Lessons in stitched and tied shibori part 5: Mokume or “wood grain” patterns

Mokume, or “wood grain” shibori is very similar to karamatsu shibori. Both are space filling techniques that create a ripple effect through stitch spacing. Mokume though, does NOT need to be bilaterally symmetrical and can be used to fill any shape or size space.


1. Outline the space to be filled.

Using a round 4 inch stencil for the pattern.

Laying out the pattern for mokume shibori requires a little planning. One point to consider is the shape you are filling. Unless you use a tight, small stitch line of ori nui shibori around the edge of your shape, the edges will be a little blurry. Is this a feature that you want in your overall design? Do you have sharp corners or curves that you want in the finished piece?

2. Draw guidelines within the space. Remember that the ripples will be perpendicular to the guidelines! I usually space guidelines ½ inch apart (and stitch at ¼ inch intervals) but guideline spacing and stitch size will be dependent on the fabric you are working with and the affect you wish to create. Smaller stitches, close together will create smaller and sharper “ripples” than larger stitches farther apart.

Once again: Remember, the PATTERN created by the ripples will be perpendicular to the STITCH lines.

3. Stitch. The stitches should be semi-irregular and larger than those used in single and double line stitching.

In most stitched shibori, the more neatly and evenly the stitching is worked, the better the end results. In mokume shibori, neat even stitching will result in parallel lines rather than the interwoven affect typical of mokume. Do not line up the stitch spacing, take uneven length stitches if the pattern becomes too regular.

4. Tighten the stitching. With stitch lines at ¼ inch, I usually tie the ends of the threads into pairs (fewer strings to break) but this only works if the margins of the stitched area are perfectly parallel. For wider spacing and curved margins, tie the strings individually.

If the fabric is not compacting well, dampen it a LITTLE with a towel or spray bottle to help it compress. (Too much water will create an unwieldy, wet blob.)

Tightening the threads for dyeing.

If the strings must be tied individually, use thread doubled over so that it is tied into a fat knot on one end and the two loose ends tied over each other at the other end. In loosely woven fabric or if there’s a danger of having the knots pull through the fabric, place a couple of loose stitch threads an inch or so long under the knot before pulling the thread and knotting it. That will keep the knot from pulling through. DON’T use something larger, like a piece of stray fabric as it will leave a mark in the finished dye work.

Tying thread back on itself.

5. Dye your stitched fabric.

Ready to dye.

6. Cut and pull threads when the fabric is dry.

Feel like you missed some parts? Part 1 is all about kumo shibori! Part 2 is all about materials!

Part 3 is about ori-nui, the art of single and double line stitching. Part 4 is karamatsu, or the larch pattern!

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