Indigo shibori. It's the latest, craze-est thing. It's no wonder why—anytime you throw deep blues, electric whites, repeating patterns, and natural fibers together, magic is sure to happen.
The word "indigo" describes both a color and a plant. The color indigo can be achieved on textiles by using a fermented, reduced dye vat created from the indigo plant. Dyers can achieve colors ranging from ice blue to navy using this same plant-based dye.
Though indigo-dyed textiles are all the rage at the moment, that indigo dye is beautiful isn't exactly news. Dyers have been elbows deep in this stuff since way back when. India, Indonesia, Japan, China, Egypt, Africa, and Central and South America—read: places where the subtropical indigo plant likes to grow—all have indigo dyeing traditions that date back to ancient times.
But get this: a long stinkin' time ago, someone figured out that right out of the ground, indigo is insoluble in water. This means that the indigo plant has to be processed so that 1) it's a liquid and 2) so that the oxygen is removed from the liquid. Removing the oxygen from the liquid allows the indigo to bond with textile fibers.
How someone figured that out before we figured out how to build cars that go to ice cream stores, picnic tables with built-in cupholders, and freezers that keep ice cream sandwiches frozen, is beyond me. Smarties.
A weird, magical side effect of this is, indigo vats are yellow green. The hallmark deep blues don't happen until the dye reacts to the oxygen in the air.
So, when you first pull out a piece of fabric from an indigo vat, it is a bright yellow-green and you're like, whoops!
But no. No whoops. Keep your eye on that piece of fabric and watch it turn from bright yellow-green to deep blue right before your beautiful, perhaps-also-blue eyes.
As the indigo reacts with the oxygen in the air, the dye bonds with the fibers in your fabric. This makes the dye permanent. All of my pieces of indigo—and there are and have been many—are still glorious shades of deep blue. Indigo dye, you are an exceptionally long-wearing dye, and I like you.
The word "shibori" refers to the Japanese art of manual resist dyeing. The root of the word means to wring, squeeze, or press. I once read that in shibori, the artist tries to hide fabric from the dye. It's like the textile version of Keep Away.
I love finding textile versions of things.
Of course, there are dozens of ways to approach shibori dyeing. My two favorites, folding and scrunching, are probably the most approachable for beginners.
Folding creates geometric repeating patterns. The folding approach usually begins with the according fold, or that fold you used in church to make a fan out of the weekly bulletin.
There are dozens of ways to put an accordion fold into fabric. As you might imagine. One way is to modify the flag fold. Another is to pretend you are making paper snowflakes. Rather than folding all of your fabric inward, though, simply fold back and forth, back and forth.
Similarly, there are lots of ways to scrunch a piece of fabric.
A lot of scrunching happened here. A lot, a lot.
A fun way to scrunch is to put a marble, bead, or stone behind your fabric and tie a rubber band under it. Roughly the same effect can be accomplished by pulling up the fabric at a point and tying a rubber band around it, without the marble inside (the circle will be more spider web-like when you do it this way, rather than a white circle with cleaner edges, which is what you get when you use a marble).
You can create concentric circles by adding more rubber bands, scrunching the fabric into the shape of a snake.
No matter which shibori technique you use, the moment you untie your fabric to reveal your pattern is a magical one.
You never know exactly what you're going to get.
Each piece is a surprise, and each piece is one-of-a-kind, forever.
My indigo shibori workshop is one of my very favorites. Several of the students have said it is like Christmas morning. Between watching the oxidation process and untying the all the pieces, there is no shortage of transformations to behold.
It's the prettiest thing, my clothesline and back fence covered in blue and white. I just love it.
I will definitely offer more indigo shibori workshops in the future. Watch my Workshops page (or opt in for my email newsletter, at the bottom of this page) to sign up, and be quick about it—I have offered this workshop several times now, and it's always a swift sell-out.
Even if you don't fancy the dyeing process, indigo shibori is a pleasure to wear and enjoy in your home. I love to offer indigo shibori fabric, rope, clothing, and gifts in my Instagram shop, instagram.com/shophousesparrow. It's an exciting way for me to play and share my process with indigo admirers from across the US.
Are you seeing that little indigo baby shoe? I die.
Which shibori patterns are your favorites? Which one would you like to try? Talk to me in the comments!