Shibori ♥ Indigo

For snart nogen tid siden prøvede jeg kræfter med kombinationen af indigo og den japanske teknik shibori for første gang, og det bliver ikke den sidste. Jeg farvede på en håndfuld t-shirts og skjorter fra lokale genbrugsforretninger, alle af ren bomuld.

Arashi shibori laves traditionelt ved at vikle stof om en træstav. Mønstrene, man får, minder om bølger i et oprørt hav – “arashi” betyder storm.

Jeg lavede min arashi shibori ved at vikle om pvc-rør fra byggemarkedet, men man kunne også bruge et kosteskaft eller hvad man ellers har ved hånden. Jeg foldede en t-shirt på langs (1 og 2 nedenfor) og viklede dem omkring røret. Så bandt jeg bomuldstråd stramt omkring og maste stoffet sammen ind mod midten (3). Det skal folde så meget som muligt, det giver mønsteret (4).

A while ago, I tried the magical combination of indigo and the Japanese technique shibori, for the first – and definitely not last – time. I dyed a handful of cotton t-shirts and shirts from local second-hand shops.

Traditionally, arashi shibori was made by tying fabric around a wooden pole. The patterns thus achieved are reminiscent of waves of a rough sea – “arashi” means storm.

I made my arashi shibori by wrapping the t-shirt around a piece of pvc pipe, folding the t-shirt vertically (1 and 2 below) before wrapping it. Then, I tied cotton string tightly and bundled the fabric towards the centre (3). It should fold as much as possibe, that’s what produces the pattern (4).



Retningen af mønsteret kommer selvfølgelig fra den måde, stoffet er foldet på inden det er snøret, og næste gang vil jeg prøve med nogle diagonale foldninger. Arashi mønsteret er i hvert fald meget spiseligt, her nedenfor ses t-shirten ovenover tæt på.

The direction that the pattern takes obviously comes from the direction of folding before wrapping. Next time, I’ll try diagonal folds. But all in all, the arashi pattern turned out great, here’s a closer look.



Og her en detalje fra en skjorte hvor folderne ikke lå så fint før snøringen – det giver faktisk et mere spændende mønster.

And a detail from the shirt where I didn’t fold the fabric neatly before wrapping – that actually makes the pattern more interesting.



Itajime shibori laver man ved at folde stof og klemme det fast mellem forme. Jeg lavede den allersimpleste version, hvor jeg foldede stof i kvadratiske folder (1 og 2 nedenfor) og klemte det fast med elastikker mellem et par blokke jeg havde savet mig (3).

Itajime shibori is made by folding and clamping fabric. I tried the very simplest verision, clamping a quadratically folded t-shirt (1 and 2 below) between a couple of wood blocks using rubber bands (3).



Foldningen giver et helt simpelt og attraktivt mønster (4). Og se hvor flotte blokkene blev – næste serie af forsøg kunne handle om farvning af træ med indigo.

This fold gives a pattern that I find simple and attractive (4). And look at the wood blocks after an indigo bath. Maybe my next experiments will be dyeing wood using indigo.



Der er meget mere at afprøve med itajime shibori: andre foldninger, og fastklemning i forme med et mønster, i stedet for simple træklodser. Og så er der andre slags shibori: kumo shibori, hvor man vikler tråde omkring stoffet og yanagi shibori hvor man vikler omkring et tov. Det er bare begyndelsen!

There’s a lot more to try with itajime shibori: other folds, clamping with other shapes instead of simple wood blocks. And there are many other types of shibori: kumo shibori and yanagi shibori to begin with. Many more experiments!








Trip to Japan – Part Two

I’m still busy digesting all the impressions from our trip to Japan, and I wrote about our visit to Tezomeya and Avril here.

But I think the highlight of the trip in terms of natural dyeing was our visit to Aizen Kobo.

It was a rainy day (and it seems that when it rains in Kyoto, it pours!) and I was almost worrying that we wouldn’t find the place before it closed – but we made it, so I won’t say anything more about the Japanese non-system of non-addresses that make it just basically impossible to find anything. Did I mention the names of small streets are not written in Latin lettering?

But we did make it, and it was really, really worth the effort. The indigo dyer Kenichi Utsuki and his wife spent a very long time showing us everything in the shop, and explaining the entire dye process. It was an honor to be able to learn about this from the master dyer himself.


Kenichi Utsuki uses a traditional Japanese organic indigo vat. Japanese indigo (Polygonum tinctorium) is grown in the Tokushima area where a handful of farms still grow and compost it in the traditional way. After harvesting it in the late summer/fall, the leaves are composted in a process that ends when the the temperature becomes too low for it to continue. The indigo then makes its way to the dye pot the following year.

The traditional Japanese indigo vat is an organic fermentation vat where organic matter in the form of wheat bran and sake is added (this is the reducing agent) and the pH is raised using limestone powder and ash lye. If you want to read (a lot) more about the principles of this and other vats, I recommend the book “Indigo – Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans” by Jenny Balfour-Paul.

I didn’t want to leave Kenichi Utsuki’s shop without a souvenir, and after some indecision I finally decided that this shibori (tie-dye) silk scarf needed to come home with me


And here is a close-up, you can tell where the threads of the tie-dye process were. An interesting fact is that certain families tie, and other families dye (apparently this division of labor is age-old, and come to think of it, there were similar divisions in Europe at the time of the guilds).


To the uninitiated, this silk scarf may just be a normal nice scarf. But the trained eye will definitely pick out the all the hand stitching and handmade ties, and above all the dramatic deep indigo blue that can only be achieved by repeated dipping.

PS: We didn’t spend the entire holiday in Kyoto – we also went to Takayama in the mountains and to Tokyo. All the places we went to were really interesting, but Kyoto is the one that makes the number one spot on my list of places to visit again!

PPS: Not all of our trip centered around natural dyeing (although my family felt that way) and I really want to share some non-natural dyeing highlights here!

First, the alley of tori gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha (I was lucky to catch a couple of girls wearing kimonos in the frame)


The Great Buddha in Nara – Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s huge:


Free public foot baths – city planners everywhere ought to make this a priority:


Taking Shinkansen – I read about that train when I was a child, but didn’t really expect to really one day make it there. And if I somehow made it there, I most certainly did not expect that I would be sweating like a horse and dragging a lot of heavy luggage and screaming children. But it still exceeded expectations…


The thatched traditional houses of Shirakawa-go, with mountains and rice fields


Japanese people in all age categories heavily armed with electronic equipment


And finally the famous Shibuya crossing in Tokyo. Picture taken from the Starbucks next to it, because serious over-caffeination helps you navigate a city where changing lanes is hard when you are on foot!


Et højdepunkt på vores nylige rejse til Japan er helt sikkert besøget hos Aizen Kobo. Indigo-farveren Kenichi Utsuki bruger den traditionelle japanske metode til indigo-farvning: komposterede blade af japansk indigo reduceres (i kemisk forstand) med hvedeklid og sake, og der dyppes i farvebadet mange, mange gange. Vi besøgte hans forretning, og han tog sig virkelig lang tid til at forklare os alt om processen! Jeg købte et vidunderligt shibori-silketørklæde (jeg fik altså overbevist mig selv om at det lå fint indenfor mit lommepengebudget). Resten af rejsen handlede altså derefter om andre ting end naturfarver – den store Buddha i Nara var et absolut højdepunkt. Ligeledes offentligt fodbad, Shinkansen og det berømte Shibuya-kryds i Tokyo.