Shibori: Everything You Need to Know


What are some useful techniques when it comes to shibori? The key is to focus on what makes shibori special, and to let that uniqueness guide experimentation. “The feature I love most about shibori is its ability to be hard-edged and soft, or nuanced, at the same time,” says Gimson. She likes the way shibori teaches its practitioners to expect the unexpected: “For example, itajime shibori involves using wooden blocks or shapes that sandwich the fabric between them. First, you fold the fabric. Then you sandwich it between blocks and fasten them with string or clamps,” she explains. “The fabric is wet with water before being submerged in dye, so there is always some seepage of dye beneath the blocks, which creates these halos of color.” She likes using this technique to create a subtle mixing of hues, then contrasts it with a very graphic feel by ironing the fabric very cleanly between every fold. That combo of crisp, ironed edges and the more natural allowances for dye seepage create visual interest.

As Wada notes in her tome on the subject, “Designs created using shibori techniques clearly reflect the touch of each worker…. The work of one may be very precise and even, and that of another looser and more free.” Likewise, the force exerted by a maker—and even their temperament—can bring about variations in the final product. In other words, shibori is personal.

Gimson’s shibori process is always deliberate—she considers first the graphic qualities of the design, then the level of bleeding, blending, or color migration that might occur. “This aspect makes shibori different from other handmade textile designs like batik, block printing, screen printing, or direct hand painting,” she says. In shibori, no matter how tightly the dyeing process is controlled, something always bleeds: A little bit of color gets mixed in unexpectedly, or appears where it wasn’t intended to go. Because of this unavoidable mixing, some artists report that the shibori dyeing process feels more like a collaboration with the properties of liquid, gravity, or chance than an ancient art practiced solo by hand.

Contemporary examples of shibori

From the warm orange glow of Scion’s cotton-linen shibori fabric to the delicate contrasts of this shibori-inspired wallpaper from Studio Four NYC and Amber Interiors, it’s easy to see that the art form continues to be appreciated—in its original form and in the ways designers are adopting the practice and evolving it for new uses.

In 2020, Tory Burch and Robert Kime’s indigo-heavy, Japan-inspired Nara Collection celebrated the “perfectly imperfect” with a shibori-esque nod to gentle contradictions. Toronto designer Judith Taylor used shibori to conjure a breezy, beachy calm in her recent Balmy Beach Club redesign, where worn, dark brown leather sectionals were refreshed with the crisp, casual elegance of blue-and-white, shibori-inspired upholstery.

Pioneering US artist Carter Smith manipulates cloth so expertly in his shibori that the resulting textiles barely resemble traditional results of the technique at all. The designs seem to take on lives of their own, twisting and turning more like moving waves than set patterns. This is one direction the art of shibori is heading—but even more possibilities are emerging all the time.

Shibori now: Incorporating shibori textiles into current decor

When designing with shibori, the pros advise working with—not against—the textile’s natural, nuanced properties. Shibori designs are made up of stark, slightly smudgy contrasts: sharp differences with soft edges. That contradiction (between visual subtlety and harshness) creates moments of real tension—the kind of intrigue that can spark great design. “I feel like the trademark look for shibori, whether simple or more complex, is the color bleeding and blending that softens the edges of even the most even graphic patterns,” says Gimson.

A shibori bedding set shows how the ancient technique can be used for a totally modern look.

MFK via Getty Images

Gimson loves the juxtaposition of such graphic patterns with nuanced shifts in color—or what she calls “the happy accidents that occur” routinely with shibori. She advises considering the size of the imagery or pattern that repeats in comparison to the size of the object or area being upholstered. When making bespoke shibori throw pillows, for example, she engineers each design based on the size of the pillow. “The way you create the repeating pattern is by accordion-folding the textile, so that the entire width—or whatever area you want to remain white—stays bound. To create the color in between, you must leave that amount of fabric outside of the blocks or pieces of wood.” She decides whether to use string, clamps, or other devices as resists based on how bold and clean or blurred and amorphous she wants the final pattern to appear. Again, the boundary between control and chaos seems to be the defining feature of this particular art form—no matter where, when, how, or by whom shibori is being practiced.

Another modern way to incorporate shibori into interior design? Lean into its idiosyncrasy and tendency toward subtle chaos. Find an irregular, one-of-a kind piece of hand-dyed shibori and mount it as a centerpiece or frame it on a wall, then design the rest of the room around it. Lately, Gimson has been selling one-of-a-kind shibori fabric panels (made from her favorite hand-dyed designs), which clients mount and frame as wall art or hang on rods as wall coverings. “I’ve also had a commercial art building purchase several yards of my fabric to mount and frame for a hallway. It’s a great textile for decorating (or covering!) a large, blank expanse of wall. I really love how shibori is able to convey so much depth and surface interest without needing much actual texture to create that effect.” Centuries on, Shibori remains a form of everyday magic—a rich and satisfying balancing act that promises to endure generations more of cultural reimagining.

Sasha Bikoff x Art Hide Customizable Cowhide Blue Shibori Area Rug

ARA Indigo Shibori Silk Pillow

Pair of Boho Rattan Bamboo Swivel Chairs

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