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Designers, it seems, are in a blue mood as of late. The reason, however, is a bit of a twist (make that, literally): shibori. The ancient Japanese dyeing technique used to transform truistic cloth into vivid blue textiles imprinted with kaleidoscopic patterns by way of twisting, stitching, folding, and binding, has been slowly amassing converts over the past few years. Those previously enamored by the summer camp-like charms of tie-dye, or the grandeur of global textiles (think: bolts of batik and miles of mudcloth), have been captured by shibori’s casual charisma, not to mention it’s intriguing indigo hue. Designers have employed shibori for nearly everything, from pillows to tablecloths, rocketing it to one of the decades’ most searched-for search terms. Which is all to say: the outcry for “more shibori” has been never been more fierce.

Like decorating with any raw textile, turning shibori into an elevated element is all about presentation (matted in a frame, yes, make-shifted into curtains by tossing it over a tension rod, no). To help provide inspiration, we’re spotlighting the shibori dyeing process, plus, providing ideas on how to showcase this blue mood maker to its fullest (and truest) potential.

shibori
Photo by Chalit Saphaphak

The History of Shibori

Shibori may seem like the latest twist in design, but it’s actually an ancient artform that dates back to pre-17th century China. The craft eventually migrated to Japan where it gained momentum in the Edo Period, which spanned from the 17th to 19th centuries. Shibori was popularized mainly by Japan’s lower class, who, looking for an alternative to contraband silk, turned to Shibori to doctor plain frocks. 

While there’s a good deal that distinguishes shibori from the American summertime past-time of tie-dye, it’s shibori’s vivacious indigo hue that makes the most obvious distinction. Traditionally, the vivid hue was culled from soaked and fermented indigo leaves, a species of bean plant that grows rampant across Asia, as well as parts of Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Iran.

Shibori is a resist-dyeing technique—essentially an umbrella term used to identify all textiles that are created by restricting portions of the cloth from dye in order to produce both dyed and undyed sections. Traditionally, shibori artists used a series of small, repeated stitches to bind areas of the cloth and create mesmerizing patterns, but today, shibori techniques have been simplified for the casual DIY-er, meaning stitches have been swapped in favor of rubber bands and string.

shibori
Photo by Björn Wallander / OTTO

Tied and Blue: Our Favorite (Beginner-Friendly) Dyeing Techniques

Itajime Shibori

One of the shibori dyeing techniques that has won over serendipitous shibori crafters thanks to its low-effort, high-impact derivatives is Itajime shibori. Itajime shibori uses a gridwork of rubber bands to secure two pieces of wood on either side of a folded square of fabric to create areas where the dye can’t reach. Upon unveiling, even those who applied those most nominal of effort will be rewarded with an expanse of striking, window pane-like patterns. A heavy resemblance to tie-dye makes Itajime shibori feel at once nostalgic and new.

Arashi shibori

Arashi shibori is another method that has been scaled back from its ancient origins to suit today’s dip-dyeing novices. Traditionally carried out by wrapping fabric around a metal heavy pole, bunching, and securing the cloth with rope before rolling through a vat of dye via manpower, Arashi Shibori has been pared down to a process that can be carried out solo by wrapping a cloth around a length of PVC pipe and submerging it in a 5-gallon bucket of dye. While infinitely easier than the ancient process, this modern hack produces a diagonally pleated print that mimics slanting rain (Arashi means “storm”). In addition to yielding the most abstract of shibori patterns, Arashi shibori is a refreshing deviation from shibori’s more common, linear-leaning incarnations. 

shibori
Photo by Brittany Ambridge / OTTO

How to Decorate with Shibori

As is the case with most beautiful textiles, there’s potential to use shibori in its most natural state or elaborately fashion it into something new. Get inspired on how to decorate with shibori with the trove of ideas below. 

Bedeck a Bed or Sofa

Rehabbing an old sofa or bed gets significantly simpler with the application of a shibori fabric fragment. Whether used on the back of a sofa, draped over a headboard, or laid over the foot of a bed, all you need to do is toss on a bolt of shibori and tuck it to procure a tailored look. Keep color palettes in mind when employing shibori on furniture. Contrast is generally key when working with an abysmal hue like indigo, so furniture that works the opposite end of the color spectrum—like white and light grays—tends to fare best. Have leather? Cognac-colored leather paired with shibori is a designer stand-by. 

Frame It

Pro-indigo enthusiasts know the near-black hue isn’t just for furniture and decor, and, in fact, posting some at eye level can have a sweeping effect on a room. Take stock of designer tricks when it comes to using shibori as art and don’t rely on just one textile—the more patterns in the mix, the better. For those who don’t necessarily possess a decorator’s eye, teeing up a variety of shibori patterns is relatively fool-proof, and can result in a vignette that feels expertly curated. A crisp white mat will do wonders for most shibori textiles, but if you’re craving a bigger moment, forgo the frame altogether and hang a shibori piece tapestry-style. 

Suit Up a Seat

Designers love an idiosyncratic moment, and traditional, elegantly-framed furniture upholstered in shibori is up there with the best of them. While shibori’s minimalist flocking may seem like a natural fit for modernist forms, it’s actually curvy pieces like classic wingbacks and Louis chairs that set it off with gusto. Uncoupled from streamlined forms, shibori takes on a new ebullience and ushers in an aura of unconventional cool. Some might point to antique furnitures’ wood frames as the reason why they complement shibori so beautifully. White painted wood, especially, provides the starkest, most striking, contrast.

Cast Some Shade

Topping a lamp with a gorgeous global textile is nothing new. With their wide, flat expanse, drum shades are ideal canvases for putting prominent patterns like shibori on display. For a new twist on the trend, consider opting for a pleated shade featuring shibori. Delicately pleated or pin-tucked, shibori textiles take on a watery quality and create the optical illusion of movement. Place atop a simple, neutral studio pottery lamp to procure an heirloom-grade piece a fraction of the investment.

Lead photo by Brittany Ambridge / OTTO

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July 11, 2021

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