Introduction: Easy Elastic Band Shibori

About: Enthusiastic hiker, quilter and creator with a passion for making the most of every situation and finding the best and easiest way to do anything!

Shibori is a traditional Japanese technique for creating dyed patterns in fabric by folding, tying, and clamping fabric to shield parts of the fabric from the dye by creating a "resist" (for example, the tied up areas). Most of the shibori tutorials I've looked at contain complicated instructions that involve using string, or sewing lines of thread in the fabric to create a resist. I always look for the easiest way to do something and have found that elastic bands are the shibori secret! This is a modern take on an ancient technique which pre-dated the invention of rubber!

In this instructable I will show you how to make shibori dyed napkins using only elastic bands for the resist. Elastic bands are cheap and easy to use and you can re-use elastics saved from broccoli or other produce for your shibori projects.

Step 1: Dyes and Other Supplies

I used Procion MX Dyes which react with natural fabrics (e.g. cotton, silk) and come in a wide range of colors. For this instructable, I used only red and yellow dye. You will also need kosher salt (or any non-iodized salt), urea, calcium carbonate (soda ash), special soap to remove the sizing from the fabric (like Synthrapol or TNA soap) and Raycafix or Retayne to ensure the finished fabric is colorfast. You can order all of this from Dharma Trading or G and S Dyes.

To make napkins (the finished product can also be used for handkerchiefs or gift wrap) use 100% cotton fabric. I buy 100% cotton sheets at rummage sales, and cut them into 13" squares. For dinner size napkins, use 18" squares. Wash the sheet in Synthrapol or TNA soap to remove sizing before cutting into squares.

You will also need thin rubber gloves, plastic sheeting, jars to hold the dye, elastics, and a paint brush or squeeze bottle to apply the dye.

Step 2: Make Up Dyes and Soak Solution

Pre-soak Solution:

Dissolve 1 cup non-iodized salt and 2 Tablespoons of soda ash in 2 1/2 litres of hot water to create the pre-soak solution. (This pre-soak solution is stable and can be used for up to 2 months if stored in a sealed container).
Soak your washed fabric in this solution for at least 20 minutes. When ready to dye the fabric, squeeze out excess liquid and place the fabric on a plastic covered work surface to fold.


For each dye colour, mix together:

  • 2 tsp of Procion dye powder (for super intense colors you can use 3 tsp)
  • 3 tsp urea
  • 1 cup of hot tap water

These dye solutions are best if used within 2 or 3 days. Avoid inhaling the dye powders and do not mix dyes in any area where there could be wind.

Step 3: Fold Fabric and Attach Elastic Bands

There are innumerable ways to fold and bind the fabric and it's fun to experiment and see what pattern comes out. The elastic creates areas where the dye will not penetrate, and this, plus the folds, creates the pattern.

Folding technique # 1: The first image above shows the fabric folded as if around a stone placed in the centre. I folded the square in half diagonally, then folded it again in half along the long edge, then again, then again - basically you are creating a central point, which you will wrap an elastic around, adding further elastics as desired. Rather than folding, you could just place a stone or marble in the centre of the square, and tie the elastic around it, then cinch the fabric several times again with additional elastics along its length.

Folding technique #2: (second image, plus 5 additional photos illustrating the folding technique using a piece of paper). Fold your square in 4 lengthwise sections, like a fan or accordion. There will be 3 folds, dividing the fabric into 4 equal sections. Then starting at one end, fold one corner down to create a triangle, fold it back, then fold forward again (you are accordion folding, in a triangular shape, until all of the fabric is in triangles). Add elastics at 2 corners.

Folding technique #3: (last image) This is folded the same way as in technique #2, but only one elastic is added.

Step 4: Apply Dye

You can apply the dye with a nylon paintbrush, or put the dye in a flexible squeeze bottle and squeeze it onto your folded fabric. Do this over a plastic sheet as the dye will drip (and don't forget to wear your gloves!) Sometimes I work over a wire rack, so I can put the fabric bundle down and turn it over without blotching the dye, but this is optional.

Once you have applied the dye, place your fabric bundle on a clean plastic sheet and gently wrap it up. You can place several fabric bundles in a plastic bag, then tape the bag shut and let it sit.

Step 5: Wait 2 Days, Then Rinse and Reveal

Let your plastic wrapped packets of dyed fabric sit for at least two days so that the dye reacts and bonds with the fabric. This process is referred to as "batching". If you don't wait long enough the color will not be as strong.

Unwrap your pieces, cut the elastics off, and drop them into a pail or sink of cool water. Soak for a few minutes, swooshing a bit, to rinse out excess dye. Soak again in warmer water, and if there is still excess dye coming out, soak them in a solution of hot water and Retayne or Raycafix, following the instructions on the label, then rinse again in warm water, and hang to dry.

The first three images above were made by folding the fabric using Folding Technique #1 - this illustrates how the results can vary based on the placement of the elastics, the folding, and the amount of dye.

The last image was made using Folding Technique #2.

Step 6: Experiment With Folding and Banding Techniques

This is an illustration of what happens when you accordion fold the fabric square lengthwise, then add elastics to pinch the fabric in on both sides.

It's fun to experiment with different folding and banding techniques - ideally, keeping a record of which folding techniques you used to get a particular result!

Step 7: Finish Edges and Enjoy Your Napkins!

Finish the edges of your napkin using a rolled edge with a serger, or fold the edges under and sew down with a sewing machine, mitering the corners as explained in this instructable.

Impress your friends and family with your beautiful napkins!

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