Category Archives: My Work

Antique Japanese Shifu: Paper and Cotton Textile

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I found this fabric in Tokyo back in July. at first I thought it was just a piece of indigo dyed cotton, but after picking it up and noticing the texture and light weight I inspected it closer and found that it has a cotton warp and a paper weft. The fabric must date to around the early 20th century.

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Above you can clearly see the paper weft threads in one of the ragged ends of the fabric. Below I placed a skein of my handmade paper thread next to the fabric.

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While visiting Kyoto I went to Gallery Kei, the gallery had recently exhibited a huge collection of antique paper fabrics. Below is a link to the exhibit at Gallery Kei and some photos of the interior of this beautiful shop. http://gallerykei.jp/event-index.html

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Katazome Experiment

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Katazome is a type of fabric that is decorated through the use of paste resist stencil designs. The technique has been used in China and Japan for hundreds of years. I wanted to try the technique, but felt overwhelmed by the large number of supplies needed. This was my short cut experiment in katazome. I began by cutting out a stencil from some small squares of kakishibu treated paper. Kakishibu is a dye made from the fermented juice of green astringent persimmons. It is often used to dye fabric or to waterproof paper. I copied the chrysanthemum and sea holly patterns from some antique fabrics, and I made a simple rice paste glue by cooking glutinous rice flour in hot water for a few minutes. I left the paste to thicken up and cool down in the refrigerator.

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The base fabric was dampened with a spray bottle and the stencil was also moistened so that it would lay flat on the damp fabric. I used a small spatula to push the paste through the stencil before removing the stencil and allowing the paste to dry in the sun for about an hour.

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After the paste was no longer tacky I dyed some of the fabric pieces with indigo and the rest using kakishibu. The kakishibu dyed fabrics need to be exposed to strong sunlight in order to deepen the color of the dyed fabric. I am pleased with the simplified katazome fabrics that this experiment produced. I wrapped the fabrics up as gifts with some antique Japanese paper from old daifukucho.

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Kami-Ito, Paper Thread Making

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Newly spun kami-ito, paper thread, on homemade bamboo bobbins. I made this paper thread from beautiful hand made kozo paper from Korea. I first cut the kozo paper into thin strips leaving both ends attached, then left the paper strips under a damp towel overnight, in the morning I rolled the moist paper on concrete blocks, and then spun the thread using a Japanese spinning wheel. This thread still needs to be boiled or steamed to set the twist. This is my first real attempt at making paper thread.

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Reading About Kami-Ito and Shifu

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I recently found these two wonderful books on shifu, paper thread making and paper thread weaving. The first book Kigami and Kami-ito is beautifully laid out and the images are inspiring. A Song Of Praise For Shifu is exceptionally full of information about paper making, as well as, the regional variations and history of shifu.

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I have been collecting antique daifukucho, or account books. Some of these daifukucho date to the 1840’s and were used by a lumber company, but most of them date to the 1880’s and 1890’s. In the past it was common for these books to be taken apart and the strong kozo paper cut up to make paper thread which would be used as weft threads on a hemp or cotton warp. I bought many of these thinking that I might try my hand at making shifu using antique paper, but each page is like a work of art and I don’t know if I can ever bring myself to use them. You can purchase late 19th century daifukucho through my shop at https://www.etsy.com/shop/luckyredbat?ref=hdr_shop_menu

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I recently ordered some beautiful hand made kozo paper and tried making kami-ito, paper thread using the books on kami-ito and shifu I mentioned above. I cut the kozo paper into thin strips leaving both ends attached, then I left the paper strips under a damp towel overnight, in the morning I rolled the moist paper on concrete blocks, and then spun the thread using a Japanese spinning wheel.

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