Shibori on Knits

Shibori on Knits: A Single-Minded Exploration

Shibori is the traditional textile process that roughly translates as “shaped resist dyeing”. While examples of the technique can be found around the globe, the word itself it Japanese, and it is often the textiles from that region that are most associated with the process. Young Japanese designers such as Mie Iwatsubo have embraced traditional techniques while remaining determined to explore new applications for contemporary design.

For Iwatsubo, shibori is the single textile technique she has explored since she first became interested in textile design. While it may be easy to question the breadth one can attain from such a narrow base, Iwatsubo’s dedication has led to a high level of expertise and healthy curiosity for opportunities that marry the process with other techniques. Iwatsubo explains, “It is important to innovate or develop the shibori [technique], adding new methods to make it contemporary and more individual.”

Iwatsubo holds a B.A. in textile design (2000) from the Musashino Art University in Japan and an M.A. in fashion and textiles (2001) from Nottingham Trent University in England. Now based in her native Japan, she has continued to develop her exploration of shibori with work that is strikingly organic in both color and form. Everything is made with natural fibers, which she feels lend themselves to the organic shapes created by the shibori technique. Colors are chosen for “harmony with natural materials, as they are appropriate for organic shapes.” While “organic” may sound like a commonplace, almost lazy, description, in Iwatsubo’s case the richness of color and molding of form are so evocative of natural growth that the phrase is inescapable. The newness lies in the saturation of color and the depth of the pleated grooves that cover the surfaces of the bulb-like bags and heavily veined scarves she creates.

Where Iwatsubo departs from traditional methods is in her choice of fabric. Rather than using a woven fabric, Iwatsubo applies a combination of shibori dyeing and felting to the knits. Unlike woven fabric, knits have a lateral elasticity that makes the pleats and gathers that act as the resist respond differently than in a woven fabric.

Iwatsubo is ultimately at ease with the lack of control that characterizes shibori dyeing. She explains, “Even though it is time consuming and is difficult to mass produce, I depend on this risk factor as it is an essential part of shibori’s unpredictable beauty. I never hate risks. If anything, I enjoy manipulating these risks.”

FiberArts magazine, Jan./Feb. 2004: 18-19.