Technique Tuesdays: Shibori Flag with Graham Keegan

Wondering what mixed-media masterpiece you should create today? Enter today’s Technique Tuesdays post to the rescue! In this article from our July/August 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, learn easy shibori and hand-dyeing techniques from textile artist Graham Keegan as he shows you how to create a stunning flag using indigo dye. Come on, let’s get started.

shibori flag
Graham Keegan’s Shibori Flag (this photo by Sharon White Photography; step-out photos by Graham Keegan)

Shibori Flag by Graham Keegan

Shibori is an historic pattern-making process with limitless artistic potential. Simply put, shibori designs are made by compressing fabric. Wherever the fabric is tied, pinched, or clamped, the pigment will be blocked and the fabric will remain un-dyed. Different ways of folding and binding create a beautiful array of patterns and tonal effects. The incredibly rich canons of Japanese textiles serve as inspiration for this (comparatively) simple fold-and-tie pattern used to create the field of stars for this handmade flag.

Indigo is a natural pigment produced by a range of plants that are found worldwide. The organic pigment, extracted from leaves, has an inherent affinity for cellulose fibers when it is properly prepared through a process known as making a dye vat. When well dyed, this natural, beautiful color withstands weather, washing, and wear.


  • Mask
  • Gloves
  • Handful of marbles or pebbles
  • Plastic water bottle
  • Indigo extract powder, 50g (This will dye up to five pounds of fabric, depending on the pattern and shade.)
  • Water
  • Five-gallon buckets, 2
    • 1 with a lid for dyeing
    • 1 for rinsing
  • Long stick, for stirring
  • Ferrous sulfate, 100g
  • Slaked lime, 150g
  • Scissors
  • Fabric, woven: natural cotton, linen, or hemp, 1. yards of 60″ width
  • Sashiko thread, 1 skein
    • NOTE: Different types of thread can be used, but each thread lends a unique character to the mark making. Thicker threads, like butcher twine, make big marks; smaller sewing threads make fine lines. Sashiko is a simple, strong thread.
  • Sewing machine and thread
  • Citric acid powder, 50g
    • NOTE: I used my Indigo & Shibori Natural Dye Kit, but items in the kit are usually available separately at farm, grocery, and specialty art supply stores, as well as online.

Prep your dye vat:

CAUTION: Wear a mask and gloves and avoid creating and inhaling dust, as it can be harmful.

NOTE: The dye vat has to be prepped 24 hours before you plan to dye.

1. Place the marbles or stones into the bottle and add the indigo powder. Add enough water to cover the powder, cap the bottle, and shake the bottle for 3 minutes. This is called “pasting up” the indigo. This is a crucial step that allows the pigment to disperse in the vat.

2. Fill one of the five-gallon buckets with water, stopping 3″ below the rim. This will be your dye vat.

3. Pour the pasted-up indigo extract into the dye vat, refill the bottle with water, rinse the marbles or stones again, and pour the rinse water into the vat as well. Repeat until the stones/marbles and the bottle are clean.

4. Gently stir the vat with the stick and, while continuing to stir, add the ferrous sulfate and slaked lime. Place the cover on the vat, and keep it covered when not in use.

NOTE: Never splash or slosh the dye vat, as the air bubbles weaken its effectiveness.

5. Stir the dye vat thoroughly but gently a handful of times over the next 24 hours. You will see a purple-coppery scum start to form at the top, as well as a bunch of bubbles. This is good; it is known as the “flower.”

Prep your shibori folds to create the stars:

1. Cut a 15″ x 21″ rectangle from the fabric. Wet the piece of fabric thoroughly with water and wring out as much water as possible. A semi-damp piece of fabric will hold folds and knots much better than dry fabric.

2. Accordion fold this fabric into 10 layers parallel to the long side, then fold it 12 times parallel to the short side. (FIGURE 1)

shibori flag

3. Tightly tie off each corner with the Sashiko thread, approximately 3/4″ from the end (FIGURE 2), and leave one 36″ tail of thread as a line to dunk your piece into the vat. Make sure the knot is tight, so it blocks the pigment from the fabric and doesn’t come undone.

shibori flag

Dye your fabric:

1. Fill the second bucket half full with cool water for rinsing. Divide the remaining fabric into 2 equal sections for the alternating stripes of the flag. One will be dyed a light shade, the other a dark shade.

2. Wet all of the fabric in the rinse bucket, and then wring it until it’s damp dry.

3. Push the “flower” to the side with the wooden stick or a gloved hand and dip the pieces of fabric into the dye vat without forming bubbles. (FIGURE 3) Gently agitate the pieces for approximately one minute, massaging the liquid into the cloth with gloved hands. Try not to drip back into the dye vat as you immediately transfer the fabric to the rinse bucket and give it a splashy rinse. This vigorous rinse is important, serving double duty: removing any sediment from the fabric and speeding up the oxidation of the piece.

shibori flag

4. Thoroughly wring out the fabric pieces into the rinse bucket, and then wait, allowing the pieces to oxidize from indigo-green to indigo.

5. When there is no more green visible in the folds and creases of the fabric, dip it into the vat again to achieve a darker shade. Repeat only twice for the pieces for the light stripes and up to 10 times for the fabric for the dark stripes and the star fabric.

NOTE: Indigo must be applied in thin layers. You cannot achieve a stable, long-lasting deep shade with a single long dip.

6. When the desired shade has been achieved, open the bundle (FIGURE 4) and thoroughly rinse the fabric under cold running water. Rinse the other fabric, too. Raise the temperature of the water, so it’s warm, and rinse all of the fabric again. Wring out the fabric and line dry. Alternatively, a clothes dryer can be used.

shibori flag

Assemble the flag:

1. Cut the light and dark fabrics into 2 5/8″-wide strips. (FIGURE 5) Sew the ends of the strips together so you have one long strip of each color.

shibori flag

2. Cut three 30″ lengths and three 50″ lengths from the lighter fabric strips. Cut four 30″ lengths and three 50″ lengths from the darker strips.

3. Alternating light and dark strips, sew all of the 30” strips together, long-sides together, with a 3/8″ seam allowance. Sew the short sides of the sewn strips to the short side of the star piece. Seven sewn strips are equal to the height of the star piece. (FIGURE 6)

4. Sew the long 50″ strips together, alternating light and dark, and then sew them to the piece created in step 3. (SEE OPENING IMAGE.)

5. Optional: Roll the edges of the flag and top stitch for a finished edge.

NOTE: Launder the flag on the delicate cycle, using citric acid powder instead of detergent for the first wash. Dry flat.

Graham Keegan grows and forages organic color from plants to create his textile designs. From his winter studio in Los Angeles, California, and summer studio in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, Graham advocates for natural dyes and hosts workshops, teaching students modern methods for ancient dye techniques. For much more in-depth information on preparing an indigo vat and his dye kit, visit Graham’s websites: and

Ready for more? Find this article plus an accompanying feature on Graham Keegan — and much more! — in the July/August 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. Digital copies are available to purchase in our online shop.

July/August 2016

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