What Are Shibori Patterns?

Posted on August 6, 2019 | Updated on February 18, 2021

Shibori is a textile art technique Japanese artists created to dye material. You might envision it as tie-dyeing on steroids. Rather than merely twisting the material, practitioners of this method bind, fold, twist and bunch fabric to create beautiful and unique patterns. It takes years of practice to perfect the look of the most intricate shibori patterns.

The word shibori derives from the verb shiboru, which means “to wring, squeeze, press.” The result is a soft, blurry pattern on cloth. Artisans use many different methods to create shibori patterns.

Indigo is the dye traditionally used for shibori, giving the patterns a deep blue color, but today’s patterns use any color imaginable. The techniques in shibori include tie-dyeing, pole wrapping, folding and clamping, pleating and binding, stitch resist and looped-binding with a hook needle and string.

History of Shibori

Dyeing fabric by manipulating it dates back 1,300 or more years ago in China. Originally, poor people relied on the technique because they couldn’t afford expensive silk and cotton. Shibori allowed people to take older clothes, redye them and make them appear new again.

During the eighth century in Japan, Emperor Shomu donated some shibori-dyed cloth to a Buddist temple. Today, this cloth is one of the oldest known examples of shibori fabric. Even though most people used indigo because of its accessibility and affordability, some also used madder and beetroot to make rose and purple patterns.

You probably recognize the tie-dyed patterns from stylish clothes from the 1970s and later. Shibori techniques inspired that look. You’ll find samples of shibori today on all types of designs, and you may even find it on websites from time to time. When it comes to using shibori in designs today, the only limitation is your imagination. Here are six examples of shibori styles.

1. Napkins

If you’re staging a home, you might want to display these beautiful shibori napkins for a trendy look. The blue goes with nearly any decor and adds a touch of tradition to even modern homes. The tutorial describes the technique used to make the napkins. You can also buy napkins with shibori designs, but if you want a truly unique look, your best bet is to make your own. You can use traditional blue or any color you choose.

2. Totes

Shibori looks cute on fashion accessories such as this tote. The pattern is reminiscent of ocean waves, and the designer adds a dark blue fish to one corner to enhance that effect. Because the pattern allows much of the dye onto the fabric, the tote is a darker color that won’t show dirt and grime from days spent at the beach or poolside.

3. Bedding

Bedding is the perfect choice for shibori designs. You can create a unique, custom look that is perfect for a guest room or a teen’s room. In the screenshot above, the crafter took shibori bedding and made a pallet outside on the ground. This arrangement would work well for an outdoor movie night or a relaxing afternoon under the backyard trees. Kim of Beehive Art goes into detail about the shibori technique she used to create this look. You could also create a comforter with shibori patterns and then pair it with plain blue or white sheets.

4. Flower Pattern Fabric

The beautiful floral pattern on this fabric would work well for a tablecloth or child’s bedroom. This design is so soft that you could also use a faded version as the background for a website. Achieving this pattern requires a more advanced technique that may take time to perfect. You could also buy pre-dyed fabric, scan it and turn it into a background.

5. Pillows

Every good designer knows a room design feels lacking without a few fabulous pillows. However, if you’re on a budget, the cost of accessories like these can be prohibitive. Fortunately, you can re-cover pillows you have or pick up at a thrift store with the shibori technique. Keep in mind that when you buy fabric secondhand, you should always run the item through your dryer on high heat for at least 20 minutes to be on the safe side and not bring bedbugs into your home or a client’s home.

6. Roman Shades

If you’re looking for something even more involved and to tie all the other elements of your design together, check out these DIY Roman shades in shibori pattern. The indigo blue creates a subtle effect, but you could use any color that matches your decor. Keep in mind this pattern is already subtle and faded, so you’ll want to accent it with a brighter color over light-colored fabric.


Other Uses for Patterns

There are so many different uses for shibori patterns, it would be impossible to cover them all in a single article T-shirts for a family reunion, revamping a tattered pair of old jeans, unique athletic shoes and many more. On top of those uses, as a designer, you likely see the possibilities for using patterns in logos, print ads and anywhere else the inspiration strikes you.

Shibori may be an ancient technique, but it is still as relevant and striking today as it ever was. Modern dyes and access to different types of fabrics have given this art form new life

About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog in their RV, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or curled up with a good book with her cats Gem and Cali.

You can find more of Eleanor's work at www.eleanorhecks.com.

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