Karuno's shifu is a sublime contradiction: the humblest of materials elevated to one of the planet's rarest cloths...
gently dry and further soften the paper. Karuno
expains, for this process “you have to use your
hands and your ears”.
Again, sitting directly on the tatami in front
of two concrete blocks, Karuno rolls the damp
paper under her hands as one would do if one
were making pasta. “Traditionally, this would
have been done on a large, flat stone, but I
couldn't find any good ones from the Kamo
River, so I use concrete instead.” Karuno then
picks up one end of the bundle, gently unfolds
it and begins shaking it; the bundle is then
flipped and the process is repeated. This rolling,
shaking and flipping softens the fibres and sep
arates the strands. Each quarter sheet of paper
is massaged for half an hour. “It's easier to work
in a damp climate, especially for rolling. It
makes sense to work with this in Japan because
the climate is right.”
Sitting upright, Karuno is now ready to
release the joined ends of the sliced paper to
create a continuous thread. By pinching off the
ends, tearing and rolling, she nimbly begins dis
engaging a thin thread from the still-joined ends
of the bundled paper; she goes back and forth,
pinching away at top and bottom, repeating
these actions, and suddenly a long, thin
filament of paper appears.
The unravelled paper threads are coffered
in a deep bamboo basket and form a high, soft
heap; ready to be spun into shifu thread.
Karuno clarifies, “I always say 'spin' but it's
actually twisting. Spinning is different.” The pre
pared thread is then expertly spun onto the
bobbin of her spinning wheel before being
reeled onto a spool and steamed to set the twist.
Karuno dyes the threads herself, using only
botanical dyes such as safflower,
gardenia, loquat, indigo and chestnut. The dyed
threads, when formed into skeins, are so
incredibly light that they almost float from the
palm of one's hand.