The Shibori Series: The History of the Shibori Technique

Welcome to the first post in our Shibori Series! In this post, we’ll be talking about how Shibori began, what types of fabrics and dyes were used, and when its popularity began to soar. Read on to find out about the history of Shibori dying!

One of the most popular methods of dying fabric in Asia and particularly Japan is the art of Shibori. This is a type of resist-dying technique, which implies that the dye is not carried over to all parts of the fabric, creating beautiful, intricate patterns with the dye.


The earliest documentation of Shibori can be found all the way back in the 8thcentury! The 45themperor of Japan, Emporer Shomu, gave a Shibori-dyed cloth to a Buddhist temple in Nara, Japan named Todai-Ji. From here, the monks were fascinated by the way this cloth was dyed and vowed to learn how to learn Shibori and incorporate it into their fabric.

Utagawa Hiroshige II (Shigenobu) Narumi Shibori - Japanese, 1826–1869

(Utagawa Hiroshige II (Shigenobu) - Narumi Shibori - Japanese, 1826–1869, via Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.)

Despite this, the technique was a pretty well-kept secret – that is, until the Edo period (dating 1603 to 1868). During this time, fashion was an indicator of wealth, and silk was worn by the wealthiest residents of all. This meant that lower class citizens were not allowed to wear silk. Because of this, they became creative and brought back Shibori dying in order to make more presentable and nicer-looking clothing to wear.

Shibori History

(Utagawa Hiroshige II (Shigenobu) - Shibori Tie-dyeing Shops - (Japanese, 1826–1869) via Museum of Fine Arts Boston.)

While silk was only available to richer folk, hemp and cotton were readily available – these were the main fabrics used for Shibori-dying. Dye was, unfortunately, quite hard to come by until the 20thcentury, so people would make do with indigo, rose madder (which produced the color red), and beetroot (which created the color purple).

Fragment of Kimono Red Shibori Late 18th Century

(Fragment of 18th century shibori kimono (kosode) via Museum of Fine Arts Boston)

From here on out, Shibori would evolve and increase in popularity. It would birth different dying techniques, such as Kanoko, Miura, Kumo, and many others!

Early 17th Century Kimono Fragment Shibori Museum of Fine Arts Boston

(Fragment of early 17th century shibori kimono via Museum of Fine Arts Boston)

UP next in our Shibori Series, we discuss the process of Shibori dying.