Saturday, July 26, 2014

Weaving paper slippers


  As a third generation Japanese American, I am interested in Japanese art and culture.  When I 
saw this photo of a meisen hitoe (repeating patterns on a kimono), I bookmarked it on my computer, knowing that I would return to it sometime for inspiration.                 
Several months later, I decided to weave a pair of shoes with the design of the meisen hitoe.  I purchased some Thai unryu paper, which is made from inner mulberry bark.  I am not a calligrapher, nor a painter, so I decorated the paper in my own way.  I painted the circles with sumi ink, using 2 horsehair brushes that I had recently made.

After the paper was dry, I sprayed it with a fixative so that the ink wouldn’t run when it got wet. I set aside some of the paper for the soles, and then proceeded to prepare the paper for weaving.  I folded the paper in a “w” shape horizontally, and measured and cut ½” strips so that I could get a long, continuous length.  It gets roughened up in preparation for spinning, and misted with water.   Then I used my bobbin winder to spin it into cord. This is based on a Japanese weaving art called shifu.  Historically, shifu weavers prepare  much smaller strips of mulberry paper, perhaps 2-3 mm wide.  However, I am trying to make a cord that is the size of 4 ply waxed linen.  This is called koyori.
Part of a strip, ready to prepare for spinning

the results
I had purchased pre-spun Habu paper linen yarn for the spokes or warp pieces, and proceeded to cut about 60 lengths at 8”.

I then made a slipper “sandwich” of sorts.  The bottom piece was the torn, decorated paper.  I glued it (white glue) to the bottom of the watercolor paper sole, leaving torn edges extending past the edges. 
In the middle of the sandwich, I glued the warp pieces to the edge of the sole.  One end pointed inwards,  and the long tails (about 7  ½”) radiated around. 
The top of the sandwich was another water paper sole, covered with my decorative paper.  This time, I cut  the decorative paper exactly the same size.
I glued all of the parts together, and let them dry overnight, weighted down between waxed paper.

The next day I proceeded to twine around the sole with my koyori paper yarn. Twining is a basketry technique that uses two moving weavers (or weft)  that are alternately placed in front and in back of a stationary warp cord. I used the plain twining technique, going up to the right, or an S twist.  I immediately started the sides of the shoes.
After 5 rows, I glued the decorative paper from the bottom of the sole so that it would go up over the sides, and cover the bottom two or three rows.  I continued weaving upwards, applying gentle pressure on the front warp cords, so that the vamp would start forming.  In order to make the vamp area ‘grow,’ I had to do short rows in just the front of the slipper, followed by a complete row, all the way around.  Some spokes were cut out of the front since it started to get too tight for the weavers to pass smoothly. 
When the sides were close to one inch tall, I decided to stop weaving with the multi-colored cord, and switched to two black weavers to finish it up.  The last few rows formed a solid black band.

To finish up, I did a two part rim.  The first row around, I took a spoke (warp cord) and had it go in back of its neighbor to the right, and then out, and continued all the way around.  For the second row, I did a row of a basketry rim called Gretchen’s Border.  To do this, 3 spokes are laid in the left hand.  The farthest spoke to the left goes over the two on the right, and then is pushed down.  Then a new spoke on the right is picked up, and you continue all the way around.  I had originally planned to do more rows, but found that paper isn’t the best medium for this border.  After I trimmed the spokes to ¼”, I had some slip out, and they were too short to insert back into the pattern, so I ended up with the rim as it is now, and applying a bit of watered down glue with a paintbrush to keep them from moving.

When I started the right shoe, I did it in the same manner as the other.  However, at the end, in spite of my measuring the left shoe, the right one turned out a bit shorter in the vamp area.  I didn’t realize this until I had already completed the rim and cut the warp ends off.  The finished shoes are each 6 ½” long, 2 ¾” across.

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