This technique has been known for hundreds of years. I was used in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, where its names varied across the countries: plangi (Malaysia), bandhani (India), tritik (Indonesia). Shibori was brought to Japan from China in the 8th century. The gifts of emperor Shōmu, in the collections of Tōdai-ji in Japan’s former capital Nara, are the first known examples of cloths dyed with the use of this technique. The style and pattern of decoration vary across the regions of the Country of Cherry Blossoms. Shibori fabrics used to be an indicator of social status. Silk, used for creating sophisticated kimonos, was the preserve of the aristocracy, while cotton, linen, and hemp were used by poorer classes of the society.
Shibori is a very important element in the artistic, social, and cultural history of Japan. Although shibori artefacts are still made in handicraft workshops on the streets of Tokio or Kyoto, there is a real threat that this tradition might disappear when the master artisans have passed away.
Nowadays, fashion and interior designers very keenly experiment with shibori. Just like Katarzyna Schmidt - Przewoźna, PhD, the author of the exhibition. Not only does she dye textiles herself but also popularizes knowledge about shibori during workshops, lectures, and exhibitions. Thanks to such initiatives the age-old tradition might survive in the modern world.
The word shiboru means wring out, squeeze, doing justice to the nature of the technique in which the cloth is prepared for dyeing in many different ways: by folding, stitching, pleating, sewing, twisting or binding. The elaborate process of shaping the cloth resembles the Japanese art of folding paper called origami or wrapping objects in cloth, known as furoshiki.
Small objects such as stones, wooden or glass balls, nuts or sticks can be used to create patterns. All these elements prevent parts of the cloth from soaking up the dye, thus creating stunning decoration. Some are ordered and geometric, others resemble flowers, ice crystals or waves, revealing painterly freedom of expression. The illusion of three dimensions they create is absolutely out of the ordinary. It has been an inspiration for many fashion designers like Issey Miyake or Yōji Yamamoto.
To some extent the end result of the shibori technique is always a surprise, which makes it truly magical. Never can the author predict what the result of their work will be. After the cloth has been prepared for dyeing it is immersed in an indigo dyebath but the colour is always a surprise, which is why it is so unique. The colours and patterns are different each time. Laboriousness and the use of indigo make shibori an expensive and difficult technique of decorating fabrics.
Indigo – a fascinating colour
The intensive blue colour is very characteristic of shibori. It is obtained from a natural dye that has been known for ages, indigo. Being an organic compound, indigo might be found in the leaves of plants like Indigoferia tinctoria, Polygonum aviculare, and Isatis tinctoria. Peoples’ fascination with this beautiful colour, symbolising the heavens, space, and freedom, has led to dramatic events and stirred powerful emotions. The history of indigo trade is the history of fortunes being made and lost, bankruptcies, conflicts, and sudden deaths. In the 16th century indigo was sourced from India and in the 18th century it began to be imported from Asia. In the 19th century, its chemical structure was discovered and the dye was synthesized.
The shibori cloths exhibited at Dekoma have been dyed with the use of a blue dye extracted from Indigoferia tinctoria.
About the author
Katarzyna Schmidt – Przewoźna, PhD
Fabric designer and exhibition planner, she graduated with honours from the University of Fine Arts in Poznań, where she studied interior design and textiles. For 12 years she has been the artistic director of Cepelia, where she created numerous well-known fabric collections. She is the founder of the “Natural Art” Natural Dyeing Laboratory at the Institute of Natural Fibres and Medicinal Plants. She is the author and co-author of around 100 papers on natural dyeing, fabrics, art, and handicraft. By organizing workshops, she promotes traditional and her own technological methods of dyeing. She is also a lecturer at the School of Form in Poznań.
Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada, Mary Kellogg Rice, Jane Barton. Shibori:
The Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing, Kodansha International, 1983
Janis Gunner, Shibori For Textile Artists, Pavilion Books, 2006
shibori, plangi, bandhani, tritik, indigo