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Simplified Shibori Dyeing

My apologies; I have been so busy engulfed in my new art form; Shibori style dyeing. The idea came to me when I realized I had too many white blouses. If you know me, you know I LOVE to repurpose. What better way to give a new life to clothing or anything white than to Shibori dye it?! After many attempts, some not so good, I have perfected and simplified the complexity of classic ‘indigo’ dyeing. It’s quick, easy and quite manageable in a kitchen or laundry room. Don’t you just love a fresh bright blue?! I do warn you, it may become an addiction…

There will more tutorials coming up, but to start let’s keep it simple. Here is the instruction for these 4 patterns.

What you will need:

  • Washing soda (aka sodium carbonate, NOT baking soda)
  • Procion Fiber Reactive MX Dye in Navy blue 078
  • Elastics, skewer sticks, tongue depressers/popsicle sticks
  • container to mix in
  • measuring spoons
  • water
  • waterproof gloves
  • paint brush/eye dropper
  • Fabric (natural fibre) of choice (I used 20″ squares of unbleached cotton canvas/duck)

I had experimented quite a bit with different dyes when starting Shibori Dyeing, but have come to love this one; Fiber Reactive Dye. It had been so disappointing to use some of the other dyes and see it wash out constantly. You can use the traditional indigo dye but that seemed like it was going to be quite an ordeal. This dye is quite easy and small scale.

Step #1 – Prepare fabric

You must however realize that you need to use natural fibers. Cotton, silk, bamboo, rayon(ramie), hemp, jute, linen etc. For my project I am using a slightly heavy weight cotton.

Cut or rip the sizes of squares you would like. These are going to pillows so I used 20″ squares. If your fabric is new, it should be washed and no fabric softener used. Soak your fabric squares in a solution of 1 cup Washing soda to one gallon of water. It should soak at least 30 minutes.

Step #2 – Folding and securing

To start thinking about the folding method there are a few things to keep in mind. To understand the folding patterns practice with some paper. Most patterns start with the accordian fold; back and forth. The idea is to have folded edges near the side of the finished shape to pick up the dye.




Once the first direction is folded, then that strip is folded in the other direction. It is a really a lesson on geometry and angles. But don’t worry, you can just follow mine. AND the great thing is that even if it has mistakes it will look great! There are triangles that can be folded after the first accordian fold. Remember a triangle has a total of 180º for the corners.




See these triangles have one 90º corner. The pattern created is based on squares





These triangles are different with 60º corners. The pattern created is based on hexagons







This square is also accordian-folded but it a fan way. Once that is done it is folded back and forth in the other direction.



Was not folded, see instructions below.


This is SQUARE #1

After the fabric has soaked, wring it out. Do wear gloves as it is quite harsh on your hands. Thin gloves allow better dexterity. Accordian folding and then back and forth triangle. Secure with the tongue depressers and elastics.

This is SQUARE #2

Accordian folded and then equilateral triangle folding. Secure with elastics.

This is SQUARE #3

This was folded accordian style but triangle shape, then accordian folded ending with the thin part on top. Secure with elastics.

SQUARE #4 was not folded, but shirred and clamped wit the skewers and depressers. Pinch the fabric into small folds, trying to keep it flat. Secure it with the skewers and elastics.

It is roughly divided into 5 sections.

Step #3 – Prepare the dye

Mix 2 teaspoons of Procion MX fiber reactive dye (Navy 078 is my favourite) with one cup of cool water. Do not breathe in the dust or please wear a mask. I try to not to mix too much so I usually mix half a cup first. This method is not immersion dyeing so it takes much less dye. Use a brush or spoon to make sure it is well mixed. You had better put the gloves on or you will have blue fingers for a while!

Step #4 – Applying the dye

This may get a bit messy so I like to use a plastic wash bin or the like (styrofoam meat trays also work well). I like to use a large brush to apply the dye to the edges. Each fabric acts a bit different for how it wicks up the dye and spreads. It is somewhat of an experiment; but that is the fun. You just never really know what you are going to get. It is a good idea to do a few small test squares until you get the ‘feel’ of how much colour you prefer or amount of bleeding the fabric does. Each fabric reacts differently to the dye. Trust me, I know…


      ‘Paint’ the dye around the edges of the folded shapes. To distribute the dye better, you may also squeeze gently. There are so many options for applying dye in on different sides to get a variety of patterns when unfolded.



The Square #4 is painted on differently. The dye in the centre sections has been slightly diluted to achieve a lighter colour than the end sections. The skewers and depressers separate the areas. The ends are dyed full strength navy.





Great job! Doesn’t that look interesting and mysterious?! To keep the dye damp the pieces are placed in plastic bags carefully to keep dyed sections from touching too much.

Step #5 – Heat set the Dye

It is now time to set the dye with heat. There are few choices. You can use a small amount of heat (20ºC+) for a long period of time (24 hours) or a higher amount over less time. Being the impatient crafter I am, I choose to work as fast as I can. I double bag the pieces and place them in a (dedicated for dyeing) microwave. I microwave for a small amounts of time till I see it start to puff up meaning that it is at the onset of boiling the moisture. I then set them under some towels to hold the heat and slowly cool.

Step #6 – Rinse and wash

Take the pieces to a sink where you can rinse them freely. Start to rinse in cool water with the bindings still on and then start to take them off. Depending on the amount of dye the fibers have absorbed there may little or more dye rinsing out. I have found that there is little release when using the cotton. Keep rinsing until it runs clear.

It is like christmas when the bindings come off and the pattern reveals itself! So much fun! Look at that great strength of colour!

After they have been well rinsed, they need to be washed. There is a suggested soap (Synthrapol) but I usually just use a bit of dish soap. The purpose is to use hot water to wash away any unused dye. I found that a bit of purple seemed to wash out and it ended beautifully blue. Wash twice, dry and you are set to use as you would any other fabric. This has much better staying power than Rit or Dylon, and I find it is easy to set with some heat.

The details of the dye are so interesting! They are like small pieces of art, each one unique. My plan? An entire bedroom remodel… stay tuned. But for now a sneak peek:

One step at a time. Wonderful blue pieces of art that are somewhat created by chance. Such a lovely easy form of art!

The guest room is taking shape… as the Shibori duvet cover is also now done!

I'm an artist & I make things... all kinds of things.

This Post Has 42 Comments

  1. I know if I tried this on a piece of fabric at home I’d probably have blue hands and various splotches on my face which might or might not look so great with the scarf I’d be making 😉 Nice Job!

    1. Glad that I inspired you! When I started I used some small scraps of old bed sheets to see how things turned out. It is such a fun form of art since you just never know exactly what you will get!

      Good Luck

      1. I never really thought I had any artistic abilities until I discovered the different styles of dying fabric. And I ask myself WHY did I wait so long?!

        1. Yes, I know! I have sewn clothes for almost 40 (how can I be so old!?) years. I now just want to dye, paint, print all my fabric! Forget about the fabric store! ‘And I can revamp stuff just by dyeing! I am testing some fabric paints for even more options. Happy making!

    1. Yes, this dye is so versatile. In the hot weather you can just leave it in a bag for a longer length of time instead of high heat for a short time. The pro ‘tie-dyers’ do that at events. Have fun folding! You may also like the reverse method

  2. Hey! These pillows are so beautiful!!
    Yesterday I tried to make my own shibori pillows and curtains. I used RIT dye with salt, and then soaked in a salt and vinegar mixture and washed them. When I opened the washer my heart sank as my beautiful fabric was now a light baby blue, and the areas that were white has now become blue, as well!
    Do you have any tips to avoid this? Do I need to use a fixative with Procion dye? I want to try again, but I don’t want to put it in the washing machine again! Please let me know what I should do 🙂

    1. Oh Mary! I did the same thing! (those dyes are not good) It looked good til I washed it. This Procion Fiber reactive dye is waaaayy better! It stays and is completely washable. Just follow my instructions. I have t-shirts that I wear and wash often. ‘Just soak in washing soda & water before dyeing (make sure it’s cotton or natural fiber, silk dyes like a dream!). Once properly heat set, there is no other fixative needed.

      You may also like the reverse shibori

  3. Hi! I’m teaching your method of dying fabrics for a class at my local library. My question is: have you ever used a hair dryer to set the fabric dye, instead of a microwave? I’m looking for possible alternate methods of heating…since we have a rather large group. Do you think this would work?

    1. I would not like that it uses forced air. I know that sometimes the guys at fairs just use the sun, as in a dark bag it would heat up in summer. Maybe a heating pad would be better as long as you don’t get it wet. Keep each in a bag, then maybe wrap in a blanket to insulate. I would do a test piece before to see that it sets adequately. When I was not in hurry I would just put them near warm appliances and let it sit in the bag for a whole day.
      Good luck!

  4. Hi Barb! Thank you for the post! Love how well the dye stayed. I recently did shibori for first time a couple months ago. Dyed some cheep cotton flour sack towels. LOVED they way they were wet before washing. WS disappointed the faded a little. We used the Jawuard indigo dye kit from Amazon that mixes in buckets, get foam and looks green until reacts with oxygen and turns blue. it was a lot of fun and I am totally addicted as well. I have a friend that has asked me to teach it as a class coming up in a couple weeks. I wanted to try to do a cotton pillow cover and have the inserts and also Duty towels I’m having trouble finding a decent price on natural fiber pillow covers for a throw pillow. Do you have any ideas or suggestions? I could see my own but not for a group of 25 people that want to take home project same day. also have you tried the actual Indigo dye that I have used? I’m wondering how it compares to this one? Would like to chose dye that yields best results and is easy and won’t break bank. also want people to be able to open up their Creations during the class rinse and take home to wash at home. Do you think a couple mins in microwave per person will be enough time to heat set? Would love your thoughts on how to make this a couple our class and leave the students feeling excited about their project. thanks again for the great post and information!

    1. Ok, I’ll try to help you… I have sometimes used large cotton curtain panels as fabric for pillows, even used cotton canvas drop cloths (need to beach them a bit first). To get even more for your money, try thrift shops for curtain panels. I usually sew my own.

      As for the indigo; yes it will fade somewhat as it is like the original denim, always getting lighter. I have a few pieces of clothing dyed shibori style using the Procion MX dyes and they don’t lighten. They take really well.

      I have used the microwave to get a fast heat setting, but I let it sit in an old towel and slowly cool, so as to use less electricity and chance of scorching. Then once cool/warm I rinse and wash. You should do a test run though.

      As for price, that will depend on the amount of coverage and size of the fabric. I don’t dip when using the Procion Dye as I’ve shown on the post. I have used the indigo vat for some eco printing but it does end up lighter or needs multiple dips. Proper prep is also important (google scouring for dyeing). Perhaps the cost of the course can include each getting a bottle of dye or even larger 8oz containers. Be aware of health concerns with the procion as well, which may a bit of issue with a large rambunctious group. This site has some great resources as well. If it was me, I’d get some silk scarves and they can be heated together (separate bags) and they take very little dye…

      Best of luck!

    1. Yes, probably! You can also use the warm sun or even leave it in a warm place (like near some appliances) for a longer period like a day. If you use a cooker or microwave just don’t use for food afterward.

  5. Whoa !!! I just love ❤️ what you’ve done Barb !!! I’m looking for new hobbies, and this one is just what I’m looking for. Thanks for the great tutorial girl 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼

  6. I love the look! Can this be done safely for table napkins? It would be upsetting to see blue mouths and hands on my guests!

    1. This dye is very permanent! Even more than the indigo that your jeans are dyed with. Give them a wash before using anyways…Just make sure they are cotton or linen. Enjoy!

  7. Well, I’m a tad late for this party! I must say, I truly enjoy the way you give a tutorial, it’s thorough but you don’t ramble about useless info (sadly, some instructors do – nor did I have to watch a youtube vid and try to listen to the person over loud music – another thing I encounter a lot)….I just don’t have a lot of patience. Your instructions are clear and concise and very helpful, thank you! Btw, even though you posted this over two years ago, I’m just as obsessed with shibori (real or faux) and shades of blue as I ever was! I also love that brand of dye. I will definitely give this a try. 🙂

    1. I am so glad that you mention that! I have been thinking about more video but I don’t like the way videos ‘hold you captive’ for a set amount of time. I think pretty pictures are the best! I also teach at a college so I know how long(or short) the attention span is! It’s a lot shorter nowadays! I too am still obsessed with dyeing everything blue! I hope you saw THE chair. I have also crossed into another form of design dyeing which is also so captivating; Eco Printing! So much to make… so little time!


    1. It can ‘batch’ at a lower warm temperature for a long length of time (24 hours). I’ve even put it near some devices like the top of the fridge. Keep it in a bag to not dry out. Some use the sun and leave it in a black garbage bag to heat up. You can use more concentration for darker blue or even use a different colour. There are many to choose from. Be careful; it’s addicting…

  9. I am just amazed at the ways to dye. I just ice and waiting for it to melt to see how it turns out. So excited. Have never done anything like the ones you pictured. Amazing idea.

  10. I absolutely love your work displayed here. I’ve gathered my list that you recommend. My question is regarding the first step: I understand that I soak for 30 minutes in the washing soda…….what happens after that? do I rinse off the soda? dry the towels? use them wet? I don’t want to assume anything and have it effect the process. Thanks so much!!

    1. Oh, did I miss that part? I’ll have to edit. Only wring out the fabric as best as possible and do not rinse off the soda ash, it needs to be there for the dye to attach to the fibres. I am confused about the ‘towels’, it is heavy cotton fabric, not towels. Hope that helps!

  11. What a fabulous post. I bought a kit for the original Shibori dye but the instructions did look overwhelming. I am so grateful you went through all the testing of dyes and came up with this one as it looks exactly like the results I have been hoping to achieve. I can’t wait to get the ingredients and finally try it. Thanks so much for posting!

  12. Je suis tombé en amour de votre travail de teinture! J’aime la magie de la teinture depuis longtemps, mais là c’est de l’art et soudain je souhaite me transformer en artiste, en magicienne, donc c’est sur je vais essayer, alors merci de m’avoir donné envie.

    1. Translate:”I fell in love with your dye work! I have loved the magic of dyeing for a long time, but this is art and suddenly I want to transform myself into an artist, into a magician, so I’m sure I’m going to try it, so thank you for making me want to.”

      I too love that there is some element of surprise, that’s what give that excitement! You would also like Eco Printing and Ice Dye Happy making!

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