Kelly’s Shibori Challenge

Hanging shibori fabric.  Image by Katie, courtesy ofWikipedia

Kelly here:

1) I know, I know. What’s with Root Simple and all this Japanese stuff? I don’t know!

2) This is less a post than a plan. I’m going to tell you all my plan so I can’t get lazy, back out, and watch Netflix instead of working.  As I execute this plan, I’ll post some more and so hopefully will share some useful information with you along the way,

The plan is in three parts:

Part the First: I’m going to make natural dyes using common plants like red cabbage and sour grass, following the instructions in The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes: Personalize Your Craft with Organic Colors from Acorns, Blackberries, Coffee, and Other Everyday Ingredients by Sasha Duerr. It’s a gorgeous little book and very inspirational–we’ll see if the instructions work.

Part the Second: I will apply these dyes to fabric using shibori techniques. Shibori is the art of dying fabric using pattern making techniques like folding, binding and stitching the fabric prior to soaking it in the dye bath. It’s super-classy Japanese tie dye. Except common tie dye is to shibori as this post is  to a Shakespeare sonnet.

I just got a book which is supposed to be the classic text on shibori from the library: Shibori: The Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing. It’s an encyclopedia of all the (many, many) shibori techniques–with how-to’s– and lots of photos of mind-blowingly gorgeous old textiles. As a bonus, in the appendix they tell you how to mix up your own indigo dye.

The shibori cloth crafted by ancient Japanese artisans is maybe just a little beyond my skill set.  However, at Honestly… WTF you can see the nice results that crafty people get when they try their hand with some basic shibori techniques.

Part the Third: I will sew this fabric up into cocktail napkins, something along the lines of the napkins in this post on Design Sponge. We need cocktail napkins so I don’t have to keep buying paper napkins when we have groups at our house, and more importantly, to reintroduce myself to the sewing machine. Technically I know how to sew, but I’ve never been very good at it, and now I’m so rusty I’ll be lucky to remember how thread the machine. The napkins will remind me how to sew in a straight line.

Here’s the challenge:  By May 15th (1 month plus a few extra days because I have to travel)  I have to be able to show you some finished shibori-dyed cocktail napkins. And there will be how-to posts along the way. Or posts relating disasters.

If anyone has tips on foraged dyes, shibori or cocktail napkin techniques, please do chime in.

Leave a comment


  1. I’d make fabulous Shibori fisherman’s pants or a shawl or a loose jacket to wear to jazz on the lawn one breezy spring evening. But that’s just me. Make cocktail napkins out of an old pillowcase and save this gorgeous fabric for something that makes your heart skip a beat. Best wishes!

    • I’m right there with you. I am going to make the napkins with an old sheet. I figure I may as well play with the shibori techniques while I play with the dyes. It’s all for practice. Later, when I get better at both sewing and dying, I’d really like to make a robe, a yukata, that I dyed myself.

  2. Last year I grew my own indigo (Indigofera suffruticosa) from seed purchased through Native Seeds SEARCH. I found the plant very easy to grow (I live in Phoenix). After some research I settled on a simple fermentation process which was described in an article that came with the seeds. The experiment ended in success! I ended up dying some natural churro wool and some linen fabric. I’m very excited for this year to grow more and plan on enough to knit a sweater and dye 3 yards of cotton or linen fabric.

    My advice….have fun.

    • If I remember correctly I ended up with about 10oz of leaves and stems to dye with, about three plants which had reached the stage they were going to bloom (the right time to harvest). With that amount I dyed about 8 oz of wool. I dyed the 8 oz in 4 skeins of 2 oz each, going from a dark blue to a lighter blue.

      This year I’ll be planting more seeds, hoping for 2 pounds of plant material.

  3. Boy, you’ve really set out a real challenge for yourself! Good luck!

    My go-to guide for dyeing with weeds, etc. is Rita Buchanan’s “A Dyer’s Garden” (ISBN 1-883010-07-1 Interweave Press). There’s a ton of how-to information and even better, she presents dozens of dye plants – individually – with instructions on how much to use, what mordants are best, how to grow this plant yourself and, best of all, she offers color samples of each dye plant using different mordants on wool and silk (darn! no cotton). The book is widely available at sheep and wool-type festivals, but you can probably buy it anywhere.

    I’m looking forward to your results.

    • In response to your indigo itch, “A Dyer’s Garden” indicates that you’ll need 8 ounces of indigo leaves to dye 2-4 ounces of wool. The author also provides precise instructions for using indigo (as well as other blue dye plants: Japanese indigo and woad) without the lengthy traditional fermentation process because you’ll be using the leaves fresh, immediately after harvesting.

  4. As a tie-dye artist this is something I’ve always wanted to try. I just got a book on it myself so perhaps we can learn together, so to speak! Good luck on the dying and the sewing and have fun!

  5. I used Sasha Duerr’s book last summer to dye all kinds of things. The red cabbage is bunk. The beautiful lavender color you get starts fading immediately. Before the age of synthetic dying, only the wealthy could have purple garments, because there were so few ways to create a color-fast purple dye. You can get it with indigo and a lead mordant, I believe, but heavy metals are tricky to work with, and kind of negate the eco-friendly nature of natural dying! I had great results from my indigo experiments, and get this … carrot tops! Acid yellow. Awesome. Have fun and good luck!

    • Thanks for the tips. I was going to fall for the cabbage thing, but it makes total sense. I knew that purple was the royal color because of the difficulty of achieving the dye, but somehow I didn’t connect that fact with the contradictory fact that the infinitely common cabbage is supposed to make purple dye.

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