Dating back to the 8th century, Shibori is a Japanese tie-dyeing technique that includes binding, folding, stitching or compressing cloth in such a way that it creates a unique relief design. Primarily made using natural dyes, shibori is most often associated with indigo – a deep blue dye extracted from the indigo plant. We visited Jenny Fong of Modern Shibori at her outdoor studio in Berkeley, CA to get her take on this beautiful artform and a look into her creative process.
EH: What prompted you to get into shibori and natural dyeing?
JF: To be honest, I’m a super klutz. I’d spilled coffee on a favorite dress of mine that was white about 5 years ago and I couldn’t give it up. So I over dyed it indigo and haven’t looked back since then. I love the transformation of pigments and dyes on fiber. It’s like magic! Every time I pull a piece out of the vat, I’ll have a good idea what I’m going to get as far as color and pattern, but there are always some beautiful surprises. Revealing the shibori pattern after an afternoon of resisting pieces is super rewarding.
EH: Is there a favorite technique or design that you have?
JF: I think my signature design is my Big Hexagons. I’m exploring the contrast of modern geometric shapes against organic natural dyes. I think it’s quite exciting. I don’t have a favorite technique. Each technique has it’s own personality and beauty. I teach shibori workshops in Emeryville, CA at the Handcraft Studio School. There I’ve created a series of 3 workshops broken down by technique: Stitch, Binding, and Pleating. Shibori is such a deep art form that it’s less overwhelming for the students to learn one technique at a time.
EH: What is your favorite natural dye to work with and why?
JF: Right now, I’m playing around with avocado pits. I had gone to my local taqueria and gave them a bucket to put their pits into. The owner was really into it because he said “It’s our garbage anyway, sure why not!” I know he thought I was crazy. I went back 2 weeks later and collected a bucketful of pits. Free dyestuff! So I dyed some bandanas and gave the staff some samples to keep. At that point, he understood what I was doing. Now it’s a win-win situation. He gives me pits to dye with, I give him bandanas.
EH: Can you elaborate on the process involved in creating one of your scarfs- from indigo vat to finished product?
JF: Indigo dyeing and shibori resisting a piece is a complicated multi-step process, better shown in video than written. Most what I can say is, for my style of shibori, it’s important for me to be precise at certain moments than others, and open to surprise at the end.
EH: Where does your inspiration for creating come from?
JF: My inspiration comes from having an idea and chasing it down to see if it comes out the way I thought it would. Design inspirations come from Palm Springs in the 50s, Kyoto indigo dyers, and clean modern Scandinavian design.
EH: Any updates per upcoming product releases?
JF: Currently I’m working on expanding my hair accessory offerings. I’m also really excited about my silk pocket squares for men.
EH: What is your favorite thing about living and making in Berkeley?
JF: Berkeley and Oakland are going through such a creative rebirth right now as cities. It’s really exciting to be located where there’s so much creative energy. As well, Berkeley has decades of history of craftspeople, so it’s great to feel like I’lm contributing to that voice.
Although we’re suffering from drought, the dry weather has allowed me to work in my backyard studio most days of the year. I love having enough space to move around. Most weekends you’ll find me in the back dyeing pieces, hanging them up to oxidize and posting photos to my Instagram feed.
photography by Andrea Plell