Lessons in stitched and tied shibori part 6: Making a stitched bamboo leaf

I had never seen so many shades of green…. It had only been a slight detour: I had gotten abruptly tired of tripping over the group I was traveling with. (It had a little to do with our teacher’s insistence that we “look at the BIG, BEAUTIFUL statues!!! Aren’t they WONDERFUL?” And a little to do with our teacher’s sister’s whining insistence that we were “spending too much time at these stupid temples”.) I made a sharp turn out of the line, walked around a tiny bend and found myself in the heart of the temple woods. In the distance were the dark gray-green sugi cedar trees, perfectly straight with lime green moss. I was standing in a thicket of shiny green bamboo trunks, streaked with long lines of darker green. The bamboo leaves whispered overhead. (Have you ever heard corn grow? A little like that….) The overlapping leaves shaded green upon green from pale pastel to almost black in a living, moving mosaic. Around the mossy trail dark teal-green bamboo grass (only knee high!) draped rocks in tiny stems.

bamboo forest
Bamboo forest at Fushimi Inari, Japan

A slight breeze carried more rustles and a hollow clonking as the bamboo collided irregularly. I took a deep breath. This was more like it! I snapped a few pictures and felt my budding headache ease.

And then, “Gina!! You’re missing the statues!” My teacher had found me again….

guardian deity, Nara, Japan
The statues.....

Bamboo is all over Japan and Japanese history. It is used in construction, eaten, decoratively and appears in every style of art, literature and legends. I came home from my trip with a strong desire to dye fabric to reflect the bamboo I had seen: carefully groomed in temples, great forests in the mountains and tiny little sprouts underfoot…. This is eventually the pattern I created!

How to create stitched shibori bamboo:

1. Decide on your layout. What are you trying to dye? Is it a single bamboo stalk? Or a whole grove? Or, a single delicate branch covered in leaves? Before you stitch any project, decide what you are making!

bamboo and moon
Line drawing for a wall hanging

And remember, sometimes a simple pattern will better convey a vast bamboo grove than trying to draw in every stalk and leaf!

2. Draw your pattern and decide what stitches you are using for each section. Does your bamboo have thin, single stitch trunks? Or is it hefty and square, using a double stitch for convey the sturdiness of the plant? (And you can use multiple stitch types!)

3. Stitch your pattern, pull the threads tight and dye! (If you want more instructions please refer to my orinui lesson (lesson 3).


Filled patterns in stitched shibori are always complicated. Kumo shibori can be used, but it isn’t great for acute corners and shapes (like leaves). Larch patterns (karamatsu) work well, but can also be too symmetrical to look like proper leaves. Mokume works great but can be difficult when trying to fill a narrow space.

How I make bamboo leaves:

1. Draw the leaves. I sometimes have cut outs of leaves that I move around the branches until I am happy with the placement and number of leaves in each branch. There is nothing quite like discovering that your leaves make your bamboo grove look frightened….. Clusters of odd numbers of leaves tend to look more realistic. (And don’t use clumps of four!)

bamboo leaf outline
Bamboo leaf outline, ink disappears in water

2. Stitch a single line for orinui shibori around the edge of the leaves. Use one strand of stitch for each side of the leaves (this will be important later when you tighten the threads).

3. Fold the middle of the leaf up and fold it over between your two sets of edge stitching. Take up the entire inside of the leaf it you can, and if the leaf is too wide, do this part in two or more sets of folds.

4. Stitch a single line stitch down the middle of the folded section of leaf. Go in an opposite direction from the previous lines of stitching (ie, outline went left to right, inside stitching should run right to left.)

5. Tie the end of the outline stitch threads together. If you have used only one thread and go around a “corner” on the leaf that is that sharp, you risk pulling holes in the fabric of your dye project.

6. Pull the outside stitch threads tight. Pull the inside thread tight.

7. When they are tight and even, tie the two sets of outside stitches to each other. It will not mark the fabric, because the already end next to each other and is easier to remove later.

8. Tie the pulled thread on the inside stitching to itself or to the tail left by tying the ends together on the outside stitching in step 5. Alternating where the pieces are tied (left side, right side) keeps the tension a little more even and helps prevent a clump of knots from acting as a resist (and then you have funny white circles on your dyed bamboo leaf).

9. If you are having trouble getting the fabric to tighten properly, dampen it LIGHTLY with a spray bottle of water.

10. Dye your project.

11. Remove stitches and iron.

bamboo leaf finished
Dyed bamboo leaf, from pattern sampler

Sugi, Japan
Sugi, cedar trees, Japan

Want to see more posts on shibori? I have a whole file!