Yohji Yamamoto and shibori

Yohji Yamamoto: Shibori from Victoria and Albert Museum on Vimeo.

Rather belatedly, I’ve just come across this video on the V&A site showing the process of shibori dyeing on a garment designed by Yohji Yamamoto (I haven’t been to the exhibition yet either).

You can really see the labour that goes into this. Despite all the advances in textile technology, here is a man clamping a dress into an elegantly crafted wooden pot, beautifully bound with rope, dunking it and swirling it in a vat of steaming dye, and snipping off samples to check the colour by eye.

Nice to know that there will always be some things that require human skill rather than monotonous machinery.

Double dip shibori

So far I’ve just tied, stitched or clamped the fabric and left it in the indigo vat for around 10 minutes or so.

Last week I tried a double dip. I clamped two circular coasters, one on each side of the fabric, together, and put the sample in the indigo for five minutes. When I took it out and removed the clamps, I had a white circle on a blue background. I then tied the fabric to a piece of drainpipe, wound paper string around it, and scrunched it together at one end of the pipe. Then I put it back in the indigo for about eight minutes.

The result (above) looks like a moon with fine drifts of cloud. I was surprised to see how much of the original white circle remained. I expected there to be some fine white lines across the original circle, but that the rest of it would have been dyed a paler blue. Perhaps this is because the scrunching prevents more of the cloth being exposed to the dye – if I had tied the fabric and left it flat, there may have been less white.

The sample below wasn’t a double dip, but a stitched sample using oversewing rather than running stitch. The marks at the top, which  are more delicate, are the first ones I stitched: I sewed every stitch individually. As I went on, I sort of rolled the stitches around the fabric, which made it much quicker, as I could do several stitches at once. But the marks are less delicate.

And, interestingly, the marks on the two sides of the cloth look slightly different – the other side is below.



Shibori part 2

At class last Wednesday I continued experimenting with shibori indigo dyeing. More examples and methodology below.

The two samples above were made by wrapping the cloth around a piece of drainpipe, winding a piece of nylon string (knotted at intervals) around the cloth and then squashing the cloth down to create folds.

This one was made by rolling the muslin around a thin piece of rope, starting from one corner and rolling diagonally. I then pushed the ends of the roll towards the middle and tied the ends of the rope together. It’s similar to one I did last week, but more dye penetrated this one because the rope was thicker.

Now for some stitched samples. The sunburst above was created by pinching two layers of fabric together and stitching them together with running stitch. On the ring in the middle the stitches were very close to the fold, while on the rays the stitches were further from the fold, creating a larger area of undyed cloth.

This sample used running stitch in various patterns – horizontally across the cloth on the right, in a spiral on the left.

Tying with thread – here, I wanted to have a series of blue circles in a sea of white. You can see a photo of the effect I was aiming for in this post on the Ardent Thread. However, I couldn’t get the binding close enough together to exclude dye between the rings. Still, it’s quite attractive in its own right.

Here, I folded the cloth in irregular concertina  pleats diagonally, and tied it with paper string. I don’t think the binding was tight enough, as some dye has penetrated the pleats.

Finally, a very simple method – I just scrunched the fabric into a ball and held it in place with a couple of rubber bands. I was hoping for more of a “crackle” effect – this is a bit too hippie for my taste!

Starting real shibori

Last night in class we started experimenting with shibori dyeing, using cotton muslin and indigo. The indigo was already mixed up in a big plastic vat with a lid – which is important to keep on, as indigo oxidises on contact with air, turning from green to blue. You can see this when you take your cloth out of the vat – it’s actually green at first, turning blue in front of your eyes!

The indigo is mixed with various chemicals to help fix it, including caustic soda (though our tutor, Debby, assured us that it is at such a low concentration it doesn’t damage the skin). Despite this, indigo does apparently tend to run – rather like jeans when you wash them.

Essentially, shibori entails using various types of resist to prevent the dye reaching the cloth, so it’s a negative process – in our case the marks were white against the dyed blue cloth. You can use pretty much anything – string, thread or elastic bands, stitching pulled up tight, clamps or bulldog clips, wooden or plastic blocks – to block the dye from the cloth. You can also pleat the cloth or roll it around rope,  ruler or plastic tubing, or tie items like stones into it. The world is your oyster!

When using indigo it’s important to remember to wet the cloth before putting it in the dye to prevent the indigo “wicking” through into the dry cloth inside – run it under the tap until it’s thoroughly soaked and then squeeze out excess water to avoid diluting the indigo too much.

Below are some photos of some of my experimental results, with notes on what I did. I’ve brought some muslin home to do some more elaborate stitching patterns for next week, as they can be too time consuming to do in class.

Above – I put a piece of string along one side of the cloth and rolled the cloth around it like a swiss roll. Then I pushed the ends of the cloth towards the centre so that it was all scrunched up and tied the ends of the string together. As you can see, not much dye penetrated the inside of the cloth, but the edges have a nice honeycomb effect. Debby says that a thicker piece of rope is more effective, so I’ll try that next time.

Above – I pleated the cloth in concertina folds and then wrapped several rubber bands around it. Again, the edges look nice, but not much dye penetrated the inside. Perhaps fewer rubber bands would leave more space for the dye to soak between. Or irregular pleats that expose more cloth to the dye.

This was the most time-consuming sample I did. I marked out a grid of pencil dots on the cloth, then pinched the cloth at each point and tied a thread around it. This was a bit fiddly – but it was even more fiddly trying to remove the thread without cutting into the cloth after dyeing. I was wearing latex gloves when handling the dyed cloth to try to avoid turning my hands blue – but it was impossible to wear gloves while removing the thread!

However, I think the results are worth it. I really like the creases and pinched tips that remain in the fabric even when it’s dry, though I suppose they could be ironed out. They remind me of shells on a beach.

Finally, my least successful experiment – I did this in a hurry at the end of class! I folded  the cloth diagonally into eighths and clamped it – but the indigo dyed pretty much only the outside (and didn’t even get through to the other side of the cloth). I guess it might make an interesting flag!

Pelmet Vilene bowls

I was going to write about this last week but had a bit of a technical disaster (think tea + keyboard). Plus I had a sudden rush of paid work, which rather sapped my creative energies. Still, I shouldn’t complain – it pays the bills and will run out soon.

Back to the point. During the second half of last term at Morley College we were experimenting with textiles and heat. One of the most popular pieces of equipment was the heat press, which we used to transfer dyes from pre-printed papers onto thick Vilene (pelmet or craft Vilene), polyester and fleece. Apparently synthetics are much better than natural fabrics for this. Some students also used dye to paint their own patterns onto paper, which they transferred to fabric using the heat press. Colours that looked quite sober on paper came out much brighter on the fabric, so the results were always unpredictable!

Our tutor provided a handout with diagrams of how to make 3D hats out of Vilene, by scoring it and folding along the score lines. I have to say I found it very difficult to see how to get from a flat semi-circle to an amazing sculptural 3D form – I just don’t have that sort of mind! So I decided to stick to a simple bowl.

First I cut out a circle of Vilene and then removed a slice before dyeing one side purple, using pre-printed paper, in the heat press.

I dyed the other side red, then scattered a few sunflower seeds on top before dyeing again with blue.

(The first time I did this I put too many seeds on top. As a result, despite the pressure, the dye paper didn’t touch the Vilene, and I just ended up with a pile of sunflower seeds that were blue on one side!)

As expected, sunflower seeds prevented the blue dye from reaching the Vilene, so the area around them remained red. More unexpectedly, the red areas seemed to be linked, so they look a bit like a matrix of neurons. The seeds also left small indentations, adding texture as well.

The final stage was to score two circles into the Vilene on different sides, fold along the scores and stitch the edges together to form a bowl.

Finished bowl - inside
Finished bowl - outside

It was a bit tricky trying to sew the bowl together with the folds – as you can see from the picture above, the stitching isn’t quite straight! But I made a better job of the second bowl (below), which I dyed re-using the blue dye paper from the first bowl, to get a positive print where the sunflower seeds had been rather than a negative print.

A trio of starfish

One of my latest themes is starfish – I’ve been experimenting with the shape in various forms, as you can see from the picture above. They could be used as pincushions, or just as decorative objects in their own right. More details on each below.

I made this felt one by wrapping merino wool around a bubble wrap resist. When it was felted and started to shrink, I cut a small hole in the back to remove the resist and put my finger in each of the legs in turn to rub and full completely. In the centre are a few grey silk threads, though they don’t show up very well against the orange.

When it was dry, I hand embroidered the pattern, stuffed it and patched up the hole with a small piece of felt.


This was made in the same way as the other one, except that I added some leftover scraps of embroidery thread along the legs at the felting stage. After removing the resist and fulling, I created the little spikes in the centre by threading a large-eye needle with a wisp of merino, pushing it in from the outside and bringing it back out about a quarter of an inch away. Then I trimmed both ends to about half an inch and rolled them together between wet and soapy thumb and finger until they felted.

I really like the concept of felt spikes/protrusions – I think I shall be experimenting a bit more with these.


This came out of an experiment from using the heat press in class. I cut out a starfish shape from white polyester fleece and dyed it yellow in the heat press, using dye transfer paper. Then I put some grains of pearl barley on top and dyed it again with red transfer paper. The fleece seemed to melt slightly against the bits of barley, making them stick, but when I was sewing it together a few of them came loose, so I had to add a couple of stitches on top of each grain to make sure they didn’t fall off.