Friday, April 3, 2015

DIY Indigo Shibori Textile Dyeing

*This post contains affiliate links. All opinions expressed are my own. 

In this month's issue of InStyle magazine, COLOR is the theme. One of the colors highlighted is Classic Blue, and several indigo shibori pillows are shown. I was immediately drawn to them. I love color and I LOVE originality in my decor. This Japanese tie-dye technique seemed to be the perfect marriage of these two loves, so I got to work.

First, I learned that Japanese Shibori is an ancient method of folding, twisting, tying, and using wood to bind fabric before dyeing it. I used 3 methods here, but there are dozens. 

I was stoked to find a true all-in-one indigo dyeing kit on Amazon. All I needed was fabric and a bucket. Buy the kit, and you don't need any other dyeing materials. 

My cotton throw. I walk through the folding and binding steps to make this piece below.

I used the same method for this pillow case as with the throw, though my folds were more rectangular than square for this piece. 

For this pillow, I used a technique in which you pull the fabric up in the spot you want as the center of the circle, then wrap rubber bands from the tip of that point, going down. Don't twist the fabric as you pull it up. The rubber bands will create the white circles in the finished piece.

This kit will dye ALOT. The box says a couple dozen shirts, so after I dyed a couple of pillow cases and a blanket, I couldn't resist doing some clothing, too. I found a cute shibori dyed cropped jacket from Anthropologie (shown below), so I decided to dye one I found at the thrift store. Isn't it fun! I haven't worn tie-dye in public in a few years, but I really love how this turned out. 

My kids and a neighbor each dyed a shirt, too. Once you mix up the bucket of dye, it will keep for 3-4 days if it is covered. So no rush to do everyone's at once!

Now onto the tutorial....

Here is the contents of the dyeing kit. You'll need a 5 gallon bucket, and another plastic container of some kind to hold the wet fabric. I used a disposable pan lid (you know, those ones that come with the foil lasagne pans). 
I used the wood blocks, but not the popsicle sticks. After reading more about the variety of shibori methods, I see how the sticks could be fun to use in the future.

I recommend this be done outside. I'm not brave enough to have 5 gallons of dye anywhere in my house. I also recommend wearing an apron and clothes you don't care for too much. 
 Fill the bucket 3/4 of the way full with warm water. Add the three ingredients shown (blue dye and two white agents--soda ash and hydrosulfate) to the bucket.  Stir in a circle, scraping the bottom. (The kit doesn't come with a stir stick, so you'll need something to stir with. I used a dowel).  

Continue to stir in one direction and bubbles will form on the top of the water. Make a few turns in the opposite direction, and the bubbles will mostly come together in a bunch in the middle (as shown here). This is called the "flower" and is a bunch of gritty dark stuff that seems to help keep the dye preserved, but doesn't do the dying. Push the "flower" off to the side before you dip fabric.

Cover the dye bucket while you fold and bind your fabric. I just set a cookie sheet (bottom down) on top of the bucket to cover it.

This is my cotton throw pre-dyeing. Lay out your fabric/clothing flat.

Fold in an accordion fashion from one end to the other. You'll have a long strip of stacked fabric. The method I used to fold my cropped jacket stops the folding here and then wraps rubber bands around the long folded strip. For the throw and pillow I made with the grid-like patterns, there is one more step.

Fold the strip along the length in an accordion fashion.

Press wood blocks on either side of the folded fabric and use rubber bands to hold it in place. The placement of the blocks (aligning with the square of the fabric, or turned at an angle as I did it here) affects the final outcome. The kit comes with excellent diagrams of this.

Run the fabric under water, soaking thoroughly.  Put on your gloves, and dip the fabric in the bucket of dye. Agitate it with your stirring stick for several seconds to a couple minutes.  Pull it out of the dye and squeeze out the excess dye.

When you first pull it out, the fabric will appear a dark yellow or green. This is one of the fun parts of this dyeing method. As the indigo dye oxidizes, it turns from yellow, to green, to light blue, to blue. 

Here is my circle design pillow after it had been sitting for a minute or two. The green is starting to turn blue. Let it continue to oxidize for about 20 minutes, turning regularly to expose all sides to the air. 
At this point you can re-dip the fabric to achieve a darker blue, or move forward to rinsing and unwrapping.

Rinse the fabric lightly. It's normal to have some blue dye come out. Ring out, and then you can remove the rubber bands. Let the fabric continue to oxidize until it all the indigo has emerged. (These are my son's non-gloved hands. Oops. The dye had mostly set, so his hands weren't too blue.) 

Using a mild detergent, wash the fabric in cool water and dry. I tumble dried mine on low. 

Here are a few helpful tips to know as you do your own Indigo Shibori project: 
  • The tighter you wrap your fabric, the more contrast you'll have between the indigo and the original fabric color. If you want to have more "bleed" and gradient blue color, leave the folds and rubber bands looser. 
  • Wear the gloves. This is non-toxic dye, but you will have Smurf hands if you don't wear the gloves.
  • Achieve darker shades by dyeing, letting oxidize (still wrapped up), then dying again--like coats of paint.
  • When decorating with Indigo Shibori, don't feel like it needs to perfectly match your room already. Indigo is such a rich color, it acts almost as a neutral (think blue jeans). 
  • This dye is for natural fibers (cotton, silk, wool). Synthetics may not respond as well to the dye. Be sure to test synthetics or synthetic blends before dyeing.
  • When you are done, you can just dump the dye down the sink. It is non-toxic, so no harm done. Just don't let it splash on anything you don't want dyed. :)


  1. Love those cushions...what a great idea :-)

    Thanks for linking up to Marvelous Monday on Smart Party Planning.

    1. Thank you, Catherine. Similar ones are way out of my price-range, but DIY made it a reality! Thanks for the party; always a pleasure.

  2. So neat! I love the finished product - so fresh and elegant! Thanks so much for taking the time to link up with us over at the #HomeMattersParty - we hope to see you again this Friday!

    1. Thank you, Kristen. We are all enjoying the new designs in our home!

  3. I love that circular one. Thanks for posting. Hello from Busy Monday.

    1. Thank you, Melissa. That is my family's favorite, too!

  4. It matches your rug so well! I love how it turned out.

    1. Thank you. I am truly enjoying it! A fun and fashionable look!

  5. Every time I catch up on your blog, I wish I could come join your little universe and orbit the Kelly sun. :-) All your projects look so fun and I want in on the action! This is another cool project. I love the cropped cardigan you dyed!

    1. Thanks, Sarah! I wish you were in my universe (or me in yours), too! We are too dang far apart. You and your kids would love this project. Mine all love their indigo tie-dye shirts! And I love my new decor and cardi!

  6. I love how they all turned out! Thanks for sharing at Idea Box. :)

    1. Thank you, Danielle. My pleasure---it's a great link-up, and I'm sure to return!

  7. Oh my gosh! This looks like a lot of fun. Oh the possibilities. I've never heard of this indigo dye but I'm intrigued.