The ancient art of shibori dyeing (and why it’s perfect for lampshades)

We recently added a gorgeous range of shibori dyed lampshades to the Pooky portfolio. Bold, modern and eye-catching, we think they’re the bee’s knees. But what exactly is shibori? Here’s a Pooky guide…

Who would have thought that an ancient dyeing technique that originated in Japan (or possibly China - more of that later) would prove as popular and, well, contemporary in 2020 as it was many centuries ago? We’re talking about shibori, which traditionally uses indigo dye with white cotton fabric to make a distinctive blue and white-patterned cloth. The term is derived from the Japanese verb shiboru, meaning to press, squeeze or wring. All three methods and others are used in shibori to create a pattern formed by preventing dye from reaching specific parts of the fabric so, yes, tie-dyeing if you will. Shibori practitioners and experts will, however, tell you that there is far more to shibori than the colourful tie-dye fabrics that were so enthusiastically adopted by mid-twentieth century hippies. There are, in fact, many different types of shibori and the processes involved in its traditional techniques require considerable expertise and knowledge – and patience.

Pooky shibori shades


How old is shibori?

The oldest surviving examples of shibori cloth date from the eighth century and were given to the Todai-ji Buddhist temple in Nara, Japan; however, there are written references to this type of dyed cloth in Chinese documents that date from 500 years earlier. So, as is often the case with ancient arts, crafts and techniques, the precise origins remain unclear. And it’s worth mentioning that tie-dyeing was used in other parts of the ancient world and is still practised, in various forms, in many countries. But, whatever the truth about its origins, shibori has become synonymous over the centuries with pictographic or geometric patterned fabric - the kind we associate with garments such as Japanese kimonos.

What are the different types of shibori?

Shibori is an umbrella term for different ways of compressing and fixing cloth to prevent it from taking up dye; here are some of the most popular variations:
  • Arashi shibori – the fabric is wrapped tightly round a pole, bound with strong thread, and then bunched up along the pole before dyeing. The result is a diagonally pleated fabric with a pattern that looks like slanting rain (arashi means ‘storm’).
  • Itajime shibori – two pieces of wood are used to sandwich the fabric; these are tied with string, so the dye can’t reach the fabric between the wood.
  • Kanako shibori – parts of the fabric are bound before dyeing – traditional shibori uses thread – and it produces a patterned fabric that is closest to what we tend to think of as tie-dye.
  • Kuomo shibori – this is another pleated and bound technique; the pleated sections are finely and evenly spaced, then tightly bound to create a distinctive spider-like design. It’s a slow and challenging process that requires a high level of precision.
  • Miura shibori – a hooked needle is used to pluck sections of the fabric, and then a thread is looped twice round each section. It uses tension rather than knots to hold everything in place and creates a water-like design.
  • Nui shibori – this starts with a plain running stitch; the stitches are then pulled tightly through the fabric to create gathers and finally knotted to hold everything in place.
Other methods involve capping (with waterproof material), crumpling, pinching, plaiting and twisting and different shibori methods can be combined too.


Is shibori always blue?

Traditional shibori techniques used indigo - a deep blue dye made from the soaked and fermented leaves of indigofera tinctoria (known as true indigo), a species of bean plant, found across Asia, parts of Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia and Iran. Although natural dye is still in use, most indigo used in textile production today is synthetic. If you’re a globetrotter and want the real thing, ask for talum in Indonesia, basma in Iran or nila in Malaysia. However, today’s textile artists and designers who use shibori frequently experiment with a wide range of colours and different fabrics to give a modern twist to these ancient techniques - hence our lovely range of oranges and greens, as well as blues.


Shibori in the 21st century

Although shibori has its roots in Japan and China, contemporary practitioners from around the world now work with these historic dyeing methods. They are applying the ancient processes in new and exciting ways, many of which reflect a growing concern for sustainability. Vivien Prideaux, for example, who is based in Fowey, Cornwall, has been working with shibori, natural dyes, stitching and embroidery since graduating from art school in 1968. Vivien specialises in decorative and domestic textiles, made from natural fabrics and threads and dyed with fibre reactive, indigo and cochineal dyes. Judith Content is an American textile designer who is inspired by a love of natural landscapes – and this is reflected in the richness and variety of colours that typify her work. Like Vivien, Judith has been experimenting and working with dyes and finishes for many years and believes that shibori offers ‘infinite possibilities’.

Shibori DIY

Fancy having a go at shibori? Many textile designers whose work features shibori have spent time studying the craft in Japan and the Far East but, if you’re keen to learn more about shibori yourself, you won’t have to travel that far. You can find shibori and indigo dyeing workshops and courses across the UK, including:
  • Full day workshops with Bridget Cordory at her studio in Hartland, North Devon. Bridget studied shibori in Malaysia and will teach you a variety of shibori methods and how to create your own indigo vat.
  • Day workshops and weekend creative retreats with textile artist and eco-upcycler, Elisabeth Viguie Culshaw in Kelvinbridge, Glasgow. You can experiment with dyes and work with linen, silk, and wool, as well as with cotton.
  • An arashi shibori workshop with textile designer, Lisa Reddings, in East Sussex, and an Indigo Weekend Workshop at London’s Morley College, which offers an introduction to a range of shibori techniques, including arashi, itajime and tritik (stitching).
Check out Craft Courses for details of your nearest shibori workshop. If you want to read about shibori, we recommend:
40cm straight empire shade in shibori blue

Browse our range of gorgeous Shibori dyed lampshades here.