How to make awesome Shibori-style cloth Christmas gift bags that will last forever and ever, amen.

27 Dec
Shibori-style ice dyed Christmas bags by Alexandra Hanson-Harding

Shibori-style ice dyed Christmas bags by Alexandra Hanson-Harding

In my last post, I believe I expressed myself fully on the subject of the horrors of giftwrapping. But did you know that you can have really pretty handmade cloth giftbags for not much money that can keep you from hours of pointless agony involving lost scissors, tape that won’t unspool, and pieces of paper that almost but don’t quite cover the whole surface of the Monopoly game box? Here’s how I did it (thanks to an at class I took this fall):

1. Buy some plain white cotton gift bags. You can get them at craft shops such as A.C. Moore or Michaels (for about $3). I got some at a store near us called Amazing Savings (3 for $2.99). I also got some from (they have a number of different kinds of bags, including twelve 10-inch cotton drawstring bags for about $9), and I may have purchased some from Oriental Trading company ( (12 DIY large tote bags for $20). The important thing is that they should be made of a natural fabric, probably cotton or linen. Any size will do–in fact, some places sell tiny little bags that turn out to be surprisingly useful for gift purposes.

2. Ideally, you should wash the fabric in a special detergent called synthrapol (available through such suppliers as Dick Blick  (  I didn’t do it and it came out fine, but it is preferable. While you’re shopping, you’ll also need soda ash and procion dye. What is procion dye? I don’t know what to tell y’all except that it’s a special kind of powdered dye that I could only find at Dick Blick –A.C. Moore and Michael’s failed me. (This will explain more: For this project, I specifically chose Fire Engine Red and Forest Green. But I did not mix those two together in one batch, because those colors could mix and become muddy. If you’re going to mix colors, it’s better to stay w

soaking cloth in soda ash water

This action shot (note blurry artistic quality) shows a bucket of cloth being soaked in soda ash. Note that this process is messy. Also note that there is a container of procion dye sticking out from under the bottom.

ith either yellow-orange-red-brownish hues or blue-green-purple hues, because the different colors will enhance each other. I made two different batches.  By the way, each container of dye costs about $4.50ish.

3. Okay, now, ready for fun? Following directions on the package, I mixed up a batch of soda ash with water and soaked the cloth for about fifteen minutes before tossing the soda-ash water out. (You can soak it longer if you want, too).

4. Then, I tied up each bag into a specific configuration. That’s the Shibori part. Shibori dying is a Japanese style of tie-dying that involves resists. But it’s less chaotic than regular tie-dye, and usually done with indigo. I used several different techniques I found on YouTube videos and in my class–folding the fabric in squares, in triangles, in long back and forth fan folds and so forth. YouTube has approximately seven billion videos on this if you want more ideas. I tied the string very tight. But the dyeing process will still give interesting effects even if you just scrunch up the bags and toss them in the same container where you soaked the bags.

Shibori style cloth tied up

I know this looks like a box of mummified cats, but it’s actually just tightly bundled cloth, tied up shibori style.

5. Now, the really fun part. Completely cover the bags with ice cubes. And then, sprinkle procion dye onto the ice cubes. This picture shows an earlier batch of ice dying, in which I used blues and purples. You can see in the photo that the colors are very dark looking in the beginning as they start to melt into the ice.

Procion dye on ice

Procion dye on the rocks. The dye is just starting to melt into the ice cubes which will allow the dye to melt into the fabric.

6. Next, do nothing. Just stay away from your ice-covered bucket for about 12 hours. Put a cover on it if you have pets just in case, because (don’t read this out loud) pets are d-u-m-b. Oh, and speaking of dumb, I should have told you that back in step 5, you might want to think about wearing gloves or you’ll have hands that look as if you’ve dipped them in blood.

6. Now, take your pieces out of the bucket, and unwrap them while rinsing them under cold water until the water is clear. You will see how the Procion dye has colored your fabric. I really like the way mine turned out. I hope you like yours, too. (see results, at top).

7. You don’t really have to do anything else, but it doesn’t hurt to iron your dyed fabric (with a piece of newsprint over it to keep dye from leaching into the iron), and don’t put it into the washing machine with other stuff until you’re sure it won’t run any more.

tin can tied with dyed string

Don’t get excited yet, Mom, but this dyed-string tin-can pen holder is heading your way!

8. Oh, and tying up the fabric with string or yarn yields a bonus: dyed string that you can use for other projects. I’m making my mommy a pen holder from a tin can and that string (and Mod Podge, of course). Will she love it? She has to. She’s my Mom!

So, 135journalistas, I hope that you won’t have a frustrating December 24, 2015 and that you can easily toss whatever gifts you have into pretty little bags like these. And the good news is, you have 363 days to prepare!

Writing Prompt: What would you like to do differently next holiday season that you didn’t do this season.

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