Shibori cushion

I’ve finally started turning some of my shibori samples into useful items. The first is a cushion.

I think that the intermediate stages of producing shibori – stitching and pleating – actually look  very attractive in themselves, so the photos below show each different step in producing the cushion cover.

Stitched semicircles on folded calico
Calico after pulling all the threads tight and securing
Other side of the calico after pulling the threads tight
After dyeing with indigo and unpicking the stitches
The finished cushion!
Close-up detail of shibori circle




I’ve noted before, particularly when working with felt, that materials tend to find their own way. I start off with a vision in my mind of how the finished article will look, but for various reasons it doesn’t work out that way – bits of yarn may move, the colours don’t combine as I expect, or the material shrinks or stiffens more than I anticipated.

It’s part of the fun of experimenting and learning as I go along. Sometimes it’s due to poor technique – I’m too careless, or rushed, or impatient. Sometimes it’s because of my inexperience. And sometimes I don’t know why it happens – it just does.

My latest example is a piece of cotton calico that I dyed with indigo. I just wanted some plain, dark blue fabric to use with some of the shibori pieces I’ve made, to turn into bags, purses or cushion covers. So I cut a wide strip of calico, folded it very loosely into three to make it easier to put in and pull out of the indigo vat, and pegged a string in one corner. I didn’t wet it – just put it in the vat, poked it with a stick to ensure it was all submerged, and left it for 10 minutes.

I expected the result to be a plain, dark blue piece of cloth. But as you can see in the photo above, I somehow ended up with an abstract pattern with no idea how. All I know is that if I tried to reproduce it, I’d end up with something completely different!

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!