Ancient Japanese fiber art gains new popularity

  • By Katherine Roth Associated Press
  • Friday, January 31, 2014 11:42am
  • Life

From tablecloths to duvet covers, iPhone cases to wallpaper and startling calf-skin wall hangings, the ancient Japanese resist-dying technique of shibori has gone mainstream.

Vera Wang, Ralph Lauren, Eileen Fisher, Levi’s and innumerable fiber artists are breathing new life into the craft.

“The stillness and beauty of it really centers me,” said Oriana DiNella, who recently launched her own Web-based shibori line, including linen tableware, pillows and throws — and large leather wall hangings — all made to order and hand-dyed in organic indigo.

“It feels like a rebellion against the fashion movement, where everything seems so fast and disposable,” the New York-based designer explained.

Shibori is slow. It takes time. And it’s been around since about the eighth century.

The word comes from the Japanese shiboru, meaning “to wring, squeeze or press.”

The technique involves twisting, tying, crumpling, stitching or folding fabric — usually silk or cotton — in various ways, transforming the two-dimensional material into a sculptural, three-dimensional form.

This sculptural shape is then traditionally dyed, originally using indigo, although a huge variety of colors and dyes are now used.

Sometimes, the same fabric is then twisted in some other way and dyed again.

When the wrappings are removed, the folds and creases where the fabric resisted the dye form distinctive crinkled textures and patterns.

The work of Hiroyuki Murase exemplifies both the 3-D possibilities of shibori and the bridge between traditional and new.

Murase grew up in Arimatsu, Japan, where shibori has been done using traditional techniques for 400 years.

Today, his array of Luminaires lampshades and haute couture fabrics, designed for the likes of Christian Dior, are the cutting edge of modern shibori.

But shibori is still most widely thought of as a sort of tie-dyeing.

Today’s incarnations are as different from their early Japanese predecessors as they are from the wild, tie-dyed pieces that became emblematic of the ’60s and ’70s.

There’s a sense of timelessness and calm to the modern shibori pieces, and also a renewed focus on workmanship and functionality.

For those inclined to take on do-it-yourself projects, shibori has never been more accessible. It can be done easily at home using minimal equipment.

Urban Outfitters sells its own shibori kits, and lessons are widely available online, from basic for beginners to truly advanced.

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