Paint a Shibori Forest

27 Mar 2013

Usually when we hear the word shibori, we think of dyeing. Shibori dyeing come from the Japanese term for several methods of resist dyeing using binding or tying, stitching, folding, twisting, compressing it, or capping to create patterns.

fall birch scene detail by holly mclean
'Fall Birch Scene' (detail) by Holly McLean.
Shibori methods are often used to create a pattern of lines. Inspired by shibori and a photo of trees, fiber artist Holly McLean decided to create a shibori-style design using fabric paint, string, and a corrugated can. In the April/May issue of Quilting Arts Magazine, Holly shows how easy it is to create a foundation fabric for further painting.

"I take my camera on walks and I find myself examining the woods and sky with wonder, always looking for a new detail or color that I did not see before. I use these photos as reference for my fabric and often make quick sketches to capture the essence of a scene," writes Holly. "When painting fabric, I don't strive for perfect realism or to recreate my sketches or photographs, but I do try to create depth and texture that is visible in nature."

Here is a summary of her technique for painting a shibori forest.

1. Cover your work space with painter's plastic or a drop cloth and assemble all the paint and painting supplies. Iron the fabric to remove any creases. Choose any fabric you feel would make a compelling background for a group of trees.

painting shibori wrapped fabric
Painting the string-wrapped fabric.
(Photo by Holly McLean)
2. Wrap the fabric snugly around the can, pushing it toward the bottom end. Wrap the cotton string around the fabric to hold it in place, leaving bits of fabric visible between the string. (Figure 1) Once you've wrapped and pushed all the fabric onto the can, tie the end of the string to hold it in place.

3. Apply the paint to the fabric using a foam brush. Hold the brush lightly in your hand parallel to the folds and apply the paint. Try a variety of techniques to create different shaped trees. Light brush strokes over small tight folds produces thin lines suitable for small or background trees. Painting over small tight folds in the fabric will also produce smaller trees.

4. Remove the fabric from the can and dry it flat overnight. Protect the dried fabric with a pressing cloth and set the paint with a hot iron.

fabric painting shibori style
The fabric after painting.
(Photo by Holly McLean)

At this point you can add more painting and other surface design techniques before stitching.

The April/May 2013 issue of Quilting Arts features more surface design techniques for fiber art, including using tsukineko inks with colored newspaper transfer by Jeannie Palmer Moore, painting with torn paper and stitch by Connie Marie Fahrion, and sketching with watercolor paints by Sue Bleiweiss, plus stitching techniques, interviews, and galleries of inspiration. Order your issue now or download it today.

P.S. Would you try shibori style painting? Leave a comment below.

Featured Products

Quilting Arts April/May 2013

Availability: In Stock
Was: $7.99
Sale: $7.19

Magazine Single Issue

Explore how coffee and tea can satisfy your taste buds AND quilt art with the April/May 2013 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine!


Quilting Arts, April/May 2013 Digital Edition

Availability: In Stock
Price: $7.99

Digital Magazine Single Issue

Explore how coffee and tea can satisfy your taste buds AND quilt art with the April/May 2013 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine!


Related Posts
+ Add a comment


on 28 Mar 2013 6:17 AM

What a cool technique - and beautiful results. I love this idea & am amazed at how amazing the outcome is. I know what I'll be doing this weekend! Thanks for a great article.

Tonya Albers wrote
on 28 Mar 2013 8:20 AM

This is beautiful! I used to do watercolor painting before I started quilting & this seems like the perfect way to blend the two! :)

Gloria E wrote
on 29 Mar 2013 9:57 AM

Great technique and results!  A few years ago, I tried Shibori painting by using a method I saw, used to discharge color from black fabrics, on a TV show (I think it was an episode of the old 'Simply Quilts' show).  I do not remember the Quilt artist's name, but she used Shibori technique and she made beautiful art quilts from those discharged black fabrics.  If anyone knows her name, please share it. is what I did:  I used prewashed white cotton fabric that I very lightly sprayed with water..just enough to barely dampen the fabric.  Then I wrapped the dampened fabric around different diameter sizes of round PVC pipe (I pushed/scrunched down fabric on the pipes and tied each one with string).  

Then I took out my jars of Versatex Fabric Inks. Versatex Fabric Ink is my favorite  fabric ink as the colors hold and they are thick enough to easily mi my own colors and to handle some water mixed in too (Luminere is my favorite glimmer and glitz paint).  

Versatex is a pretty thick ink, so I added just enough water to make it easy to pour, yet keep the color intensity that I wanted. The more water I added, the lighter the color became.  I find that Versatex works very well at holding its color intensity, but every pigment has its limitations when mixed with water.  When the color looked lighter than I wanted, I just mixed another  little dab of thick Versatex ink into the water/ink mixture to restore the color value I wanted to use.

I placed a couple of the slightly dampened, fabric wrapped PVC pipes in a 5 gallon bucket and I poured paint colors down different sections of the fabric, like I've seen done with shiborri dyeing.  I did not let the wrapped pipes touch each other.  I let the painted fabric wrapped PVC pipe stay in the bucket until the paint is dry.

I also laid one of my fabric wrapped PVC pipes down, across the top edges of an 'opened' cardboard box.  Then I poured the paint over the wrapped fabric, in sections, turning the pipe as I poured.  I got different looks from each method, but I liked them all.  I did do some more painting or washes of color over one or two of the fabrics later....after I had permanently heat set the Versatex fabric ink that I used on the fabric in the Shibori technique.

Your method seems even easier to do and I will be trying it out....I know those PVC pipe sections are still around here somewhere.  8)     BTW....No, I do not have any affiliation with Versatex except the fact that I'm a satisfied customer.  I buy it from Dharma Trading Company and Dick Blicks......not affiliated with them either, except as a happy customer.

Elaine Gates wrote
on 30 Mar 2013 7:47 AM

I have a friend who might.

on 30 Mar 2013 6:28 PM

Yes, I would try shibori style painting. I love surprises!

on 30 Mar 2013 6:28 PM

Yes, I would try shibori style painting. I love surprises!

cindycoven wrote
on 31 Mar 2013 9:25 PM

How great is this technique!  I never thought about tree trunks.  Thanks for the great idea!  Love your blog!  One of my favorites.

holski wrote
on 21 Apr 2013 4:29 PM

Thanks for the comments. You need to try it. lots of fun and easy to do!

Lisa Filion wrote
on 9 Aug 2014 7:35 PM

I love this idea!!!