Slow and Steady: Shibori Resist Dyeing with Indigo

Patience is a virtue, but it’s certainly not one that I possess. I’m not exactly the best at waiting (is it just me or is thirty seconds way too long to wait for pizza to microwave?), so the idea of waiting a year for something sounds nearly torturous. The artisans working with our fair trade partners MESH and Manushi, however, are crafting beautiful textile designs using indigo dye that takes about a year to produce and proving that good things do indeed come to those who wait (if the taste of that cold-in-the-center leftover pizza wasn’t enough of an indication).

Shibori | Indigo Geo Print Pillow

Indigo is made by harvesting leaves from an indigofera plant and drying them in the sun. The leaves are flipped repeatedly with a broom until they turn blue.

Shibori | Indigo Leaves

Indigo is a gorgeous color, but if your patience meter is anything like mine, you’re probably still wondering why anyone would spend nearly a year trying to produce indigo ink. Surely, there are other blues we can make in half the time, right? Technically, yes, but looks aren’t everything!

Natural indigo has some superpowers in addition to its beautiful color.

Samurais wore fabric dyed in indigo under their armor, utilizing its antibacterial qualities to protect wounds. Indigo was also once used in Japanese firefighters clothing because it is known to be flame resistant, but don’t test this at home (seriously, our indigo-dyed fabrics are cotton and will burn, so don’t even think about it).

Shibori | Indigo Geo Print Pillow

To create the Indigo Geo Print Pillows, MESH works with a dyeing workshop called Little Flower in northern India. Little Flower purchases a natural indigo dye powder from south India and mixes it with hot water and caustic soda. The mixture is left to ferment for two days and then strained into lukewarm water to make a dye bath.

Once the dye has been prepared, artisans use a Japanese resist dyeing technique called shibori to create patterns on cotton fabric.

Shibori | Indigo Geo Print Pillow

Itajime shibori is a form of shibori in which templates are used to block specific sections of the fabric from the dye to create a pattern. Once the template is securely in place, the fabric is soaked by hand in the dye bath. Once the fabric dries, the templates are removed. Each piece varies slightly, making each Indigo Geo Print Pillow a one-of-a-kind work of art.

Shibori | Indigo Geo Print Pillow

The shibori process used for the Indigo Kimono Robe crafted by dye artisans working with Manushi in Nepal is slightly different. The cotton fabric is laid on a flat surface, and a cotton rope is laid on top of the fabric.

Shibori | Resist Dyeing Process

The fabric is then rolled tightly around the rope. The artisans squeeze the fabric toward the middle of the rope, scrunching it together from both ends.

Shibori | Resist Dyeing Process

Next, the rope is tied to together at the ends, forming the rolled fabric into a small hoop.

Shibori | Resist Dyeing Process

The rope creates the resist dye pattern.

Shibori | Resist Dyeing Process

The fabric is soaked by hand in AZO-free indigo dye. Once the fabric has dried, the ropes are removed.

Shibori | Anu Dwarika Shakya - Master Dye ArtisanAnu Dwarika Shakya – Master Dye Artisan

The dye artisans of MESH and Manushi are valuing process and craftsmanship over expediency, and the difference is noteworthy. The Indigo Geo Print Pillows and the Indigo Kimono Robe may be a long time in the making, but it’s clear that they are well worth the wait.

Shibori | Indigo Kimono Robe

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Maddie Murphy

Madeleine lives in Lancaster, PA, where she hopes to stay forever if possible. Most of the time she’s reading, drawing silly cartoons, and figuring out how to be an adult, but occasionally, you might see her outside riding a bike. She’s also enthusiastic about sustainable food systems and has been vegan for a couple of years. Despite everyone’s predictions, it hasn’t killed her yet!

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