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Article: Songs of Shibori

Songs of Shibori

Shibori is the Japanese word for a variety of ways of embellishing textiles by shaping the cloth and securing it before dyeing. The word comes from the verb root Shiboru which means to ‘to wring, squeeze, and press’. Although Shibori is used to describe a particular group of resist-dyed textiles, the verb root of the word emphasizes the action performed on cloth or the process of manipulating fabric. Rather than treating cloth as a two-dimensional surface, Shibori gives it a three-dimensional form by folding, crumpling, stitching, plaiting, or plucking and twisting. Cloth shaped by these methods is secured in a number of ways, such as binding and knotting. The Japanese concept of Shibori recognizes and explores the pliancy of a textile and its potential for creating a multitude of shape-resisted designs. The Shibori family of techniques includes numerous resist processes practiced throughout the world.

Shibori was originally an art of the poor. In feudal Japan, many people could not afford to buy expensive fabrics like cotton or silk, so clothes were often made of cheap hemp fabrics. People could not afford to replace clothes regularly either, so they would repair and re-dye them. The art of Shibori evolved as a means of making old clothes look new. Under the Tokugawa peace, arts flourished, and many different techniques and local forms of Shibori emerged. 

Shibori developed along two separate paths – to decorate the silk used for producing kimonos for the Japanese aristocracy (largely carried out in Kyoto) and as a folk art different from region to region. Until the 20th century, not many fabrics and dyes were in widespread use in Japan. The main fabrics were silk and hemp, and later cotton. The main dye was indigo and, to a lesser extent, Madder and Purple Root. Shibori and other textile arts, such as Tsutsugaki, were applied to all of these fabrics and dyes.

There are infinite ways to bind, stitch, fold, twist, or compress cloth for Shibori, and each way results in very different patterns. Each method is used to achieve a particular result – but it is also used to work in harmony with the type of cloth used. Therefore, the technique used in Shibori depends not only on the desired pattern but also on the characteristics of the cloth being dyed. Different techniques can also be used in conjunction with one another to achieve even more elaborate results.

The special characteristic of Shibori resist is a soft or blurry-edged pattern. The effect is quite different from the sharp-edged resist obtained with stencil, paste, and wax. With Shibori, the dyer works in harmony with the materials – not in an effort to overcome their limitations but to allow them full expression. And, an element of the unexpected is always present.

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