DIY Shibori – Indigo dyeing fabric – Part 1

Indigo dye results - Bay Area Sewists -

Hi, earlier this year, I took an indigo dyeing (also known as Shibori) workshop taught by Anna Joyce at Craftcation, which was so easy and so much fun. You can see photos from the workshop in my post My Craftcation 2016 Weekend. When I posted photos on my Instagram feed (@csews), a Bay Area Sewists member Ali (@sewmsboncha), commented that I should teach it to our meetup group (I organize monthly meetups for the Bay Area Sewists). I thought, why not pass along what I learned?

Shibori - Indigo dye results - Bay Area Sewists -

So four months later, I finally taught the Shibori workshop the first Saturday in August, passing along what I learned. The above photo is some of the lovely dyed fabric drying outside. We held this meetup at The Sewing Room in Alameda, courtesy of its lovely owner Jennifer Serr who graciously let us invade her space last Saturday afternoon.  Jennifer offers sewing classes at The Sewing Room and sells Tilly and the Buttons patterns as well as her own pattern line, Bonjour Teaspoon, in the shop.

I used the same indigo tie dye kits we used at Craftcation – the Jacquard Indigo Tie Dye Kit. I also bought five-gallon buckets at Home Depot , which we filled with four gallons of water. Here are some of the supplies I gathered: buckets, sticks to stir the dye, and the kits – taken before I left for Alameda.

Indigo tie dye supplies -

The kits are really easy to use. You get the indigo powder and two other separately packaged ingredients – thiox and soda ash – to pour in the water. (Thiox is a reducing agent, which means it reduces the oxygen in the water. Soda ash fixes the dye to the fiber you’re dyeing.) According to Anna Joyce, it doesn’t matter what order you put them in because the indigo is pre-reduced, which means it easily dissolves in the water.

However, I just watched this video by Jacquard, which says to put the indigo in first, followed by the soda ash and thiox. Well, we did it both ways indigo first and last and didn’t have any problems with the dye. You can always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and watch their video –Indigo Tie Dye Kit from Jacquard Products:

I got the kits at Artists & Craftsman Supply in Berkeley, which is conveniently located near Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics. 😉 So Bay Area folks, the next time you’re buying fabric, just go across the street and walk a half-block down to the art supply store and pick up an indigo dye kit. You can also buy the kits from Dharma Trading here ($8.49 per kit) or on Amazon for $9.97, affiliate link here. There is enough dye for 15 shirts or 15 yards of fabric.

I also got three different sizes of rubber bands to use (size 8, 16 and 64), plus cotton twine to use to manipulate the fabric. Size 8 are really tiny – they fit around my pinkie finger. I remember that we had tiny rubber bands at Craftcation, which are useful when you want to make small circle shapes in your fabric. I ordered them via Amazon (affiliate link here) because regular office supply stores don’t carry that size. They had a lot of size 16 (thin long rubber bands) and size 64,the thick rubber bands. In reading about Shibori – after the workshop – I see that at Craftcation, we mostly did the shape resist technique – or itajime shibori – where you fold and bind the fabric and a variation of kumo shibori – pleat and bind. Some of just did binding, no pleating.

Rubber bands for indigo dyeing -

I gave each Bay Area Sewist a yard of muslin to play around with. (The dye works best with natural fibers – cotton, linen, silk, wool, and rayon.) We folded, twisted, clamped, and tied the fabric and then put it in the dye bath. I prewashed (and ironed!) the muslin a few days before the Bay Area Sewists workshop to ensure that the dye would take. At Craftcation the tea towels and tote bags we dyed were a little dye resistant. The finishing on the fabric was the problem. Anna said she didn’t have any problems at another workshop she taught so she was surprised. I guess the materials came from a different supplier.

Shibori - indigo dyeing - folding and binding fabric - Bay Area Sewists -

One member, Maria, asked if the fabric should be wet first and I said it wasn’t necessary because we didn’t wet it at Craftcation and I prewashed the fabric.

I relied on my Craftcation experience to lead the workshop but in retrospect I should have at least read the Jacquard instructions more thoroughly. My apologies, Bay Area Sewists! I spent more time gathering supplies than anything else. Jacquard says to wet the fabric after you fold/tie/bind it and squeeze out the excess water and air. Then you put it in the dye bath. If I do this again, I’d like to do a comparison – prepare the fabric in the exact same way, then wet one piece of fabric and leave the other one dry and see what happens after dyeing it.

Here’s what I did with one piece of muslin – accordion-folded and then folded in thirds and then I held it together with three rubber bands. The rubber bands weren’t too tight because I was more interested in the folding lines and didn’t really care about the lines the rubber bands would create.

Shibori - Indigo dyeing - pleating fabric


As you can see, there’s a lot of white space. I decided I wanted it to be blue so I put it back in the dye bath and now it looks like the last photo. I think I like the previous version better. Next time!

Everyone had fun experimenting. Here’s how Jacquard says you’re supposed to take your fabric out of the dye bath -” squeeze it just below the surface as you slowly remove it from the vat. You want to prevent splashing as this introduces oxygen back into the vat.” You can read the full instructions here.

Shibori - Indigo dyeing fabric - Bay Area Sewists - C Sews

One fascinating thing about indigo dye is that the fabric is green when you first take it out of the dye and then when it oxidizes, it turns indigo blue. For a darker blue, you just wait about 20 minutes for it to fully oxidize and then put it back in the dye bath. You can keep putting it back in for a darker color – but you need to wait for it to oxidize before you dip it again. Keep in mind that when wet, the color looks a couple of shades darker than it will when dry.

I took a bucket of dye home and posted a video on Instagram that shows how green fabric initially is. You can see that it gets darker when it’s out of the dye bath – and you can see the other fabric that’s been out of the dye bath for a longer time. (You might have to wait a little bit for it to load because it’s taking the video from IG.)

A video posted by Chuleenan | C Sews (@csews) on

What I learned at Craftcation was the tighter you tie/twist/clamp it, the more white space you’ll have. So if you want more indigo blue in your fabric, make sure more fabric is exposed to the dye and that you loosely tie/twist your fabric.

What’s so great about indigo dyeing is that you see your results so quickly and you can just have fun experimenting with manipulating the fabric.

Shibori - Indigo dyed fabric - Bay Area Sewists meetup -

At Craftcation we were only using the dye for that workshop, which is likely why Anna Joyce didn’t mention anything about not introducing oxygen to the dye bath. No one was going to keep the dye so it didn’t matter if the dye oxidized. If the dye is oxidized, it will be indigo, .

The bottom line: You do need to be careful about introducing oxygen to the dye bath. This means no splashing when you put the fabric in the dye bath, slowly stirring the dye, and putting the lid on it in between dyeing. If the dye oxidizes it won’t adhere to the fibers as well.

The day after the workshop, I cut up a couple of yards of muslin and experimented with different folding/twisting/binding techniques. I’ll reveal the results of those experiments next week – with plenty of photos – in Part 2. UPDATE: I decided to write a post about washing indigo-dyed fabric before I wrote about my dye experiments.

Meanwhile, check out the Shibori techniques in these articles. (If I do the workshop again, I’ll have a lot more information to pass along!)

  • Shibori DIY – a Dharma Trading article on three Shibori resist techniques: Arashi (pole-wrapping), Kumo (twist and bind), and Itajime (shape resist).
  • DIY Shibori – a HonestlyWTF article showing the Arashi and Kumo techniques with photos of the binding and the results.
  • DIY Shibori Designs – a Design Sponge article on three folding techniques and how to make abstract rings of white.

Have you done any indigo dyeing? What’s your favorite binding technique?

Shibori - indigo dyeing workshop -

Author: Chuleenan

Chuleenan sews, collects hats and shoes, and is a fabric addict. She is also the organizer for the Bay Area Sewists Meetup group.

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