at Spitalfields. So I had to find a way of doing ‘cooked shibori’ at home without a tea urn.

Improvised shibori steamer

My first thought was to use a large stockpot, but the tallest one I could find was only about a foot high. Because the idea is to steam the scarf, not immerse it in the boiling water, you have to leave the part of the drainpipe that stands in the water uncovered by fabric, so this would have severely limited the width of the fabric you could use to about 9 inches (maybe slightly more once it’s bunched up).

Then I spotted an empty 20-litre tin of cooking oil that had been thrown out by a restaurant. This was much taller – around 15 inches – and seemed perfect. So I got Ever Supportive Partner (ESP) to carry it home and remove the top with some tinner snips. I then tested it by adding hot water to a depth of about three inches, draped a towel over it and added the lid from my largest frying pan and voilà – a home-made shibori steamer!

Scarves wrapped around drainpipes ready to steam

I bagged a leftover piece of drainpipe from another friend, wrapped and tied a scarf around it and put in the steamer to ‘cook’ for an hour. Interestingly, when it came out, the pleats were less defined than the scarf I steamed at college.

I speculated that there could be a couple of reasons for this. One was that at college I used paper string, which is quite thin and flat. At home I used a thicker, rounder string, so the creases would probably be less sharp. The other reason could be that the drainpipe at college had about twice the diameter of the one I used at home. This means that there were more layers of scarf for the string to resist on the home-cooked scarf, so the creases in the bottom layers may not be as sharp.

I couldn’t lay my hands on any wider drainpipe, so I re-steamed the scarf using the thinner paper string – and indeed the creases came out a bit sharper. You can see the different results below (sorry for the poor quality of the pictures).

Scarf pleated with thicker, rounder string
Scarf pleated with thinner, flat paper string

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Flextiles uses shibori, ecoprinting and felting to create original, one-off upcycled pieces. Extending the life of a garment by an extra nine months reduces its environmental impact by 20-30%.

2 thoughts on “Home-cooked shibori”

  1. Hi Elaine,

    The diameter of the pipe I have at home is about 7cm, but the one at college is about twice that. I think the wider the better, as it means the string doesn’t have to pleat through so many layers of fabric – but the narrower pipe does mean I can fit two of them in the pot and so steam two scarves at the same time!

    The pressure cookers I’ve seen aren’t really that tall (as I’ve said, you need quite a tall pot to allow for the width of the fabric and to keep it out of the water). But if you do have a tall one, give it a go – and let me know how you get on!


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