How to get started with shibori resist dyeing

I have become increasingly interested in shibori dyeing methods over recent months. The more I look into it, the more fascinating and complex the methods become, and I’m eager to learn more about it. So I am far from an expert, but everyone needs to start somewhere, and its really rewarding when you do. So for anyone else out there who just wants to give shibori dyeing a go, here’s a step by step guide for absolute beginners…the start of a whole new adventure I suspect.

First, weigh your fabric so you can work out how much dye you need to use. The best types of fabric to use are those with natural fibres; 100% cotton is great for starters.

Now its time to create the resistance to the dye. There are countless methods you can use here including stitching, binding and folding. Essentially you are looking to manipulate the fabric somehow to prevent the dye reaching certain parts of the fabric. I took two approaches to begin with…

  1. Binding some buttons with thread and creating a series of circles around them. If using thread, go for something that is known for its strength (Gutermann thread is recommended time and again). Apparently its also best to choose a colour that is similar to the dye you are using, in case any of the colour bleeds.
  2. Wrapping elastic bands around some beads. This is a lot quicker and simpler to do, so I highly recommend this approach if you are just itching to give shibori a go with as minimal fuss as possible.

Whatever method of binding you choose, be sure to bind very tightly at this stage (and if you are using a stitched method, keep those stitches really small before pulling them up tightly together). This is why strong thread is required.

Now prepare your fabric by washing it or giving it a good soak. This depends on what you intend your dyed fabric to be used for – if clothing I’d recommend a full wash, otherwise a good soak in water should suffice.

Prepare your dye bath according to the manufacturer’s instructions. In my case, this meant:

  • Adding my dye to warm water
  • Adding salt to a separate bowl of warm water
  • Giving everything a good mix
  • Then combining the two (again, giving the final solution a good mix)

To that end, a couple of fairly large bowls or buckets are needed for this activity (and a space that doesn’t matter if you make a mess…yep, I of course got purple dye on the carpet).

And now you can add your fabric to your dye. Again, you need to follow your manufacturer’s instructions as to how much to aggravate the fabric in the dye, and how long to leave it for. To a certain extent, this is also where practice and experience comes into play; you’ll get to learn the best approach to get the results you want the more you try this out.

Once your fabric has been in the dye the require amount of time, remove, rinse and wring out as much as possible. Again, it depends on what you intend to use your fabric for as to how you approach this; for fabric that will be turned into clothes, its probably a good idea to put it through a rinse cycle in your washing machine at this stage, or even a wash cycle.

Now its time to dry. Again, check the instructions that came with your chosen dye as sometimes the recommendation is to avoid direct sunlight or heat. I propped my clothes airer over the bath for this which worked really well as any drips didn’t cause too much concern.

Once dry, its time for the big unveiling. Remove all your resists carefully (especially if you have bound your fabric with thread…what a shame at this stage to make a hole in your fabric by mistake).

Press your final pieces and step back to admire your work. Hopefully, you have created pleasing and effective patterns that are leaving you hungry to try more. Here’s how mine turned out…

Buttons bound with thread.
Beads bound with elastic.

…and yes, I’m now eager to have another go trying something a bit different. Truthfully I’d like to get into the really intricate stitched patterns that look so beautiful when done, but that is perhaps ambitious for these early attempts (although I’ll add another blog post when I get there).

I hope that’s given you everything you need to have a go at shibori. And if you love to sew, you are very welcome to join the growing community signing up to my Creative Sewing Challenge. Its just a simple way to help us keep sewing a priority in our busy lives. Sign up to receive a free prompt each month, along with ideas and tutorials to inspire new projects. Find our more here, or sign up below.

And here’s a handy pin for later…