[ Content | Sidebar ]

A Length of Shifu: Woven Recycled Paper Yarn

November 8, 2013

ShifuLength2Shifu is a kind of Japanese cloth which is woven from paper yarn.  Usually the weft yarn is hand twisted from washi or paper and the warp yarns are of another material, in this case it’s indigo dyed cotton.

ShifuLength2aThis length is wonderful for its details.  As you can see, running from left to right on this length are dark colored blips.  These dark blips are remnants of the ink which stained the paper which was shredded into narrow lengths and twisted into warp yarns.

ShifuLength2bThe kind of paper that was often used for shifu weaving was taken from books, sometime accounting books such as this type were utilized.

ShifuLength2cShifuLength2dWhat I can’t convey in this blog posting is the light weight of this piece of shifu: paper is less dense than, say, cotton, so a woven length of shifu is quite a bit lighter than cotton or hemp cloth.

ShifuLength2eOn the photos above and below you can easily see the indigo dyed cotton warp yarns and some of the loose paper yarns.  This length probably dates to the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.  Most probably this piece was taken from a shifu kimono.


In: Tags: - Comments closed

A Full Bolt of Shifu: Cotton Warp and Paper/Cotton Weft

July 12, 2012

About a year ago, on a shopping trip to Japan, I bought a full bolt (about 13 yards  or 12 meters) of shifu, or cloth woven with paper yarns.  Here it is: the bolt is warped with cotton yarns and the weft is paper and cotton intermittently.At the time I found this, I was hesitant to buy it as it was expensive–handwoven shifu always is.  But I couldn’t resist.  In these details you can see the slubby nature of the cloth; these slubs are the paper yarns.  Really lovely, aren’t they?In old Yamagata prefecture, known as Shonai, there was a tradition of paper/cotton weaving, and my hunch was that this bolt is from Shonai as it looks like the kind of paper/cotton weaving from that area.  The person from whom I acquired this bolt said it isn’t Shonai, but I have my doubts.Likely this bolt was intended for use as a futon cover; in fact, I had (and sold) a Shonai paper/cotton futon cover that very much resembled this, which further reinforces my gut feeling that this is Shonai.I love the cobalt blue quality of the indigo–and the slubby texture.  One of the many interesting things about shifu is its weight: because paper yarn is less dense than cotton or bast, it’s usually lighter in the hand than cotton or bast woven cloth.This cloth is thick, so the full bolt is quite hefty in volume.   It’s also in pristine condition: it appears that this piece was woven, stored, and never touched.  I think it’s beautiful.

In: Tags: - Comments closed

Mottainai The Fabric of Life: Lessons in Frugality from Traditional Japan

November 6, 2011

The exhibition at the Portland Japanese Garden, Mottainai, The Fabric of Life: Lessons in Frugality from Traditional Japan opened on 4 November.  Here are some installation shots.
I’m exhibiting with my friend, Kei Kawasaki of Gallery Kei in Kyoto.   Kei and I decided that I would show indigo dyed cotton boro pieces and she would show bast fiber and paper pieces.  The items I have contributed to the show can be seen below.Above and below is a large, woven cotton boro mosquito netting or kaya.

Above and below are sashiko stitched pieces.  Centrally place above is a large, sashiko stitched kotatugake.  To the left and right are garments from Yamagata prefecture.Stitched aprons and zokin can be seen above.

Above and below are sakiori garments.

Above is pictured a boro yogi or sleeping kimono, while below you can see noragi or work coats.Below is a fantastic boro futonji or futon cover.This piece, below, a shinafu or linden fiber tsunobukuro or horn bag is filled with balls of shredded indigo dyed cotton yarn and twisted paper yarn.   Kei brought this to the show to act as a transition between her bast fiber textiles and my indigo dyed cotton ones.  It’s an amazing object.  Kei’s other textiles can be seen in the images below.

Above and below are some woven paper garments.  On the photo, above, situated on the right is an okuso zakkuri or a coat made of woven hemp waste.  Below, seen in the middle, is a fujifu or woven wisteria garment and a shinafu or linden fiber garment to its left.

Below are two elm fiber garments: to the right is a traditional Ainu attush, to the left is an unusual dochugi or traveling coat, made from ohyo or elm fiber.  Since this dochugi is made from traditional Ainu cloth, we can assume that the cloth was traded with the Ainu by a merchant from Honsu island.

A marvelous, resist dyed ramie kazuki from Yamagata prefecture can be seen above and below.  A kazuki is a kimono-shaped veil which was worn on the head by upper class women.Below are repurposed paper items. A splendid bashofu or banana fiber kimono from Okinawa can be seen below.All of the pieces are for sale through the Portland Japanese Garden.  If any are interesting to you, please let me know and I will put you in touch with the Garden.

In: Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , - Comments closed

A Shifu Workcoat: Rustic, Indigo Dyed Woven Paper

November 7, 2009

The previous post, just below this one, introduced the work of           Hiroko Karuno, a contemporary shifu artist who weaves cloth from paper.  This post shows a historical example of shifu, in this case an indigo dyed work coat which likely dates from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.

This coat was woven from a shredded, recycled paper weft against a cotton warp; it seems the cloth was piece dyed before it was sewn.  The kasuri cotton used to reinforce the collar, seen above, appears to have been woven in Shonai or in Yamagata, Japan, so we may deduce this coat comes from Japan’s Tohoku Region.

Because of the nature of the paper mulberry washi which was used to weave shifu, paper cloth is surprisingly lighter in weight than woven cotton, bast fiber or silk.  Note the detail photos here which attempt to zero in on the quality of the paper woven cloth: rustic shifu such as this is usually slubby and knotty in appearance.



This coat has been worn as can be seen by the overall patina and some slight fraying to seams; still, it’s a beautiful example of shifu clothing, which is something of a rare commodity in the field of Japanese folk textiles.



In: Tags: - Comments closed

The Art of Shifu: Hiroko Karuno’s Original Interpretation of Traditional Woven Paper

November 2, 2009

In the Japanese language, the word shifu refers to woven paper.  Shifu can mean the fine-as-silk paper weaving that was given as tribute to regional rulers during the Edo Period, or the very rustic, utilitarian cloth woven by peasants by shredding leftover ledger books and weaving this against a bast fiber warp.  This post, however, is about a contemporary shifu artist, Hiroko Karuno, whose shifu weaving draws on inspiration from the past.  Karuno’s interpretation of this rare yet traditional weaving technique, however, is her own.

Hiroko Karuno lives in Canada and she spends part of each year at her family home in Kyoto, where she was raised.  Below you’ll see a photo of a room in her Kyoto home where her minutely shredded paper is laid.

Karuno’s paper comes from an artisan paper maker in Kadoide, Japan, in Niigata Prefecture.  In order for this paper to be seasoned properly, Karuno will store it for five years before using it in her shifu.


Once the paper is properly aged, she folds it and slices it in 2 mm strips: this process of folding and slicing requires a period of sustained total focus and a pin-point concentration: there can be no distractions during this process.  Below you will see the paper after it was properly sliced.Karuno1f

The paper is then shaken free and dampened overnight.  Again the paper is opened and shaken; keep in mind that this process is in no way “mechanical.”  Karuno needs to use all her senses–touch and sound chief among them–to manipulate the paper as she sees fit: imagine that she needs to “listen” to the paper in order to properly manipulate it.  Ambient weather conditions, for example, weigh in on the shifu yarn making process, so Karuno needs to be keenly in-tune to her materials during this entire process.  After this, for quite some time, the sliced paper is rolled to and fro on a rock, under her open hands: again it is lifted, shaken and rolled again.  Rolling in this manner softens the fibers and separates the strands.  After this process is finished, Karuno will release the bundle and unfurl it carefully, taking care to pinch off some stray bits of paper on its folds, and then she will let go a long filament: the special manner in which Karuno folds and cuts the paper allows her to be able to create one, extremely long piece of yarn.  This now-freed filament is coffered in high, soft mounds in bamboo baskets (below).



The paper is ready to be spun into yarn: Karuno is quick to say that the paper is not “spun” but “twisted.”  Karuno “spins” the yarn on a traditional, Japanese spinning wheel.


Karuno dyes her precious yarns using only botanical dyes: indigo, loquat, safflower, gardenia and chestnut are among the dyestuffs that lend color to her specialized yarns.



Earlier in this post I mentioned that Karuno’s shifu is original.  What I meant is that Karuno’s shifu–which is featherweight and exceedingly fine–is woven with a paper weft against a paper warp: most shifu was woven using either a silk or cotton warp, and in the case of country shifu, the cloth was structured on a bast warp.  Karuno’s shifu is a sublime confection and weaving one full bolt of shifu can take up to one  year.

The shifu of Hiroko Karuno is woven into full tanmono, or a 12 meter length from which a traditional kimono can be fashioned: it is dyed–or not–and if dyed, Karuno sometimes will tie the yarns before dyeing and create kasuri or ikat cloth.

The cloth, above and below, are views onto a finished tanmono.  Words and these photos cannot describe the tactile sense of this cloth: it is ethereal as vapor, and it is woven with a super-human precision.  The amount of care which nourishes this cloth is unquantifiable. Please know that these tanmono will never be cut to make a kimono: they themselves are the finished artwork.


For those of you in the Toronto area, Hiroko Karuno will be giving a lecture on shifu and Japanese paper on 11 November at 7:00 PM at The Japanese Paper Place: information is here, and once on The Japanese Paper Place’s website, scroll down to see Karuno’s talk mentioned in the November events.

If you’d like more information and photos on Hiroko Karuno’s work, you may want to order a back issue of Selvedge magazine, where Karuno’s work is the subject of an article I wrote in Issue 22.

In: Tags: - Comments closed