Shibori is a traditional Japanese method used to dye fabric. Beautiful, elaborate, dark blue and white patterns are created by tying, bunching, folding, stitching, and wrapping fabric to create resists, or spaces where the dye doesn’t soak into the fabric. Shibori is typically created using indigo to dye cotton or silk. Some of the earliest examples found in Japan date back to the Nara period (710–794), but the technique didn’t become popular until about a thousand years later, in the Edo period (1615–1868). During the Edo period, laws restricted the type of cloth and colors that people who were not royalty could wear. Because of this, the use of indigo, and later the shibori dyeing technique, became a popular choice. Shibori was often used to dye kimonos, yukatas, and even handkerchiefs. Today, some methods are similar to Western tie-dye.

Shibori embodies traditional Japanese aesthetics in that the final product can’t be predetermined—you never quite know what you’ll get—and the variations and imperfections are taken as they are, seen as beautiful. There are many different types of shibori patterns. Instructions for three different techniques are below: itajime shibori, kumo shibori, and kanoko shibori. Pick one pattern to start and have fun!

Artwork and instructions below courtesy of Evan Sneed.


You will need:

  • 5 grams Jacquard pre-reduced indigo dye*
  • 10 grams sodium hydrosulfite*
  • 20 grams soda ash*
  • large plastic bucket or tray that is not used for food or beverages deep enough to hold 2–3 gallons of water
  • wooden stick or paint stirrer
  • at least 2 rubber bands
  • rubber gloves
  • natural, plain white cotton fabric such as a bandana or fabric square
  • optional: at least 2 thin wood squares or popsicle sticks; binder clips; clothespins

*Note: If you’re dyeing large pieces of fabric and have purchased the materials on your own, you will need 1 gallon of warm water for every 5 grams of indigo dye you’re planning to use. For the example below, I used 4 gallons of water for 20 grams of indigo dye powder. The ratio for all of the materials is 1 part (5 grams) Jacquard pre-reduced indigo, 2 parts sodium hydrosulfite, and 4 parts soda ash for every gallon of water.

Part 1: Mix Your Dye

Step 1

spread of plastic bucket, rubber gloves, cups with dyes and powders, a pitcher of water, and other materials
Let’s get ready! Choose a well-ventilated or outside area and protect your table or work surface with newspaper, a plastic tablecloth, or kraft paper. If you have an MFA art kit, place the materials on top of the protected table. You will also need a large plastic bucket or tray that is deep enough to hold 2–3 gallons of water. If you don’t have an MFA art kit, gather the materials listed above. Remember, the materials used for this activity shouldn’t be used later for food or drink!

Step 2

pouring water from a pitcher into a bucket
Fill your bucket with 1 gallon of warm water.

Step 3

two photos side-by-side: both depicting pouring powders into bucket from cup
Let’s mix the dye! If you have an MFA art kit, the dyeing materials have been premeasured. Wearing gloves and while working in a well-ventilated area or outside, carefully pour the soda ash, sodium hydrosulfite, and pre-reduced indigo dye into the water. Be very careful to not ingest or inhale the ingredients.

Step 4

using wooden paint stirrer to mix dye mixture in bucket
Using your wooden stick or paint stirrer, slowly stir the dye mixture in one direction until thoroughly mixed, scraping the sides and bottom of the bucket to make sure all the materials dissolve. Let the materials in the bucket rest for 15 to 30 minutes while you choose and prepare your pattern!

Part 2: Choose and Prepare Your Pattern

Patterns: Kanoko | Itajime | Kumo


blue dye on white cloth in kanoko pattern

Kanoko shibori is one of the easier styles to make because you only need string or rubber bands to make patterns, and it’s the most similar to Western tie dye.

two photos side-by-side: on left, white cloth folded into triangle; on right, rolled up cloth bundled with rubber bands

To make kanoko shibori, fold the fabric in half or into a large triangle, then fold and bunch it up using rubber bands to secure it in different spots. Experiment with placement and how loose or tight you choose to make the rubber bands. Tighter bands will do a better job of resisting the dye and making the fabric stay white where they’re placed.


blue dye on white cloth in itajime pattern

Itajime shibori is made using accordion folds to make squares or triangles, wooden blocks to create a resist, and rubber bands.

two photos side-by-side: on left, hands pushing down on linearly folded white cloth; on right, rectangle of folded cloth folded further into square shape

To make itajime shibori, create an accordion fold with your fabric: first, place your fabric flat on the table. Fold the bottom quarter of the fabric up, then flip the fabric over and repeat by folding the next quarter of the fabric up. Continue until you have a long rectangle with four or more layers of folded fabric. To make a square pattern, fold the long rectangle into squares, over and under, repeating until you end up with one square that has many layers. To make a triangle pattern, fold the top right corner of the long rectangle down to form a triangle. Flip the fabric over to create another triangle, repeating until you end up with one triangle with many layers. Secure your stack of folds with rubber bands, binder clips, or clothespins. To create more of a resist—a pattern with clearly defined dark blue square or triangle lines with a white center—add wood blocks to the top and bottom of your layered folds, like a sandwich, and secure it with rubber bands.


blue dye on white cloth in kumo pattern

Kumo shibori ends up looking like a spider web or a circular or ring pattern. It is made by using rubber bands to create finger-shaped bumps all over the fabric before dyeing.

white cloth bundled up with rubber bands forming protrusions throughout

To make kumo shibori, place your fabric flat on your work surface, then pull up a small amount of fabric, bunch it together to make a bump, and then use a rubber band to hold it in place. To make the process easier you can place a small object such as a rock, coin, or plastic bead under the fabric, push it up, pull the cloth around it, and secure it with a rubber band. Continue making these bumps until you have as many or as few as you’d like. To add more resist dyeing and experiment with the pattern, add more rubber bands to different areas on the protruding bumps.

Part 3: Dye

Step 1

bundle of white cloth tied with rubber bands soaking in water
Soak your prepared fabric in plain water for a few minutes and make sure it’s completely soaked.

Step 2

submerging white cloth bundle in dye mixture using rubber gloves
If the dye mixture in the bucket has been sitting for 15–30 minutes, it’s time to dye your fabric! Your mixture should look green or yellow-green in color. Put rubber gloves on, then skim off or push aside the “bloom,” or thick bubbles that have formed at the top. Next, submerge your folded, pre-soaked fabric in the dye. Gently move it around in the bucket, side to side and up and down, but don’t let it touch the bloom or the bottom of the bucket, as the bubbles on top and the residue at the bottom could change the way your pattern looks on the fabric. Keep your fabric submerged in the dye for about 3–5 minutes.

Step 3

blue-dyed fabric bundles resting on tabletop
Remove the dyed fabric from the mixture and place it on the covered table or a tray. Your fabric will look light green when it first comes out of the mixture, but don’t worry! Over a few minutes, the color will change from light green to dark green to dark blue as the oxygen in the air causes a chemical reaction in the dye. Let your dyed fabric sit on the table for 20 minutes. If you’re happy with the color of your fabric, move on to the next step. (Your wet fabric will be a darker color than when it dries; if you would like an even darker shade of blue, put gloves back on and hold it under the dye for another 3–5 minutes, remove, and let rest on the table for another 20 minutes to oxidize and change color from green to blue.)

Step 4

rinsing bundle of blue-dyed cloth underneath running water from faucet
Rinse the fabric under running water after it’s rested for 20 minutes. Squeeze the dye out until the water runs clear. Then remove any rubber bands and wood blocks and see what the fabric looks like! Don’t worry if there are still some light green spots after you unfold your fabric; as soon as these are exposed to the oxygen in the air they will start to turn dark blue, too.

Step 5

dyed fabric with shibori pattern spread open on tabletop to dry
Lay the wet fabric on a flat protected surface to dry overnight. Later, if you need to wash the fabric, use a small amount of detergent and wash with similar colors until you are certain that the dye won’t get on anything else. Make as many patterns as you would like for the rest of the day!

Step 6

using wooden paint stirrer to mix dye mixture in bucket
If you’re done making shibori designs for the day but want to keep dyeing fabric at a later time, you can reuse your dye mixture if you take care of it: use the wood stick to carefully stir the dye vat (like in Step 4), then place a well-fitting lid over your container to keep the air out until you’re ready to use it again. With a tight-fitting lid when not in use, the mixture should keep for up to a week. When you’re no longer interested in using your dye vat to create shibori designs, carefully pour the mixture down the drain. Clean your sink and materials with soap and water. Remember, the materials you used are now just for creating artwork. Do not use them for any food or beverage items.

About the Artist

Evan Sneed is a historian and museum professional with a master’s of history and museum studies from Tufts University. A member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, he made the move from Cherokee, North Carolina, to New England in 2017. Evan currently lives in Boston and has been working in museums around the city for the last six years. Outside work he enjoys rooting for his favorite soccer team and studying Japanese history. He is excited to engage with a diverse audience at the MFA while focusing on two of his passions: history and education.