Shibori-zome: handmade indigo dyeing

I don’t even know where to begin. This words will be insignificant compared to the experience I had, just because my writing skills and the photographs I take won’t ever represent how fascinating the world of Shibori-zome (絞り染め) is to me. But I will certainly try.

Our house has been slowly filling up with indigo. Indigo books and photos, ideas about indigo, the indigo word has been said at least once or twice a day, and finally to my satisfaction, a few handmade indigo dyed fabrics. Will we ever get tired of all this white and blue? I certainly hope not.



We went on a short journey to the mountains of the Kanagawa perfecture in Japan, to a small town by the Sagami river called Fujino. Many people interested in Japanese textiles have visited this place over the years to learn from a man called Bryan Whitehead. This is his house, the place that he generously shared with us to explore and learn.



The Shibori technique is time consuming but it builds up great expectations. There are endless ways to achieve successful tied dyed pieces so there is room for years of exploration. Usually the technique applied is determined by the type of fabric used, but I can’t figure that out on my own yet; all that I  know is that the natural indigo dyes better in plant based fibres and the best results are obtained with linen. This was our first time so we used cotton, that also dyes beautifully.



These are indigo vats containing the green mix and this is where the magic happens. The green dye is absorbed by the fabric, then it naturally oxidizes with oxygen turning the fabric blue, from the lightest to an almost black blue. The tone is given by the amount of exposure to the indigo.

We wanted our pieces to have a lot of contrast so we dipped our fabrics ten times in the vat, allowing some time for oxidation between dips. And this is what we achieved, very different patterns using the exact same technique. It took us hours to fold, sew and dye but the surprise at the end is so satisfying that I can’t wait to be doing it again!


From left to right: first and last by Yoshiko Kato, second and fourth by me, third by Marilia Simões






When I came back home I was absolutely tired but couldn’t sleep for a long while, with days like these I feel deeply grateful to live in Japan, to be learning and creating so much, to be so rich (not associated with possessions whatsoever) to be truly happy and in love with my life and my husband.

Bryan Whitehead’s blog:


7 responses to “Shibori-zome: handmade indigo dyeing

  1. Pingback: Wondering through: a house of textiles | T E T S U K U R I·

  2. Beautiful, the blue has so much depth. I didn’t realise that the indigo starts off green and only turns blue after meeting the air. You’re so lucky to have the opportunity to gain these experiences.

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