Shibori needle-and-stand

October 5, 2009


Thinking about traditional needle-and-stand shibori equipment caused me to check photos of my tourist-textile attempt at Kyoto’s Shibori Centre ( with a reservation made in person a day or two before. Of course, any Westener will baulk at sitting cross-legged in front of the stand – ones legs/knees on the floor-board securing the vertical pole.  I found the concentration required to  wind (all of the needle-stitching was done beforehand) made me completely forget about my legs, but of course sitting cross-legged is endemic to all the traditional arts – shibori, kumihimo, umbrella- and doll-making. The Arimatsu-Narumi Shibori DVD (Studio Galli Production with English narration by Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada) shows the traditional stand in action, as well as the bamboo version with the split fork at the top for holding fabric while being stitched with a hand-held needle.

The thread holding the shibori needle is obviously stuck to the vertical pole with no great sophistication in this instance, and their website shows alternative metal bracket methods. I notice that Maiwa (Canada) sells the Japanese hobby craft shibori needle, with a clamp secured to  a tabletop. Karren Brito in her book mentions the traditional method involving the bent-tipped needle being attached to a thin metal tube with beeswax, and this too is shown in the Arimatsu DVD. Certainly having both hands free to work the cloth and thread is a distinct advantage, especially when doing small makiage or kumo spider-webs. The traditional metal “third-hand” tool which look a cross between scissors and a clamp, may be of use in more free-form shibori-tying done in the lap.


Shibori arashi

September 28, 2009


Six-inch square detail of a white silk scarf, overdyed navy. Yes, the tying was too tight to let in the dye, but I’m not unhappy with the subtle suggestion of pattern as a result.


Fragment of silk kimono; white silk woven with a striped diamond lozenge pattern. A single diamond appears to have been folded in half and seven stitches, a half-inch apart matching the woven stripes has been stitched mokume-style; overdyed orange. The white outline and russet leaves are a result of over-dyeing later by hand. The diamond lozenge is six inches across.


Fragment of a silk kimono, obviously a women’s kimono from the colour. Light neutral pink/orange silk has been overdyed orange. Six inches up from the bottom hem is a 6″-wide slowly undulating wave of mokume, with stitches a centimetre apart. I can’t tell if extra pressure was put in the middle of the mokume wave to create the ungen/ombre effect of light-to-dark. The silk was originally patterned with clouds and very dense geometric cross-hatched lines reminiscent of rain; the texture of the pattern is obviously whitened in the mokume area.

Mokume seems to be synonymous with men’s kimono undergarments, the long slip-like juban of very thin silk. Osaka-based antique textiles dealer, Ichiroya ( has examples, as does eBay seller Ryujapan. The technique is not in evidence quite as far back in time as the 8th century in the Shosoin Treasury collection in Nara, but the books by Wada make mention of Muroyama and Momoyama Period examples and from later times.


Japanese mokume (wood grain) shibori on silk (?habotai 8momme), black dye over grey background. 7″x8.5″. Source: Konjaku Antique Textiles, Gion, Kyoto. 7mm  between stitches.

Materials: Needle and thread; silk fabric; water sprayer; dye bath.

Instructions: 1. Double-thread needle. 2. Sew parallel lines (perhaps with the help of guidelines drawn with a water-soluble marker crayon or pen), a centimetre or 1/4″ apart, leaving a knot at one end and leaving a sufficient length of the thread at the other so you can tie a knot in it. If you don’t want the knot to show as a white dot in the finished product, leave both ends free – at least a couple of inches so you can tie a knot easily. Keep stitches as even as possible and as close together as possible (at least a centimetre or 1/4″ apart). Some variation in the length of stitches is permissible since this adds to the texture of the final “wood grain” appearance. 3. Carefully tighten each line down one side of the cloth, spraying with water to increase the tension in the cloth, knotting together the two free ends of each line. 4. Proceed down the other side of the cloth, pulling the threads tight  so the fabric concertinas up quite tightly and making sure the knot at the other end is holding sufficiently well and doesn’t slip through the fabric. 5. Thoroughly wet in water. 6. Add to dyebath. 7. Remove from dyebath and rinse in water. 8. Using a thread unpicker (and taking extreme care not to cut a whole in the silk fabric), remove the polyster threads. 9. Revive silk in water and vinegar. 10. Dry and iron.

Commentary. The instructions above are simplistic, but not misleading. It’s simple to get started, but as with all Japanese ‘slow fibre’ (a wonderful moniker invented by Y Wada) textiles, only achievable in all its glory after a great deal of painstaking practice. So let’s start from the top in more detail.

The textile illustrated above is doubtless a fragment of silk and the far right-hand side of the fabric would have been tucked away from view behind a hem – you can see the dots where the knots of the threads start. The silk is thin and fine, but with a little stiffness so more like habotai 8momme (not as stiff as 12momme). Yes, it can be done in cotton or wool or polyester, but you need a dye that’s appropriate to the fibre and above all, if it’s silk it’s probably redolent of Kyoto; see the Arimatsu Shibori DVD for techniques on cotton.

If new to shibori, you will need a small amount of silk fabric since this technique is very slow and you’ll probably want to see some quick results to assure yourself you’re on the right track. If new to sewing silk, steer clear of georgette or crepe-de-chine and go for something with a bit of stiff handle to it like habotai. You can try a running stitch freehand, in which case the lines will be wobbly and you can try it much wider than 1/4″ – try 1″ or 1.5″ for jumbo wood grain. The needle needs to be thin enough to leave a small hole; the thread can be strong polyster serge or sewing machine thread or something tough like Gutermann. The length of stitches can vary to create the wobbly, “worm”-like appearance of the pleats.

Habotai 8mm cloth, hopelessly unstraight parallel lines, polyester serger sewing thread, wetted after stitching, Sandolan burgundy red 6B dye, in a rolling boil for 15mins, 9″x3″: 


I’m particularly pleased that the burgundy/oxblood dye colour recalls the gromwell dye used in Tohoku (far north Honshu), as illustrated in the Kyoto Shoin book by Ando Hiroko.

Big thanks to workshop leader, Liz Gemmell. For more online information on mokume shibori, see,,, (all things shibori public group)., and Karen Brito’s blog Entwinements and her wonderful book “Shibori: creating color & texture on silk”.

 Mokumenui (“stitched mokume”) is covered in the stitching section of the Arimatsu-Narumi Shibori DVD. The fabric is of course cotton and I’m not sure to what extent the technique illustrated there can be adapted to silk, but the crisp lines of the ‘wood grain’ are obviously influenced by the use of “buffer” stitched fabrics at either end of the mokume stitching which create additional tension in the stitched fabric.

Shibori in Kyoto

August 7, 2009

I start off by quoting Hiroko Ando about shibori in Kyoto and Nagoya, at least as it was in 1993 when he was writing:
“Nowadays, Kyoto and Nagoya are the only cities where shibori is produced. As the dyeing process requires much time and energy,
successors to this labor-intensive tradition have dwindled. In the past, these production centres depended on the handing down of
traditional techniques, reviving lost methods, and restoration work. In order for this tradition to continue and develop, great efforts
are needed.”
Ando makes a distinction between use of silk in Kyoto and indigo-dyed cotton in other areas, especially from the Edo Period onwards.
Ando also structures his book with chapters devoted to shibori from Tohoku, Nagoya, Kyoto, Kyushu and Okinawa and his examples include dyeing with gromwell and madder as well as indigo. I think it’s very important for me to reiterate the cotton/silk dichotomy in terms of Arimatsu/Nagoya and Kyoto, especially if you’re familiar with the recently-released Wada DVD on Arimatsu shibori: cotton at Arimatsu, silk in Kyoto.

FUREAI-KAN – permanent exhibition
I’ve mentioned previously how this museum is just about my favourite in Kyoto – I guess because it’s modern and new, and has a lot of detailed information in English on traditional textiles, and because the staff are very helpful and it’s not over-run by tourists. It is an ideal place of sit and meditate (in an otherwise hectic city!), especially by the waterfall which is part of the building’s architecture.

The Fureai-kan Museum has large areas devoted to yuzen and shibori, and smaller areas devoted to loom weaving, braids and other textile arts specific to Kyoto. The loop video associated with the shibori display describes the following kyo-kanoko-shibori(1) (“fawn-dot shibori from Kyoto”) processes:
Shitaechookoku(2) (punching lines of holes in the paper stencils with a metal punch)
– shitaesurikomi (with holes punched in the paper stencil, the stencil is then laid over the silk and dye is applied with big round
short-bristled brushes)
hitta-shibori (tying the tiny kanoko knots, finishing each with a sharp `clicking’ to secure them with a final knot)
oke-shibori (tapping nails into the fabric to secure it as part of the dyebath process and assembling the wooden dye “reels” whereby
the undyed part of the fabric is secured in between the wooden halves of the massive reel structure which is immersed in the
dyebath; this use of large wooden structures to leave large sections of the background undyed, or dyed another colour, becomes obvious
when one sees the finished kimono; the wood absorbs the surrounding water while the linen ropes repel it, causing the linen to tighten
around the wood)
boushi-shibori (linework with tight single threads)

FUREAI-KAN – temporary exhibition
The foyer of the Fureai-kan has three very large glazed exhibition areas. In October 2003, they exhibited Kyoto dolls; to October 11,
2007 they exhibited kyo-kanoko-shibori. There were several complete kimono on show. These kimono were surrounded by several dozen large framed samples, set in mattboards like paintings or prints: a very large finished piece of shibori set above a smaller pre-dyed piece showing the knotting in place. No photography allowed.

At Nishijin Textile Centre, a demonstrating craftsman sat cross-legged on tatami punching holes in white paper (the shitaechookoku
mentioned above). My photos, taken while the craftsmen was away at lunch, show the paper kata, the mallet and punch and
the knotted fabric ready for dyeing. Regarding stiff white paper vs persimmon tannin-dyed brown paper as used for the cartoons, note that Ando has a photo of both being prepared for the knotter.





I’ve mentioned previously the hourly kimono parade, featuring half a dozen models. At least one featured a predominantly shibori-
patterned kimono (white dots on a dark purple ground) and at least one obi with shibori dots. As previously indicated, shibori is tastefully combined in these instances with other techniques such as yuzen and embroidery. It’s worth adding that shibori is used extensively as the technique to decorate the obiage, what I call the obi `under-clothes’ used to fill out the obi to make it look even and flat. I imagine the raised surface of the shibori helps in this regard. As you’re probably aware, obiage are sold with obijime as complete `obi’ packages. I can’t help also noticing the similarity, at least in academic sense, between the female shibori obiage sash and the informal men’s obi sash which also calls for some shibori.


Here a plain gold obiage behind an obi decorated with shibori dots on a black background.


See the shibori-patterned obiage peeking out at the top of the obi on these shop mannequins.

Kyoto Shibori Kogeikan is one of the tourist establishments described previously, though smaller than its yuzen and shisu
counterparts (though size-wise on a par with Adachi Braiding Centre). There is a small shop area showing a range of finished
articles. Upstairs visitors are shown a short DVD of shibori and nearby a range of techniques is on display.


A small room is set aside for those wanting to have a go at knotting a small handkerchief: this involves kneeling in front of the wooden stand and, with the fabric already threaded-up in line with the surface design in advance and the knotted ends ready to fit in the dai, working two types of knots: the kasa-maki `umbrella’ and the nui-shima `single-line’. Bascially all I had to do was learn to wrap the pre-prepared thread around and around in the maki for the large flowers, and pull the pre-stitched threads tight and tie them off for the nui-shima. The handkerchief is then whisked away for a hotwater bath (wet fabric allows the dye to penetrate better than dry cloth) followed by an 8minute dyebath, drying using a hairdryer and final (dramatic) removal of the knots. In true Japanese style, it is folded and boxed; the texture is never ironed out flat – this shows that the item was hand-made.


The original patterned white silk is obvious despite the over-dyeing.

Much is made of the fact that most of the work these days is done by machine and that some is a combination of machine worked kanoko dots and hand-made `special effect’ single focus knots. Obviously hand-knotting the shibori is diminishing these days because a shiborist
might take a day to knot three lines of dots and a kimono may have up to many thousands of lines of dots. Plainly my humble tourist
effort at a few shibori knots made much more sense when I went back to see the Fureai-kan exhibit a second time.

I’ve scanned a red piece (7″ x 12″) bought from a Nishijin retail outlet, adjacent to Nishijin Textile Centre in Horikawa Street,
which specialised in small pieces packaged in plastic, I suspect aimed at the ningyo/doll market. The smaller knots were probably machine-made but I like to believe some of the larger focus knots were hand-made.


Smaller fragments, 13x16cm, were hand-dyed and set into window cards, sold by Konjaku Nishimura, a small traditional shop selling
textiles, surrounded by antique shops, in Nawate St, Gion Quarter, Kyoto ( This is a highly-recommended shop for anyone interested in traditional textiles visiting Kyoto; what’s special about it is it’s enormous range of textiles. As noted previously, I kept coming across kimono in Kyoto which featured shibori in combination with other techniques such as yuzen and embroidery.

I visited Mimuro kimono shop in Kyoto, an extensive business over several floors, but I was accompanied by a sales assistant
throughout and didn’t have the presence of mind to ask for men’s obi in particular; I spent a lot of time fending off offers to buy –
entering a shop in Kyoto has strong implications of intent to buy, while window-shopping outside is just that. Mimuro had an astounding
range of products and I ought to mention being shown two or three examples of braided obi known as sanjikku karaori obi
(literally `three-system’ kara-ori). I still haven’t managed to work out what I was looking at but it was an informal, summer obi, very
light in weight and light in colour. It appeared to be made up of lightly braided round karakumi diamonds, with a matching obijime
which looked distinctly Peruvian in character. In the simpler examples, it looked like three long andagumi/plain weave braids
linked at the edges, while another example seemed to involve different textures of yarn.

(1) Ando describes silk Kyoo-kanoko as a generic term for Hitta-kanoko shibori.
(2) Ando indicates that not even a rough sketch (and perhaps not even a kata/cartoon) was drawn to make Kyo-kanoko in Edo Period, all
the dots being bound “using the sharpened sense of the binder’s fingers”.

Ando, Hiroko Japanese tie-dyeing. Kyoto, Kyoto Shoin Art Library of Japanese Textiles vol.11, 1993. ISBN-4763670468.

Arimatsu shibori

July 22, 2009


This is part of a standard-width fabric, around 13inches, from Arimatsu, a suburb of Nagoya, renowned for its shibori.  Basically blue with undyed white, with additional dye added in spots in green, yellow and red. Very strongly textured indeed.

The dyeing with additional colour, plus a multitude of shibori techniques specific to Arimatsu are detailed in a relatively new DVD.


Highly recommended for shibori, but also quite illuminating when it comes to the Japanese approach to needlework: tieing off knots in advance, finger thimbles (improved yubinuki), executing running stitch, etc.  The DVD runs for ages so needs to be watched in small doses, and repeatedly, in order to digest the massive amount of information caught on film. Available here in Australia from Silksational,

To give you an idea of how comprehensive it is:

Part 1. Introduction; The Shibori Process (design and stencil, shibori methods, cotton dyeing and drying, silk dyeing and drying, thread pulling and removal, steam finishing and display, mixing techniques – design inspirations from Arimatsu);

Part 2. Hand shibori techniques (Hand knotting with tool, 6 techniques); Stitching (8 techniques); Pleating (3 techniques); Folding & Clamping (sekka and itajime of course!).

Part 3. Machine-aided shibori and sekka dyeing (machine aided; sekka dye factory). Conclusion, credits.

Shibori knotters and stitchers work at normal high speed as well as deliberately slowing down their working for the camera.

The DVD is a wonderful backdrop to the still photos of museum-quality shibori in the Kyoto Shoin Art Library monograph:



One of the most striking aspects of Japanese textiles is the propensity to mix techniques in the one piece of cloth or garment. In the West, we tend to stick to one or two techniques and our work uses just those techniques. In Japan, by contrast, it’s extremely common to see a kimono – as in this example – deploying weaving (here a white silk with a cloud pattern), blue shibori dyeing, the very obvious bleeding where the dyeing starts and finishes (something we might disguise more in the West), the silk painting (possibly a form of tsutsugaki or mock-tsutsugaki since this is a machine-made print) here in the crane’s wing, plus some couched gold embroidery outlining the feathers. I won’t go so far as to see it’s all be done by hand in this example – the weaving is certainly industrial. Some of the shibori may have been done by hand – I understand most of the broad-area shibori is done by machine these days and the large highlights sometimes done by hand. Obviously the tiny holes left by the shibori needle would have shown up a lot more had it been done by hand. The embroidery couching work (as seen from the back of the fabric) is far too regular to have been done by hand. But you certainly get the idea of how luxurious this would have been done, had it all been done by hand once upon a time – and how expensive it would have been then. The shibori here is done in the classic ‘square dot’ style. More on shibori as I re-acquaint myself with the types, the techniques and the Japanese terminology… Thanks to kimoYES (Canberra, Australia) for this example. As far as I can tell, it is cut up from a kimono-type garment (I suggest an outer garment rather than an inner one, given the embroidery), where the crane is at the top near the shoulders and the shibori, representing water and/or snow or flecked waves, is on the bottom half of the garment.  Above the crane’s wing is a small printed teal-blue mon (heraldic crest) which reinforces my perspective.