What is Shibori?

Shibori is an ancient Japanese dyeing technique most recognized for its intricacy of patterns and organic appeal. The dyeing technique is mostly used on natural fabrics, and the result is a complex mixture of shapes and patterns that are best used on clothing, accessories, home furnishings, and more.

Let’s take a deeper look into the world of shibori and the techniques used to achieve different results.

What is Shibori?

Shibori is an ancient Japanese resist-dyeing technique. It is most commonly known for its use of indigo dye, which results in different shades of blue colors in the fabric.

Shibori comes from the Japanese word, “shiboru” which means “to squeeze, press, or wring.” It is defined as a manual tie-dyeing technique typically using an indigo plant dye to color fabrics. Other plants used in shibori include madder and purple root dyes.

The main fabrics used in shibori are natural fibers, such as cotton, linen, hemp, and silk. The result of the dyeing technique is an infinite number of patterns and shapes, brought about by the folding, twisting, knotting, and compressing of the fabric before and once it’s dyed.

The final result of the dyeing process depends on how the fabric is folded, bounded, or tied, as well as how it’s exposed to the dye. Because true indigo dye develops with oxygen, the piece of fabric may be repeatedly dunked in the vat dye to allow the different shades of blue to deepen, or to accurately achieve the designed indigo hue.

The Difference Between Shibori and Tie-Dye

Many have asked what the difference is between traditional American tie-dye versus shibori. Though both use resist-dyeing techniques, tie-dye mostly uses one technique such as tying and binding fabric to create swirls or circular patterns of dye, whereas shibori involves a vast array of techniques that include folding, stitching, shaping, and more.

Tie-dye also involves different colors, creating a rainbow of hues in a fabric, while shibori only makes use of one color- which is mostly blue or indigo.

Shibori also features a more organic aesthetic because only natural fabrics are used, and only natural indigo is applied. Tie-dye makes use of any kind of dye, be it natural or synthetic, and they can also be used on a wide range of fabrics, rather than just on natural fibers.

History of Shibori

Shibori is not originally a Japanese technique, but the resist-dyeing process used has its origins in China. It was brought to Japan where local indigo was used to dye natural fabrics such as silk and linen.

The earliest recorded presence of shibori textile comes from the 8th century, where a piece of cloth dyed in shibori technique was found among the goods donated by Emperor Shomu to the Todai-Ji in Nara.

However, shibori did not reach popularity in Japan until the 17th century, which is the Edo period. During this time, ordinary Japanese men and women were not allowed to wear silk, only the elites were. This caused regular Japanese people to look for an alternative to their textiles, and shibori came to light due to its highly decorative nature, while also being available in linen and cotton.

The Appeal of Shibori

Though shibori is an ancient dyeing technique that originates from the 8th century, and is still being used on modern fabrics today, the technique remains true to the original processes. Originally used by artisans, fine artists and contemporary designers are currently using them to achieve organic, sustainable, and handmade goods.

Shibori is applied to clothing, fashion, home decor, and furnishings, and even in art pieces, paintings, and sculptures.

The lack of control is one of its appeals, as an artist or artisan is never fully sure about the outcome. There is always an element of surprise when making shibori fabric, as not one result is ever exactly the same. Different patterns, colors, and hues are achieved differently by each piece, resulting in a personal, ephemeral, and intimate process.

Artists and designers today pay homage to age-old techniques while also injecting modern innovations to shibori while paying respect to its forebears.

The artful interaction between human hands, the fabric, and dyes create unique and organic shibori pieces that can never truly be replicated.

Shibori Techniques

There are infinite ways to do shibori through folding, binding, knitting, twisting, squeezing, stitching, and a wide range of other techniques to create the unique patterns that result from resist-dyeing with indigo dye. To give you a better understanding of how shibori is done, here are 6 of the most common techniques used in shibori:

1. Kanoko Shibori

This technique is the process that mostly resembles Western tie-dye methods. It involves binding several sections of fabric to create the desired pattern. Thread is used to bind the fabric.

2. Arashi Shibori

“Arashi ” is the Japanese word for “storm,” and this means that the resulting pattern of this shibori technique shows diagonal shapes that resemble driving through the rain of a heavy storm.

Arashi Shibori is also known as pole-wrapping shibori and involves wrapping the fabric diagonally around a pole. The fabric is then tightly bound with thread and then scrunched up. The result is a pleated cloth with diagonal designs of white, blue, and shades of blue patterns.

3. Miura Shibori

Miura Shibori is also known as looped binding. This involves taking a needle and plucking sections of the cloth. The thread is then flipped around each section twice with the resulting design looking like water. The thread is not knitted, making it easy to wind and unwind the thread around the fabric.

4. Kumo Shibori

This technique uses pleating and binding. Fabric is pleated very finely and evenly and then bound in very close sections. The result is a very specific and precise spider-like design.

5. Nui Shibori

This technique is also known as stretch shibori. It involves having simple running stitches along a section of the fabric and then pulling the thread tight to gather the cloth before dunking it into a vat dye of indigo.

6. Itajime Shibori

And lastly, itajime shibori involves using different shapes and sandwiching these shapes with the fabric. Using a C-clamp to hold them in place, the shapes prevent the dye from penetrating the fabric, printing, or rather resist-dyeing on the surface of the cloth.

Check out this video for a nice demonstration of: Itajime Shibori, Arashi Shibori, Kumo Shibori. I feel it’s one thing to hear me describe the techniques, but it’s helpful to visualize them.

How to Care for Shibori Fabrics

Before using shibori fabric, they must be rinsed well in warm water. They are then air-dried completely and can be hand-washed after or thrown in a washing machine with mild detergent. They can also be ironed on low-heat settings.

Also, you may want to check out our guide on how long to let tie dye sit if you’re not achieving the affects you want, this could be a key factor.


Shibori is a resist-dyeing technique from Japan that makes use of indigo plant dye to create unique patterns of indigo colors on the fabric. By using a series of techniques that involve folding, binding, twisting, knotting, and pressing, shibori fabric reveals an intricate pattern that’s always unique each time. It’s allure lies in the element of surprise in each process since no two shibori fabric is ever exactly the same.

Tie dying is always fun for all ages. If you want to take it up a step and made heart shape tie dye items click here to learn how.