itajime folds

When I teach indigo and shibori dyeing courses, I make certain to include some basic itajime folds for students to experiment with. This Japanese resist dyeing technique involves folding fabric into a grid of repeating geometric shapes and applying clamps, which creates a beautiful tessellating pattern after dipping or submerging in dye. We usually learn three patterns in class, but I recently discovered a fold new to me, with the help of a student! Before sharing it here, I’ll give a quick overview of the basics.

itajime: six pointed star

Each of the itajime patterns begins in the same way, with an accordion fold to pleat the fabric into a long thin rectangle. The easiest pattern, sankaku, repeats the accordion fold in the opposite direction, making a grid of squares or rectangles.

The other three patterns I’m familiar with rely on pleated triangles. Below is a reminder of the geometry I’ll be referencing. Whichever of these patterns you are making, it helps to be as precise as possible when folding your fabric. This will give you a uniform pattern the dye can evenly penetrate. I recommend practicing with a piece of scrap paper before folding fabric. Then you can choose to fold your wet fabric, or iron it into crisp shapes before wetting and dyeing. I find it easier to flip the paper over after each step when learning a new pattern, but once I’m comfortable with the steps and move to fabric I hold it in one spot and pile the folds up on top of one another.

remember triangles?

The lattice pattern, gōshi, is made with a pleated right triangle (just like spanakopita, but with an accordion fold). This creates a grid of squares with diagonal lines running through them.

The tortoiseshell pattern, kikkō, is made of tessellating equilateral triangles. Together these triangles form a grid of hexagons. See in the diagram below that the first fold A forms only half of the equilateral triangle, which is a right triangle with its sharpest point nestled in the corner of the pleated rectangle. The fabric is flipped over and the second fold B creases at what is now the obtuse angle, aligning A exactly with one side of the pleated rectangle. The equilateral triangle continues in an accordion fold with no more half-triangles.

tortoiseshell itajime

tortoiseshell itajime

My new favorite fold is one that I cannot find mentioned in the texts I have on itajime. It creates a six pointed star just like the hemp leaf pattern I’ve seen in stitched shibori, asa-no-ha. This pattern begins with the same fold A as the previous, creating a right triangle. Fold B creases on the acute angle of the reverse, forming a long thin isosceles triangle.

hemp leaf itajime

hemp leaf itajime

Together folds C and D form only half of the isosceles triangle, then E and F continue with the full triangle. Every fold flexes at the acute angle, so keep it precise. This pattern has a very large repeat, so you’ll want a big piece of fabric to show off the full pattern.

hemp leaf itajime

hemp leaf itajime

I’ve tried my best with the diagrams, but there is no better way to figure this one out than by attempting it!


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