Why you should care
Our tech-driven, sleek, modern tastes could use some warmth and organic lines.
Bound and pulled, folded between blocks, prepped for dyeing, the silk looks anything but delicate. Yet unfurled, the white and indigo patterns on cloth reveal an organic softness that machines are hard-pressed to replicate.
The dyeing art of shibori has been revived.
Once the purview of Japanese elite, shibori-patterned pieces are showing up at trendy shops like Anthropologie and Free People. And high-end designers, too: Stella McCartney has a shibori-style line currently on sale (for the price of a mortgage payment), and Proenza Schouler had several pieces in its line a few years ago.
Shibori is famously tied to the Edo period in Japan, which began in the early 1600s in Western years and lasted through the early 1800s. Craftsmen sewed patterns into the fabric, either puckering the cloth or pulling it into folds before dyeing, then snipping the threads after the dye had set — revealing white patterns on blue cloth. Or they folded the fabric, pressing between blocks, or twisted the fabric around a pole before dyeing. Each method revealed new shapes and patterns, from lightly delineated diamonds to Rorschach-style bleeds.Yes, tie-dye may seem similar, but this is fabric manipulation and dyeing as high art.
Designer Katrin Reifeiss fell for shibori as an art student in Boston, and in December traded a corporate fashion job with Fossil for her own hand-crafted line. She notes that while not all her accessories are shibori, the clothes are. She now sells pieces at boutiques in Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Western Massachusetts, as well as online.
Some shibori techniques, from the World Shibori Network:
- Miura: Loosely twisted medium-fine cotton thread wound on a ball
- Boshi: Tightly twisted medium cotton thread wound on a wooden dowel
- Kumo: Medium-to-heavy linen thread wound on a dowel and soaked in water
- Suji: Hand-pleated fabric wound with thread
- Arashi: Cloth wrapped diagonally around a pole in compressed folds
Despite years of practice, the craft still surprises her. “I fell in love with the excitement of unwrapping these patterns after dyeing,” she says. “You never know how the dye enters the cloth.” That mystery can change her planned patterns and inspire her creativity into new directions.
Reifeiss also teaches shibori at the Textile Arts Center in New York to a general public that sometimes includes students from the Fashion Institute of Technology and other universities that may not offer classes.
While shibori as fashion may creep into catalogs, in truth, few of the pieces are hand-dyed. The craftsy clearinghouse Etsy remains one of the most reliable places to buy true shibori — that, or a local boutique.
The dyed trend also extends to home goods. Bed and table linens of blue shades and soft lines lend themselves to both rustic and modern decor, from adorning wooden kitchen farm tables to warming up sharp lines in a white and chrome bedroom. One artist found a way to turn thick canvas into table top bowl designs.
Madesmith, a Brooklyn-based online shop, features hand-made clothing from artisans, and this month debuted a series of educational training videos, including one from Reifeiss. Because not everyone can come to New York for a class.
“We love the clean aesthetic of her designs,” says Nadia Rasul of Madesmith. “All her products are unique and very well thought through,” Rasul says.
Clearly there’s a growing market for the ever-novel, changing patterns of shibori.