Shifu: Weaving with Paper


Now that I’m back home I have time to make more proper posts with photos of my 2 ½ weeks in Japan. We were extremely busy and went to a lot of interesting places. We visited an artist in Yamazawa who weaves with paper, and we had a chance to make some paper weft thread and weave it into cloth.

Here is a hanging made of paper hanging in the studio. I took the photo because it seemed like a really good idea to make a wall hanging without using a lot of weft or weaving time.

Old account books are popular for making thread for weaving. I’ve collected some myself over the years, hoping to make some shifu cloth myself. This time I mean it!

Here is a spool of the paper weft. The black marks (and maybe a red one or two) are from the notes written on the account books. People didn’t pay for each purchase but had a page in the merchant’s account book and paid up periodically. They were available on my past trips in flea markets.

How the treads were made.
We cut the paper into strips about 1/8 wide in such a way as to make very long strings. The cutting didn’t go clear to the edges of the paper, sort of like a paper lantern. We stretched out the cut paper and where the paper hadn’t been cut, it made a little bump where the paper was stretched. (See the book below.)Then we twisted it off the point of a spinning device. Formerly, I twisted it off the point of a bobbin winder.

Then came the weaving.
For several others, it was their first weaving experience, and they were thrilled beyond belief.

There is a special look of the cloth—little bumps or irregularities where the uncut paper was twisted.  Unless it’s very professionally made you can tell a shifu cloth by those little bumps.

This is the book I plan to use to make my own shifu. It goes into detail about cutting and also about what papers are good. In my  first class I took years ago we used old paper dress patterns.

Here’s a photo from the book that shows the irregularities indicating it is woven with shifu paper wefts.