I recently wrote about my travels through Japan with my sister. You can read about Tokyo and our travels through the mountains, and our travels through Japan’s inland mountainous region here, and the sights to see in Kyoto here.

The main focus of our trip in Kyoto was traditional handicrafts. Having been introduced to design lessons by my grandmother in my childhood, I was eager to learn about the ancient traditions. Each village we visited specialized in one art or handicraft form or another. I talked about the gold leaf process in the post about inland Japan – read more about that here.

Handicrafts of Japan – Shibori Dyeing

The varied traditional handicrafts of Japan enjoy official recognition and protection and are very much in demand. Each craft demands a set of specialized skills passed on from generation to generation with carefully guarded techniques and designs.

The fun for us however was in visiting the various sites where handicrafts were taught and watching the process, sometimes participating in workshops.

Visiting the Shibori Museum

Our tour began with a workshop to demonstrate a simple folding technique. When we were children, my grandmother taught us a simplified form of this ancient tie-dye technique. We couldn’t find anything suitable to practice with in her home so we tied and dyed grandpa’s pjs purple and then neatly ironed them and put them back in his drawer! He never commented on his surprise, or whether he wore them or not. As the head of a prominent family-run furniture manufacturing firm he was a dignified gentleman, or at least that’s how I remember him – certainly not in tie-dyed pjs!

Our lovely guide demonstrated one folding technique, and then showed us how to place the tightly bound bundle into the dye. Below is some of their beautiful work on display, for purchase.

My sister’s finished work!


The shibori technique, far from the tie-dye experiments from the sixties is an ancient technique that can be used in many ways. A small cluster of fabric is tied tightly with thread very precisely, applying a variety of knots and techniques to create the desired effect. Below, you can see a close-up of a sample of silk hand-tied, ready for dyeing. This piece of fabric you see here represents about a week’s work, the strip to the right is the work of one day.

This artform pre-dates the flower power era of the 1960’s by over 1000 years, and continues to be practised today to create incredibly intricate patterns.

And from here you can see the progression of the work from a small sample to a larger body of work. First, is a strip after dying and the threads removed. It created this beautiful textured pattern.

Below are some finished pieces showing different patterns that can be achieved.

The most spectacular examples of this work were in the museum where no photos were allowed. You are going to have to take my word for it, they were breathtaking.

Below are a few we were allowed to photograph in the outer room before we entered the museum display area. The four seasons were represented in large format “murals”each covering a wall of the museum. The first one is fall, followed by a close-up showing the detail. Keep in mind, the entire pattern was created with precise knots and section dying.

A closer photo shows more of the detail and the technique to create imagery on the murals. The outline of each leaf and the veins are tied very precisely and individually to create a work of art that is so much more beautiful to see in person.

Winter was next:

A close-up to show how they created the tree on the left:

Needless to say, I wasn’t coming home without a few samples. Pricey, but worth it. I bought the sections shown here and the photo below. I will likely frame the first set.

A piece of framed artwork reminiscent of a Hiroshige winter scene hung on the wall – again using the shibori technique.

This last image is of my grandmother’s obi (pictured below). She had a traditional silk obi but this shibori piece was a gift to her from the son of the King of Siam (now Thailand) who was a childhood friend. He used to pick her up in a carriage and take for a ride – chaperoned, of course. It was the early 1900’s!

A beautiful example of shibori technique in classic indigo and white by Motohiko Katano follows, an artist turned dyer who innovated modern artistic techniques of shibori. Below the art kimono are some details of his seemingly impossible patterns


Shibori has gained popularity again with many colourful interpretations. Stay tuned for our upcoming post on shibori for home decor.

Travel Notes:

We stayed at:

  • Kyoto Tokyo Hotel, Kyoto
  • Court Hotel Shijo (this was the most modest of all of our hotels but we transferred to it after the first two days because it was located centrally just off the main street and main subway intersection so it proved quite adequate)
  • To see/do
    • Visit the Sibori Museum and enjoy a workshop