7 April 2007

Mokume is a traditional Japanese design that is often translated as wood grain.
This image is from World Shibori Network., look under techniques.
This is a very simple technique; the tools required are a needle and thread and maybe a marker. Parallel rows of hand stitching are gathered tightly before dyeing. There is a simple tutorial at
Now what I like about this technique for flat patterning is how the lines that are formed from dye on the top of the gathers sort of wander to and fro. This is because the stitches in each line of stitching do not line up precisely. If you wanted them to line up precisely you would mark a series of dots and go down in one and up in the next.Here is an indigo piece from the Flickr pool.
The first thing novices ask me is if they can use the sewing machine. Of course, they can use a sewing machine but they won’t get mokume patterns. This has to do with how the stitches are made. In hand stitching you have one thread and the needle carries it up and down through the cloth, when you pull it tight the cloth undulates.
A sewing machine makes the stitches with two threads and when you gather it the cloth can only make tiny undulations inside the thread cages. The results are more about the resists formed by the thread.
machine mokme.jpg
There is a smocking machine that pleats like the hand stitching, with one thread. Here is one I have, see more at the Sewing Studio.
It has many needles that all pierce the cloth at exactly the same point. Here is a piece done with a smocking machine with one needle missing.
Do you think it is as boring as I do?
Jane Steinberg makes textured silk scarves and shawls using mokume. The texture is less dramatic in the difference between hand stitched and smocking machine but she does it by hand and you can read about it here. This is Jane’s mokume patterning—lovely, eh?


7 Responses to “Mokume”

  1. glennis Says:

    I have had a pleater in the past and found it to be cumbersome, especially for large pieces. You are also limited in the width of fabric you can feed into it. I was using it for another purpose and didn’t like working with it at all. Preferred to do it by hand. And yes, it does look boring to me too, in comparison to other more hand worked techniques.


  2. els Says:

    Thanks a lot for sharing this technique and links.


  3. Karren Says:

    Mechnical devices always have many limitations. It works best with thin smooth fabrics and with experience you can feed it thru multiple times to do any size piece. Keeping it on grain has always proved to be the biggest challenge for me.
    I have seen some interesting shibori work done with it, I think that Ana Lisa Hedstrom had some pieces, textured done with it in the 80’s. TI also think that she wrote an article for Threads [“Dyeing with a Pleater”
    By Ana Lisa Hedstrom
    Shibori-inspired textures and patterns from a smocking machine.
    March 1997 (Issue # 69)] about using it.


  4. Karren-


  5. Karren-
    I just saw your reference to me on your blog. You can’t imagine what a rush that was! You have been such a source of delight and inspiration for me for years. Not in a century would it occur to me to try imitating you, but what great stuff you do! Almost nobody in the world of textile coloring has a sensibility that I can resonate to, but you certainly do. Your work is truly science in the service of art.
    Your Blog is the perfect example of sharing as it’s being discussed on the Dyers List. You tell us exactly how you do something, and yet nobody, and I mean nobody, will ever be able to replicate it because they don’t have what makes your work your work.
    Next year I hope to go to the American Crafts show in Palm Beach and come shake your hand in homage. This year just got away from me somehow.
    Thank you for the mention, and thank you for your work.


  6. glennis Says:

    i’ll have to check out that article…sounds interesting. i currently have some wide bias cut silk ribbon that might be interesting done with a pleater……but i’ll have to re-acquire one at this point. and yes, you are the queen of sharing info-your book is the best reference i have when it comes to dyeing silk. whenever anyone asks me how to….i always say get Karren Brito’s book and read her blog…thanks!


  7. MaureenTisch Says:

    [quote]come shake your hand in homage[/quote]
    ditto that for me, and I’m ready to buy another piece of your wearable art. I’m glad you liked my mokume shibori on flickr


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