clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Upstate's Designer Breaks Down Shibori Dyeing, GIF-Style

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

The beautifully dyed designs of Upstate may look like they were crafted in a Catskills cabin, and lovingly hung on a twine laundry line (by friendly sparrows) to dry, but they are, in fact, made in a Greenpoint studio by shibori expert Kalen Kaminski. We stopped by the East River space to get a one-on-one lesson in the ancient Japanese fabric dyeing technique, and came away with a patterned silk tank that we can't wait to recreate on those too-cold-to-go-outside days that are just around the corner. Watch as Kalen takes us through this super simple shibori DIY — in GIFs! — this way.

To Start, You'll Need...

1. A silk tank (Or blouse! Or vintage slip!)

Kalen sewed her own, but if you're not as crafty she recommends ordering a plain silk top from Dharma Trading — all of their clothing is 100% natural and ready to dye. If you're starting this project with a silk garment from a mega-chain (Uniqlo, American Apparel), pre-soak it in a bucket with hot water and a tablespoon of Synthrapol (also on our list).

2. A two-foot-long piece of plastic pipe, with a one-inch diameter

While the traditional shibori process calls for a wooden dowel, Kalen prefers plastic pipes because the hollow centers allow more color to infiltrate the garments. Pick yours up at a hardware store, your local Home Depot, or a plumbing supply shop.

3. Soda Ash

A fixative, soda ash allows dye to cling to fabric. You can order a pound of it (way more than you'll need today) for about three dollars on Amazon.

4. Dye

While Kalen orders her dyes wholesale, she says weekend DIY-ers should head to Tribeca's Aljo dye shop and chat up the super-knowledgeable owners. For this project, she used a Procion-brand dye in charcoal gray — when it hits the dye bath it breaks down into shades of purple and green.

5. Synthrapol

This textile detergent pulls excess dye molecules out of material. Fabrics that aren't 100% natural won't take to the dye we're using, so this stuff — about $15 online — is key if you're starting with a mass-produced garment.

6. A two-gallon bucket

Make sure it's deep enough to soak your tank in!

7. Two a-clamps

You can pick these up at your local hardware store, or on Amazon for less than five dollars each.

8. Gloves

No shibori-dyed hands on our watch.

9. String

You'll need at least 18 inches.

10. Salt

You got this. It helps to make the dye more vibrant.

11. Scissors

These, too.

Step One: Folding

Fold the tank, accordion-style. Like so!

Step Two: Wrapping

Clamp one end of the folded tank to the top of your plastic pipe, and loosely wrap it around the tube.

Step Three: Scrunching

Now take that wrapped tank and scrunch it up! Secure the loose end with your second clamp.

Step Four: Tying

To further secure the tank, tie it with string. The tighter you tie it (and the tighter you scrunch it) the fewer white areas there will be on the finished product.

Step Five: Prepping the Bath

Get out your bucket, fill it up with warm water, and drop in one-eighth to one-quarter cup of dye (depending on how dark you want your tank to be). Kalen's pro tip: add just a pinch of dye to start — watching the colors in the powdered dye break down is totally mesmerizing.

Step Six: Mixing

Time to dump in that soda ash (one-sixteenth of a cup should do it, for this project), a teaspoon of salt, and stir, stir, stir.

Step Seven: Soaking and Dumping

Now for the hard part: waiting. A longer soak time will yield a more vibrant garment, but Kalen recommends letting your fabric sit in the dye bath from two to eight hours. When it's set, dump out the excess water.

Step Eight: Rinsing

This next step depends on whether or not you have a washer and dryer. If you don't, fill up that bucket again, dump in a tablespoon of Synthropol, and let your tank soak for a few hours before hand-washing it and laying it flat to dry. If you do (lucky you!), throw the Synthropol in the washer with the tank, turn the dial to 'gentle,' and then tumble dry it on low.

Step Nine: Gloating

Look at you! You made a beautiful shibori top. And now you have the tools to do it over and over again.

The Finished Product

Cue a million angels singing.