Shibori with Paper

Shibori is a way to dye fabric by folding and dipping it in dye. It’s a lot like the paper dying technique–orizomogami– for fabric. Both are similar to tie dye. My friend and fabric artist Roz came over to experiment. Roz and I have the same attitude toward art–“Let’s see what happens!” Roz brought fabric dye, paper clamps and quite smartly, gloves. I’m a paper artist, so I work in inks that wash off with soap or alcohol. I may have a turquoise thumb for a few weeks.

I’d never worked with fabric dye, but Roz is an expert. She had made samples out of paper towels, and I was amazed at the depth of color.

Roz’s sample of shibori–on a paper towel. Vibrant!

My question had originally been, “can you do shibori with paper?” The shibori I’m most familiar with is pole-wrapping. In that technique, a cylinder of about 2 to 4 inches in diameter is wrapped with fabric, criss-crossed with twine, scrunched together and then dyed.

My favorite raw-art-journaling paper is Arches Text Wove. The paper is heavy but flexible, takes watercolor, inks (without bleed-through), colored pencils, amazing abuse and still looks wonderful. You can erase on it without problems, incise it, and do odd ink things to it–dripping, spraying, splashing. I love working on it because it is so forgiving. I once made a small accordion-fold journal and stuffed it in my pocket to sign for a package. I forgot the journal and it went through the washer and dryer. I didn’t notice it because there was no lint mess in either machine. When I pulled it out of the pocket, it was damp, but fine. I’d used India Inks so all it took was a quick ironing to make it look crisp again. Now, that’s a paper that’s easy to love!

The first experiment we tried was wet v. dry.  I did a fan fold and Roz did a triangle fold. Arches Text Wove is finished with a slight gelatin wash, which was easy enough for the fabric dye to penetrate. However, the multiple folds of dry paper resisted the inks, as they should have.

The wet paper was far more satisfying. The color soaked in enthusiastically and spread, so the only spot of white was the markings of the clamp. Having answered the basic question, I then decided to put the paper through tougher tests. I crumpled a piece and dipped various angles in different dyes. The paper creases absorbed more paper and gave a much more interesting color and texture for a book artist.

Shibori technique on Arches Text Wove. A cathedral-window result.

Roz had said the ink would not be waterproof, because we were not fixing it with soda ash, as you do with wearable fabrics. So I rinsed the paper under running hot water. The color did bleed, but not all of it. The color was pale and darker in the creases. But for this experiment, I wanted a full dye soak, so I re-crumpled the wet paper, dipped it in another dye bath and straightened it out to dry on a stack of newspaper outside.

The multiple-dyed paper gained a richness and delicacy of tone in the dye. I can now write on it with poster markers or other opaque pens. No spraying or too much wet glue, though, as the dyes will run.

Wet and crumpled, Arches Text Wove takes fabric dye perfectly.

We also tried Tyvek, the material that Fed-Ex envelopes are made from. It’s made from fine, randomly distributed fibers of polyethylene. (And, yes, there is a way to make it recyclable!) We knew this would be a surface decoration result, and it was. I could wash most of the dye out of the Tyvek. The most interesting result was that after I washed and crumpled the Tyvek, and re-applied ink, the ink worked through the fibers. It’s a breathable fabric, so the ink would eventually soak through–at least with the crumpling and washing we did.

After the papers dried, I ironed them to make them art-journal ready. Because I knew Roz was the expert, and she had warned me the dye would run if it got wet,  I spritzed a paper towel, put it over the dried paper sample, and ironed over the paper towel.  A barely-damp towel is all you need, as you can see from the result below,  too much water immediately soaks up color as well.

Color bleeding onto paper towel from too-damp paper.

I encourage every artist to experiment with their materials. Don’t just believe what people tell you, don’t just follow the directions on the kit–more great discoveries come from “Huh, I wonder what will happen if. . . ” than any other statement you can make!

–Quinn McDonald is an artist and writer who works with raw-art journals for people who can’t draw and don’t want to spend a lot of time writing.