Shibori is the ancient Japanese craft of resist-dyeing – a technique used to decorate cloth in Japan for more than 4000 years. You can visit the country today to see it at its most intricate – you might even find an immaculate rendering of Mona Lisa – but, if you prefer an aesthetic that’s a little more free and easy, look no further than Stanmore.

Friends Pepa Martin and Karen Davis have been running their textiles business Shibori for more than a decade: first from Martin’s garage, and later from their inner-west studio. Together, they take inspiration from traditional shibori and interpret it in their own way: creating patterns that have echoes of tie-dye and are expressive and subtle all at once; playing up to imperfections. These patterns end up on fabrics, homewares, wallpapers, cushions and more.

When Martin and Davis began Shibori in 2004, craft had not yet enjoyed its resurgence in popularity – Martin attributes that to the GFC some three years later – and the fashionable style was slick and precise. “And I am not a perfectionist,” Martin says with a laugh. “I totally go for wabi-sabi [the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection]. And that’s because I’m more about a pattern than the technique. I want to see a result, and I want to get an idea out before it fades.”

Even so, the duo’s sensibility quickly found many fans: after their first trade show, they spent a year fulfilling orders and soon attracted the attention of other Sydney creatives. “We were fortunate enough to make good friends in the industry, who were similar to us in aesthetic,” Martin says. Friends such as Sibella Court – now a frequent collaborator – who Shibori has worked with to produce a range of Sibella Court X McTavish surfboards among other products.

Other collaborations have included Karmme clutch bags, Palm Beach candles and Tappeti rugs; and for Martin, this merging of ideas is all-important. Recently, they’ve been collaborating with BlackStar Pastry on shibori cakes. “We came up with a few ideas [for a food styling shoot], and now we’ve had so many requests that we’re going to do a whole collection,” says Martin. The initial prototype – a cheesecake embellished with all-natural dyes and food colourings – has gone down a storm on the days it has been sold in-store; and we can expect to see more creations soon. “It wasn’t fashion, interiors or making a ‘thing’, it was making food and it was awesome. That chemistry – that’s what makes everything worth doing. [We all] get stuck thinking everything’s been done before, but it hasn’t – we’ve got to open up and share.”

And it’s in this spirit that Shibori jumped at the chance to be part of Broadsheet Restaurant: supplying the leather scatter cushions used to adorn the banquettes; fitting in perfectly with the design’s ink-and-paper theme. “Collaboration”, says Martin. “That’s what it’s all about.”

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When Martin and Davis aren’t busy collaborating or getting their hands dirty with dye, they’re teaching us how to do it too. The pair runs regular shibori workshops from their Stanmore studio and, as a taster, have supplied us with a how-to guide to try at home.

How To: Create Your Own Arashi Tote Bag

What you’ll need:

• One indigo kit to make your synthetic indigo vat. Available at many online stores or available at Shibori’s store in Stanmore.
• 1 tote bag (if you are using a calico bag, it’s a good idea to soak it in boiling water to remove the coating that is commonly found on the fabric)
• 1 plumbing pipe (plumbers have offcuts they are generally happy to offload or sold at hardware stores)
• Several rubber bands
• Bucket, for soaking
• Towel
• Paper mask (sold at supermarkets or hardware stores)
• Rubber gloves
• Spoon
• Small scissors

Before you start:

The beautiful, feathery lines of arashi are a great texture to dress up your tote or shopping bag.

In traditional Japanese arashi, the shibori artist uses a wooden pole instead of a plumbing pipe – as a result, this technique is often referred to as “pole wrapping”. Contemporary American artists were the first to use discarded plumbing pipes in shibori. The Americans also introduced bright, clashing colours and the random placement of designs on fabric, which became a well-known symbol of the Swinging Sixties.

  1. Pre-wash your tote bag to create a good base for dyeing.

  2. Lay your tote bag on a flat surface and iron out the creases.

  3. Place your plumbing pipe diagonally across the cloth bag. Roll your bag around the pipe and secure both ends with rubber bands.

  4. Wrap rubber bands around the pipe at approximately 2.5cm intervals, compressing the bag as you go. Make sure they are tight enough to resist the dye, and double over if necessary. Include the handles to give an all-over finish.

  5. Place the bound pipe in a soaking bucket for 30 minutes.

  6. Remove the pipe from the water, squeeze out the excess water and dab with a towel.

  7. Prepare your synthetic indigo vat by filling up a tub with 15 litres of warm water. Sprinkle in your indigo powder and sodium hydrosulphite. Stir gently. Dissolve your soda ash in 30ml (2 tbsp) of hot water. Slowly add this solution to the dye vat. Leave for 30 minutes. Submerge the wrapped pipe in the dye vat and leave for 40 minutes – do not agitate as this will create bubbles.

  8. Remove the pipe from the dye vat and leave to oxidise for 15 minutes. Rinse under cold water until the water runs clear. Then release the fabric from the pipe, rinse again and wash with dishwashing liquid until the water runs clear.