Traditional Indigo Shibori Basics

Shibori is the Japanese term for tied and bound resist dyeing techniques. While modern Shibori is done with lots of colors and different fabrics, traditional Japanese Shibori on cotton was mainly done with indigo. The contrast of the blue and white can give bold contrast or subtle shades depending on the technique used. In this tutorial we will use some of the basic techniques and show you how easy it is to get started with Shibori at home.

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Let's get started!

Everything you'll need

First we want to mix up our Indigo vat, as it needs to sit for about 20 minutes to settle.

Fill your bucket with warm tap water. Add the Color Remover and Soda Ash and stir until they are dissolved.

Mix in color remover and soda ash

Next add the packet of Pre-Reduced Indigo and, with a dowel or stirring stick, stir in a circle, going in one direction to mix in the indigo. When it seems dissolved and there is a good skin on the top, slow down and reverse the direction of the stirring, dragging your stick along the outer edge of the bucket before removing your stick. This will bring the foam that has formed, which is called the "flower", to the center. Let the mixture sit to settle. The indigo will have reduced and the liquid should be a clear yellowish-green color. You can check it with a clear mixing cup.

Pre-reduced indigo next

For this size vat we used:

Let it sit

If you are using the Jacquard Indigo Kit follow the instructions in the kit. They are basically the same but everything has been measured out for you. This is a great way to go for beginners and Indigo parties!

Precautions: Please use a dust mask when working with the Sodium Hydrosulfite powders. Do not use utensils or dishes used for eating. Wear gloves.

Get your dyeables

Next tie up your fabric and other blanks. We used several different techniques:


Pleat your fabric

Arashi (pole wrapping)

Use Shibori techniques, like Arashi

Using string to bind to a pole

Keep tight the cord and bunch up your work as you go

Clamped Resists

Bind or clamp different shapes


Sew patterns into the fabric

Nothing fancy, sewing wise, needed

Simple stitches work well

You can loosely sew it all up

And pull it all together


Once everything is tied up, wet your fabric and squeeze out any excess water. This helps the indigo penetrate and helps prevent adding too much free oxygen into the vat.

Get the dyeable damp before putting into the bath

Skim the "flower" and crust off the top of the vat and set aside.

Lower your first wetted-out fabric slowly into the vat and manipulate under the surface of the water. Don't drop your item into the bottom of the vat, You don't want to stir up the sediment at the bottom of the vat. The vat is pretty strong so a dip of just a minute may be plenty. Squeeze the fabric as you lift it out, trying not to drip or make bubbles, as this introduces more oxygen into the vat.

New vats are strong so it only takes a few moments

Draw it back out

Dip in other items

Wait a moment

Redip for ombre or darker shades

When you lift your fabric out, it will be a yellow-green color. As the air hits the fabric, the indigo will gradually oxidize and turn blue. This is the magic of indigo! After 15 to 20 minutes, you can do a quick rinse in cool water and then re-dip your fabric for darker shades, or rinse and un-tie it if you are happy with it. If tied tightly the inside may need more time in the air. Once the whole piece has turned blue it can be washed.

Tightly bound items may require several dips

Let the items breath for a bit to darken

Wait for that dark blue then wash if you're satisfied

Pro-tip: For clothing or items that will be worn or washed a lot, it can help to do a soak in Dharma Dye Fixative to help prevent crocking (rubbing off) of the indigo on to your skin or other clothing. Do this before doing your final wash with Textile Detergent.

When you are finished dyeing, put the "flower" back on top of the dye solution and stir the vat in the same circular manner as described above. Put a lid on the vat and it will be ready for another dye session when you need it. The indigo vat can last for several weeks or months if properly tended.

Put the flower back in and stir as described

Tending an Indigo Vat:

An indigo vat can have a very long life if used and tended to regularly. Occasionally, you may need to add more of the reducing chemicals and the Pre-Reduced Indigo to keep the vat going. Always try to dissolve the Soda Ash in a little warm water before adding to the vat. Start by adding a little at a time. Sometimes more than one addition is needed. When you add something to the vat, it is important to wait for the chemical reaction to take place (at least 1 hour) before adding more.

  • If the vat looks more blue-green than yellow-green, or if you see blue particles suspended in the liquid, the vat needs to be reduced more. Add 2 to 10 grams of Thiourea Dioxide or Sodium Hydrosulfite at a time.
  • If the color seems weak, or the liquid in the vat is gray and watery, an addition of the Pre-Reduced Indigo is needed. Add 2 to 10 grams at a time.
  • Soda Ash is added when the ph drops below 10 on the ph paper. The paper will be the same color as indigo, when the reading is correct, so only dip the ph strip into the dye one-third of the way, so the water wicking beyond the indigo dye will give you a true reading.

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