How to: dye Japanese style

How to: dye Japanese style

Master the art of indigo dyeing with these simple step-by-step techniques from Nicola Gouldsmith's new book, Shibori, and create unique pieces for your home.

Shibori Arashi Techniques

Depending on how many times you wrap the fabric around the tube, and how tight the folds are, you can create a variety of patterns using this method. The fabric nearest the tube will have the faintest pattern, while that on the outside will be a darker blue. The fabric within the folds will remain undyed.

You will need
• Fabric
• 45 cm plastic tube, 8 cm in diameter
• String
• Prepared indigo vat
• Rubber gloves and apron
• Bowls for soaking and rinsing
• White household vinegar
• Washing detergent

1. Wrap your fabric widthways around the tube and loosely tie with string in a crisscross pattern up and down the tube.

2. Push the fabric and string all the way down to one end of the tube, as far as it will go.

3. Soak in cold, clean water for a couple of hours, and squeeze out any excess water.

4. Dye in your prepared indigo vat, following the instructions for plain dyeing below.

5. Rinse several times in clean, cold water, adding vinegar to the final rinse. Carefully cut through the string, unwrap the fabric, wash in detergent, and allow to dry.



You will need
• 25 g indigo powder -  this will dye 2 kg of fibre or fabric
• Spectralite
• 600 ml warm water
• Large glass jar with a screw-top lid
• Teaspoon
• 150 g soda ash
• Jug
• Litmus paper (to test pH level)
• Large pan with a lid

1. Place the indigo powder in the glass jar with 3 teaspoons (15 ml) of spectralite and a little of the warm water. Stir well to make a paste, then mix 200 ml of the warm water.

2. Add the soda ash to the rest of the warm water in a jug and stir well. Add the soda ash solution to the indigo solution a little at a time, using the litmus paper to check the pH level after each addition. Stop adding the soda solution when the desired pH is reached.

3. Cover the jar by placing the lid on loosely, and set it aside in a warm place for the solution to develop (it must be kept warm for this to happen). This will take 30–40 minutes. While this is happening, prepare the large vat by filling a large pan two-thirds full with warm water and adding 1 tsp (5 ml) of spectralite to it. Keep this pan covered and warm.

4. The indigo solution in the jar is ready when you can see both a metallic blue layer on the surface and a yellow liquid beneath. This is due to the dye on the surface of the vat reacting with oxygen in the air; the liquid below remains yellow because it is not in contact with any oxygen.

5. Add the indigo solution to the spectralite solution in the large vat by lowering the jar into the vat; do not pour the indigo solution in, as pouring could cause splashing, which would introduce oxygen into the vat.

6. Leave the vat covered and warm for an hour. It is ready to use when the surface of the vat is covered in metallic blue bubbles with an oily appearance.



Plain dyeing is, by its nature, the most straightforward technique. The fabric is immersed in a prepared indigo vat for just a few seconds, then rinsed several times, washed, and dried to produce a piece of plain blue fabric. Dip-dyeing produces different results, as you can vary the shade of indigo by building up layers, airing, and allowing the dye to develop each time before repeating the dipping process. Because items only need to be dipped into the indigo vat for a few moments, an attractive graded effect can be achieved easily and quickly, with the colour ranging from light blue to darkest indigo.

You will need
• Fabric
• Prepared indigo vat
• Rubber gloves and apron
• Bowls for soaking and rinsing
• White household vinegar
• Washing detergent

To Plain Dye
1. Soak the fabric in clean, cold water for a couple of hours to prevent air pockets forming. (If oxygen is present, the dye won’t work.) Remove from the bowl and gently squeeze out all the excess water.

2. Immerse all of the fabric in the dye vat for a few seconds, taking care to disturb the surface of the dye solution as little as possible by sliding the fabric in down the side of the vat. Work the fibres under the surface with your fingers in order to get an even result.

3. Remove the fabric from the solution slowly, at the side of the vat, leaving a tail of fabric in the vat through which excess dye can dribble gently back into it. Air the fabric to develop the colour - this can happen very quickly! You can either hold the fabric or, for larger pieces, drape them over a washing line. It is best to do this outdoors, because dye solution will drip from the fabric. If you want a darker shade, dip the fabric in the vat again for a few seconds, as above, and air the fabric again. Continue to dip and air until you are happy with the shade.

Project: Round pillow cover

Silk takes indigo dye on beautifully and, as it’s quite a fine fabric, it also works well with this 'arashi' style of tie-dyeing. The more the fabric is scrunched down the tubes it’s wrapped around, the better!

You will need
+ Two pieces of silk, each measuring at least 62.5 x 62.5 cm
+ 45 cm plastic tube, 8 cm in diameter
+ String
+ Prepared indigo vat
+ Rubber gloves and apron
+ Bowls for soaking and rinsing
+ White household vinegar
+ Washing detergent
+ Large sheet of newspaper
+ Pencil and ruler
+ Scissors
+ Sewing machine
+ Basic sewing kit
+ 45 cm cushion inner

1. Tie and dye the silk fabric (refer to for instructions). When dry, carefully iron the silk on the correct setting.
2. Fold the newspaper into four. Using a ruler, mark the paper at several intervals 23 cm from the centre. Cut along these marked points and open the newspaper out to create a large circle.
3. Pin the pattern onto one of the pieces of silk and cut out.
4. Fold the second piece of silk in half. Fold the paper pattern in half and place it on the folded silk, 10 cm away from the folded edge of the fabric. Pin in place
5. Starting from the folded edge of the fabric, cut out the elongated semicircle shape. 
6. Now cut along the folded edge to create two elongated semicircles and sew a double 2.5 cm hem along both straight edges.
7. Place the hemmed pieces on top of the circle of fabric, right sides together, and with the hemmed edges overlapping. Pin in place.

This edited except is from Shibori: The art of indigo dyeing, by Nicola Gouldsmith, photography by Gavin Kingcome, published by CICO Books, and available in all good book stores.

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