Shibori - A Definition

Shibori is the Japanese word for a variety of ways of embellishing textiles by shaping cloth and securing it before dyeing. The word comes from the verb root shiboru, "to wring, squeeze, press." Although shibori is used to designatc a particular group of resist-dyed textiles, the verb root of the word emphasizes the action performed on cloth, the process of manipulating fabric. Rather than treating cloth as a two-dimensional surface, with shibori it is given a three-dimensional form by folding, crumpling, stitching, plaiting, or plucking and twisting. Cloth shaped by these methods is secured in a number of ways, such as binding and knotting. It is the pliancy of a textile and its potential for creating a multitude of shape-resisted designs that the Japanese concept of shibori recognizes and explores. The shibori family of techniques includes numerous resist processes practiced throughout the world.

Shibori is used as an English word throughout this book because there is no English equivalent. In fact, most languages have no term that encompasses all the various shibori techniques, nor is there English terminology for individual methods, which often have been incorrectly lumped together as "tie-and-dye." Three terms for separate shibori methods have come into international usage: plangi, a Malay-lndonesian word for the process of gathering and binding cloth; bandy an Indian term for the same Process; and tritik, a Malay-lndonesian word for stitch-resist. However, these three terms represent only two ofthe major shibori techniques. In this context, the word shibori seems the most useful term for the entire group of shaped resist textiles. It is the hope of the authors that "shibori" will win acceptance in the international textile vocabulary.

The special characteristic of shibori resist is a soft- or blurry-edged pattern. The effect is quite different from the sharp-edged resist obtained with stencil, paste, and wax. With shibori the dyer works in concert with the materials, not in an effort to overcome their limitations but to allow them full expression. And, an element of the unexpected is always present.

All the variables attendant on shaping the cloth and all the influences that control the events in the dye vat or pot conspire to remove some of the shibori process from human control. An analogy is that of a potter firing a wood-burning kiln. All the technical conditions have been met, but what happens in the kiln may be a miracle or a disaster. Chance and accident also give life to the shibori process, and this is its special magic and strongest appeal.