Asian Influence and the Magic of Shibori Dyeing

Shibori is a resist dyeing technique that creates patterns on fabric. The resists are created by folding, stitching and gathering, clamping, binding, tying. . . . If there’s a way to compress fabric so that the dye can’t penetrate to that area, it’s a shibori resist technique. Try these three techniques on your pillow motifs for the Shibori Pillow from Interweave Crochet Summer 2018.

Gather the materials for dyeing: indigo dye kit, clothespins, paper clips, rubber bands, craft sticks, and any other clamping, binding, or gathering tools you may find around the house.


This resist technique prevents dye from entering the areas that are clamped. Once you get started, you begin looking around to see what else could work as possible tools . . . like those little wooden ice cream spoons I saw at the craft store. D’oh! Now I need to go back.

To achieve the look on the Shibori Pillow, I combined the use of craft sticks, large paper clips, and clothespins. Fold the motif from the center to the corner, and place a craft stick on each side of the fold. Use paper clips and clothespins to secure. Repeat for each corner of the motif.

This motif was clamped with 8 plastic bag clips. The clip ends are easily pushed through the ch-1 spaces of the pillow pattern motif and then snapped into place.


This is the classic tie-dye method of binding. Wrap one rubber band around the center of the motif and then add more rubber bands to form a tube.

You can experiment with this. I wrapped a rubber band around the center of the motif and then pushed my finger up beneath each corner to create another area to wrap. Once I had 5 wrapped areas, I added 4 more rubber bands wherever I could. The more you bind, the more white (or undyed) areas will be present in your dyed piece.


Some interesting effects happen when you weave bulky synthetic yarn through the crocheted fabric and then pull it tight before dyeing.

Use a separate length for each round you gather. Once the yarn has been woven in, pull each length tight and knot it. Cut ends to about one inch.

I gathered 6 rounds for this motif, but you can do fewer. You don’t even have to gather in rounds (the motif design lends itself to that, though). You can weave straight across or in curves. . . . Just keep it simple and remember to pull those gathers tight.

Dyeing motifs with different shibori resist effects can be somewhat addictive, and I encourage you to crochet a few extra motifs just to see what you can come up with. Sincerely, it’s so much fun.

Tips for Dyeing with Indigo


Knit Picks Simply Cotton Organic Worsted has already been prewashed and scoured and is ready for dyeing. If substituting another 100% cotton yarn, you will have to prewash the completed motifs, back panels, and extra yarn (for sewing together) before dyeing. Use a neutral-pH detergent with no fabric softeners. You want to remove all oils left from manufacturing that might inhibit the fiber from accepting dye. Once the item is washed, let it dry thoroughly before applying any shibori resist techniques.

Precautions and setup

If you’re working outdoors on the lawn, a plastic drop cloth might not be necessary, but if you’re working in an area you don’t want discolored with dye, especially if you’re working indoors, you need to cover every exposed surface with a cheap plastic drop cloth. The indigo dye will get everywhere. It really, really will. Same thing goes for the clothes and shoes you are wearing. Don’t wear anything that would make you blue if you accidentally dyed it blue.

Another precaution is to wear a disposable respirator mask when opening the packets of powder from the indigo kit before mixing it with water. If you spill some of the powder, wipe it up immediately with something wet and throw it in the trash. Also, any utensil you might use with dyeing can never be used again for food purposes, ever.

You need two 5-gallon buckets, one with a lid. The first bucket is for presoaking. The bucket with the lid is used to prepare the dye and to keep the dye covered when not in use.

The lid is essential, because indigo dye will last longer if less oxygen can get to it. If you need to interrupt the dyeing process or you’re finished dyeing for the day and want to dye again in the next day or so, cover that indigo vat securely with the lid. I was able to keep my dye vat going for about three days (yours might last longer), which allowed me to dye for several days, not just one.

Indigo, the Science

The science of indigo has something to do with elevated pH and lost oxygen molecules from the indigo which then return when exposed to air. The important thing to keep in mind is that introducing oxygen to the dyebath is not a good thing. When the vat is not in use, cover it. When introducing an object into the dyebath, introduce it slowly. No splashing! When removing the dyed item, remove it slowly and keep the drips to a minimum, because they add oxygen to the dyebath. Some drips are unavoidable, but be aware.

The Process

Soak motifs (back panels, yarn) in the 5-gallon bucket of water for at least a half hour.

Follow directions enclosed with the indigo kit for setting up the dye vat. It is helpful to mix the indigo and reduction agent in a cup of warm water before adding it to the bucket of water. Soda ash especially needs to be dissolved in hot water before it’s added to the vat.

When the dyebath is ready (and with your rubber gloves on), remove the motif from the presoaking bath, squeeze out as much water as possible, and submerge it slowly into the dyebath. Move it around slowly so that the front and back are easily exposed to the dye. You will hold the motif loosely in your hands during the entire dipping process, which will last up to five minutes. If you can, it helps to squeeze the submerged motif before removing it from the dyebath to lessen the dripping, which will add unwanted oxygen to the dyebath. When dyeing a back panel, you might want to put an old pie plate or something similar under it to catch all the drips. Do not return any of this dye to the dye vat, though. It will have oxidized and will weaken the dyebath.

After removing the motif, let it rest in a shallow tray while it oxidizes (the scientific term for the magical color transformation that takes place). Wait for the motif to turn completely blue (around 15–20 minutes). Carefully lift up some areas to be sure they’ve oxidized and are no longer green before dipping in the dye vat again.

Indigo dyeing is a cumulative process. It’s not the length of time that determines the final color; it’s the number of dips or layers of color that are built up. The more dips into the indigo vat, the darker the final color will be. If the layers are too thick (caused by impatience and thinking one long time in the dye bath can create a dark color that will last), the color will wash out or rub off. This is called crocking, which you don’t want. Having several layers of color will help keep the indigo locked into the fiber so there is less chance of it flaking or rubbing off.

Each part of the Shibori Pillow I designed for Interweave Crochet Summer 2018 was dipped six times. That includes the yarn used to sew it all together at the end. Keep track of how many times you’ve dipped each part so that you maintain consistent color. Even then, you will have some color fluctuation because of the nature of natural dyeing.

Colors also appear darker when wet than they do when dry. Something dipped four times will appear the same blue black as something dipped six times, but once everything is dry, there is a big difference. I think “shibori crochet” looks best with a dramatic contrast between undyed areas and the dark, rich indigo blue. My suggestion is to dip more than you think necessary. My next project, I’m going to dip eight times!


Remove clamps, rubber bands, and so on under cold running water, and keep rinsing until you no longer see blue.


To remove excess dye that has not fully bonded with the cotton, wash the item with Synthrapol. Even though you rinsed your dyed objects until the water ran clear, Synthrapol will surprise you with just how much indigo was unattached to the fiber. Follow the directions on the bottle and wash the piece in the hottest water possible in your washing machine (Synthrapol requires hot water, which also helps set the color). Follow up with Woolite (or another pH-neutral detergent) for the second wash.

MARIA O’KEEFE loves coffee and crochet and stomping her acreage in rural Kansas with her neighbor’s five dogs.

This article originally appeared in Interweave Crochet Summer 2018

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