The Mark Making of the Folding and Unfolding

Karen Davis and Pepa Martin, Shibori Installation Display, 2013, Courtesy of Shibori.

Karen Davis and Pepa Martin, Shibori Installation Display, 2013, Courtesy of Shibori.


In the Camperdown studio, two textile artists Pepa Martin and Karen Davis have found success with an ancient Japanese dyeing technique, Shibori. Shibori is a term used to describe ‘Shiboru’, defined as ‘to wring or squeeze a fabric’. The beauty of this technique has become their foundation, naming their business Shibori.

The technique of Shibori also existed in Africa, Indonesia and other eastern hemisphere countries, often as a way of repurposing old fabrics. Despite these traditional roots, Davies and Martin discovered that the fabric and dyes can easily be adapted for contemporary applications. “Modern shibori has a really strong design and art element, where the creator has a certain amount of control, and that’s where it differs from tie-dye.”

Their projects include designing stage curtains for the Beresford Hotel in Surry Hills and the Exchange Hotel Balmain. They collaborate with artists, architects, stylists and designers such as Little Dandelion, creating an imperfect beauty of pattern-making in woven furniture and blankets. They have worked with interior designers and published in Inside Out, Vogue, House and Garden, Belle and many other magazines. 

In their Camperdown workshop they create lamps, wall hangings, curtains and cushions. Martin and Davis scrunch, fold and pleat cotton, leather and other materials before tying them up with string and bands, and soaking them in a dye bath.

Martin and Davies, commissioned by the Powerhouse Museum, published their first book in 2012, Shibori Recreated. This book features the work of many artists and designers around the world using Shibori and who push the boundaries in creating contemporary designs. Shibori Recreated is a conversation between Martin and Davis, and various artists, designers. The authors ask how they have modified the technique and how they have utilized the technology in creating their craft, to attract their audience in a modern contemporary society.

The book featured many established Australian fashion designers such as Akira Isogawa. Isogawa is a Kyoto-born renowned fashion designer who uses handmade fabrics made by artisans in Asia. He creates fabrics from digital print, not using dye at all; a 3D tie dye effect by manipulating the fabric, using a chemical solution and gentle heat.

Emma Mulholland, another Australian Sydney designer featured in the book, comments about Shibori: “I always love the randomness of it. You don’t get two pieces exactly the same. It can be a lengthy process but when you finally unravel it… It’s always cool to see what’s happened.”

Martin and Davis believe the trend fits perfectly with the move away from materialism towards sustainable craft, which also goes back to the cultural traditions of repurposing old fabrics. Shibori has a universal tactile appeal and offers endless creativity.
Shibori is a very forgiving art form; each dye bath has an unpredictable quality. The type of fabric changes the colour tones, and the temperature of the dye changes the mark-making of the resist.

“There’s never really a failed piece”, Martin and Davis said.