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Paper weight

THE PRECIOUS CLOTH OF SHIFU WEAVER HIROKO KARUNO

During Japan's Edo period (1603-1868), in

what is now the country's northern Miyagi

Prefecture, hand-made paper was woven into a

cloth so supple, lightweight and refined that one

of the area's most powerful clans paid tribute to

the shogun by presenting him with garments

made from this luxurious paper cloth known as

shifu. Woven from a paper weft against a silk

warp, the production of shifu was tightly controlled

and its process a well-guarded secret.

Today, Hiroko Karuno is one of a handful of

weavers in Japan who practices the art of shifu

weaving. In her Kyoto studio, Karuno spins

washi paper into thread so fine that her cloth

rivals that of the Edo period – however her take

on shifu is a personal one: as she says, “Mine is

an original shifu.” Karuno's shifu is more than

cloth, it is the complex conveyance of her love

of paper. The purity of the material is the core

inspiration for Karuno, whose attraction to paper

is embedded in her Japanese cultural identity.

“I like paper. Paper is a part of our lives; we have

shoji, we hang paper scrolls in our tokonoma

alcove, that's how we grow up - paper is close to

us. It seems natural for me to work with it.”

Kadoide city in snowy Niigata Prefecture is

the source for Karuno's paper, which is made

by a master papermaker from the pulp of the

inner bark of paper mulberry or kozo. Each

hand-made sheet is dried in full sun on a wood

en board, and each must weigh a standard ten

grammes to insure uniform thickness for thread

making. Yasuo Kobayashi, the papermaker,

releases his paper after ageing it for two years;

Karuno then waits another three years before

turning this cured paper into micro-fine thread.

Ageing the paper simply, “makes it better” and

she prefers her paper to come from a cold

region because “the fibre is stronger, the paper

is crisper, yet the thread itself is very flexible.”

Transforming large, flat sheets of paper into

thread of hair-fine thinness is less magical and