Hiroko Karuno is a professional spinner, weaver and dyer who has exhibited and taught multiple workshops from Japan to Canada. We had the pleasure of meeting and exchanging conversation with Hiroko on a recent visit to Los Angeles.
Shifu is a unique and rich Japanese textile woven with paper thread. Shi translates to paper, such as with washi, and Fu means cloth. It was developed in Japan for commoners in need of warmer clothes, but was refined by skilled weavers as an alternative for textile over the years. Nowadays, you can find kami-ito (paper thread) made by machine, but Hiroko plans to continue the tradition of making kami-ito by hand. Kigami refers to paper that is made by the pure Japanese traditional method and Hiroko only uses Kigami for her kami-ito. Handmade papers is composed of mixed fibers to create a stronger and tensile sheet compared to machine made papers with fibers lined up.
In her book, Kigami and Kami-ito , Hiroko goes through multiple steps starting from two sheets of Kigami and turning it into 1 skein (about 500 meters) of paper thread. The thread making portion, which includes the tearing and rolling of the paper, is her favorite part of the process. Her work hours consist of 8 hours a day 7 days a week and she can produce up to 2 skeins per week. She uses only natural dyes because it lasts longer and has fewer health complications, but she must consistently dye it repeatedly for a bolder color.
Only a few people in the world uphold the traditional way of making paper thread by hand. Hiroko believes that this method will exist as long as handmade paper exists and hopes that her continued efforts would help bring attention to other traditional Japanese craftsmanship, such as papermaking and other art forms.