shibori first drops
Shibori, particolare di un tessuto

A simple technique for surprising effects

Shibori is a Japanese word for an extremely ancient textile decoration technique, known in America as Tie and Dye, in India as Plangi and in Italy as Maltinto.

The method consists in tying a knot in the fabric or binding it with string before dipping it in the dye, so as to preserve some parts of the fabric from the dying process.

To make the geometrical patterns, the fabric can be folded over several times or wrapped around wooden sticks or knotted around small objects. As a result, the regularly interspaced white and coloured sections create an neat and elegant pattern.

Traditional shibori tends to prefer indigo hues, ranging from light blue to intense blue against a white background, which can only be produced using natural indigo through a special production process that enables to achieve tones of colour that have an exceptional aesthetic impact.

The Shibori technique branched out from China to Japan 1,300 years ago: its period of greatest popularity was during the Edo period (1608 – 1868). It was originally a technique for the poor who could not buy expensive garments in silk or cotton and who therefore used to over dye old fabrics to make them look new. During the relative peace and calm of the Edo period, the arts flourished in Japan, and many local traditions and techniques became widespread. Shibori developed along two different lines: on the one hand it became an artistic technique for the decoration of the silk kimonos for the high society; on the other, it became an art of the people with remarkable differences between regions.

The most renowned area in Japan for the production of Shibori fabric is the town of Arimatsu, where the precious kimonos for the noble men and women of Kyoto were traditionally dyed. In the last century, due to a decreasing demand for kimonos and to industrial fabric dying processes, the artists/artisans of Arimatsu experienced a terrible economic crisis. To face up to the competition of industrially produced fabrics, for several years they were forced to use synthetic fabrics and machinery.

The renewed interest for high-quality products and for traditional methods have meant that in the last few decades the artisans of Arimatsu have gone back to using silk and to manually producing their fabric. Today, most of the artisans of Arimatsu still work in the same homes where their predecessors had worked for 400 years, to produce the Shibori fabrics, turning Arimatsu into an authentic artistic and architectural treasure for Japan.

Broadly used since antiquity in Asia, Africa and Central America, fashionable in Europe from the 1970’s, Shibori is currently used in the world of fashion thanks to famous stylists and designers who have shown to appreciate its great potential for the creation of fine garments and objects. The growing communities of Shibori fans and the manufacturers’ networks continue to support this art every day, allowing it to survive and to flourish after so many centuries.