Tenth International Shibori Symposium

Tenth International Shibori Symposium

This is a guest post by Kim of Flextiles. She recently attended the Tenth International Shibori Symposium and I thought you all might to get a glimpse of what she did and saw there. There will be a second post in February. Thanks Kim!

Last November, I attended the 10th International Shibori Symposium (hereafter referred to as 10iss) in Oaxaca, Mexico. The symposium is organised by the World Shibori Network every few years, and this was the first one I had attended. With six days of workshops, presentations, receptions and exhibitions it was a pretty full-on experience, but great to be in the company of so many other hardcore textile enthusiasts!  

In this post I am going to describe some of the 10iss workshops that I and my Ever Supportive Partner (ESP) attended. ESP has no experience at all of working with textiles or shibori  but was keen to join in anyway. If the alternative was letting him loose in the local mezcal bars for six days, I thought it best to encourage him. 😉

Shibori is a Japanese resist dyeing technique, like tie dye. As well as binding, you can use stitching, wrapping, and folding and clamping to prevent dye from reaching parts of the cloth to create a pattern.

Shibori workshop with Ana Lisa Hedstrom

I’ve long admired the work of Ana Lisa Hedstrom, and I signed up for her workshop mainly because she was covering katano shibori, but I came away with many more ideas and inspiration.


Katano shibori, named after Motohiko Katano, is a process of stitching through several layers of fabric and not pulling the thread up afterwards. Instead, the lines of stitching channel the dye, producing softer marks that look as if they are airbrushed. There is a more detailed explanation of the technique in Shibori: The Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing by Yoshiko Wada, along with some stunning examples. The World Shibori Network sells some sets of Katano postcards. Ana Lisa brought some lovely samples with her.

Here’s the piece of katano I did in the workshop, on silk noil dyed with cochineal and then overdyed with indigo:


All the dyes used in the workshop were natural – the indigo vat was made using limestone and local fruit, so smelled lovely! However, because we had limited time, we were unable to leave the fabric in the dyepots for very long, so some of the colours are paler than we would have wished.


One of the other techniques we explored was machine stitch shibori. As with katano shibori, you stitch through several layers of fabric at the same time before dyeing. Ana Lisa had brought plenty of samples that inspired us, especially where more than one colour was used.

This was one of my attempts on a wool and silk scarf, dyed with cochineal and then indigo.


We also used the sewing machine to stitch pleats in different directions before dyeing – this is the result of mine after unpicking.


Since coming home I have dug out my ancient sewing machine and will be working on developing some of these techniques!

Itajime workshop with Elsa Chartin

Next door to our workshop with Ana Lisa, ESP was experiencing itajime shibori with Elsa Chartin. Itajime or sekka shibori is where the fabric is folded and then clamped between resists, producing geometric designs. I thought this would be a relatively easy introduction to shibori for him, especially as he is not good at stitching or tying knots! ☺

In this workshop they used chemical vat dyes, which, like indigo, require reduction and then exposure to oxygen for the colour to develop. After experimenting with different folding and different shaped resists they moved on to dyeing with more than one colour (moving the resists in between) and also discharging colour from dark fabrics, again using resists. They also overdyed on commercially printed fabric.

ESP enjoyed this very much – the results are quick and can be done on relatively large pieces of fabric. Of course he now considers himself an expert  and in an even better position to criticise my work! 😉

Cochineal dyeing with Michel Garcia

The official title of this workshop with Michel Garcia at 10iss was “Cochineal dyeing in four ways”. It was rather an understatement, as we ended up with 19 different colour swatches from cochineal!

Mexico was an appropriate place to do this workshop, given that cochineal is the most popular dye used there. The cochineal beetle, Dactylopius coccus, lives on Opuntia cactus species. The red colour comes from the carminic acid that makes up around 20% of its body. To make the dye, the dried beetles are ground up in a pestle and mortar and then added to the dye bath.


Michel used three different fabrics – wool, silk and cotton – along with different combinations of mordants and astringents to produce 19 different shades from cochineal, ranging from pink and orange to purple and dark brown. It was an extraordinary demonstration of the variations in colour you can get from one dye.

The different colour variations were achieved by varying the mordant (the ones he used included alum, symplocos, aluminium tartrate, aluminium acetate and ferrous acetate) and sources of tannin (such as pomegranate rind, persimmon and gallnut). For some swatches he used an all-in-one bath; others he premordanted before dyeing in a separate cochineal bath.

The final colour also depended on the type of fabric. Here are pictures of swatches of wool and silk dyed with cochineal.

This is a cotton strip mordanted with various combinations of aluminium acetate and ferrous sulphate, dyed with cochineal and pomegranate rind.


And this cotton strip uses the same mordants as above but is dyed with cochineal and gallnut extract.


Finally, Michel demonstrated his artistic side, using different combinations of mordants to paint an image onto cloth that didn’t appear until it was submerged in the dye pot.kw23

Safflower dyeing with Kazuki Yamakazi

Safflower is an interesting dye because it contains both red and yellow dyes so, depending on the fabric and pH, it produces different colours.

There’s a section on safflower dyeing in Jenny Dean’s book Wild Color, which explains the methodology. ESP and I tried this out last year, using a pack of dried safflower we bought in Malaysia, but it wasn’t very successful. So ESP was dispatched to this workshop to find out how it should be done!

First the safflower petals are soaked overnight, squeezed, strained and removed. This dye turns alum-mordanted fabric yellow (better on silk than on cotton).

The petals are washed to remove the yellow and soaked in an alkaline solution for two hours to extract the red dye. After straining and before adding the fabric, citric acid is added to neutralize the dye bath. Distinctive small bubbles form at this stage. If too much acid is added the red dye will start to precipitate out – sometimes this is done deliberately to extract the dye to use in cosmetics.

Silk added to this dye turns orange, while cotton turns red or dark pink.

The difference in colour is because the red dye also contains a second yellow dye, which is absorbed by silk but not cotton. You can see in the photo below that the silk (top row) is more orange than the red cotton below.


To get pink silk, you need to use cotton as a “dye bank” to absorb just the red dye and then extract it. At around pH4 the dye is locked into the cotton. If you then put the cotton into a bath of pH6-7 the dye is released from the cotton. Squeeze out the cotton and remove it from the dye bath before adding more citric acid. Then add the silk – you get bright pink!

Japanese dyers might repeat the entire process six times to get intense colours into the dye bank.

The process doesn’t work well with wool, despite the fact that it is a protein fibre like silk. This is because wool needs to be heated to more than 30C to open the scales, but the pigment begins to break down at 30C, so you just get a pale pink.



20 thoughts on “Tenth International Shibori Symposium

  1. What an experience! So lovely that your ESP joined in too. I didn’t realise that the sewing machine could be used in shibori – lovely results. Thank you for a very enjoyable post.

    1. Thanks Lyn! Yes – I’m lucky that ESP was happy to join in. And I’m keen to start exploring how to use a sewing machine for shibori – may speed it up a bit! 🙂

  2. Very interesting dyes and stitching. I could wish they worked better on wool. It looks like a some great workshops to take. Invisible painting that appears in the dye pot sounds like fun. Dye plants native to my area get you shades of yellow, green and brown. One gets you pale pink. Not nearly as inspiring.

    1. Cochineal works well on wool Ann – but I don’t think it’s local to your area! Who knows, in Mexico they may think that yellow, green and brown are exotic. 😉

  3. Kim, thanks so much for sharing your attendance at the 10ISS. It was on my calendar, of course. And then life happens. What a wonderful opportunity for you, and Oaxaca is such a great setting for natural dyeing. I have enjoyed my own shibori experiments at home but never used the machine for stitching. Was that the stitching you left in? Can’t imagine having to use a seam ripper!

    1. Thanks Cathy! It was the first time I’ve ever been to Oaxaca – indeed first time in Mexico – so 10iss was a great excuse. If you use rayon thread in the bobbin when machine stitching it’s weaker, so very easy to pull out. 🙂

  4. Wow Kim, that was a full ticket and such great results. Shibori is a lot of fun with so many different outcomes. Thanks for sharing. I may have to try the machine stitching. I look forward to seeing more of your shibori work.

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