Shifu or Not Shifu?

As promised, pictures of a vintage obi woven with what I was told was shifu. But a closer examination of the tails on the edge tells a somewhat different story. It is paper but hardly twisted. What is really interesting is how it is plied with silk, both a rich orange colour, and a light cream. The silk sits almost at a 90 degree angle to the paper, which results in a subtle but intriguing effect when woven.

This had me confused initially. The cross-wise coloured ply on the weft makes it look like part of the warp at first glance. But if the coloured thread was the warp, how could the solid stripes be solid?

Indeed, the warp is the same light cream as the light weft. And the orange stripes aren't really solid, but tweedy.

Very clever. What I first took as simply a piece of rough weaving is much more sophisticated than I thought. And until I had spun shifu myself, I probably would never have caught on. There's the value of hands on experience in a nutshell.

I also had a closer look at a couple of skeins of yarn that my friend Jean-Pierre sent me from Japan. They have the dry crunchiness of paper, but J.-P. tells me that they are silk.

A burn test confirmed the fibre as silk. Looking more closely at the structure of the yarn, though, showed no individual filaments of fibre. Instead, it seemed to be mushed together like felt. Perhaps it was made from silk paper?

I'll have to get out my magnifying glass and look for more clues. I love a textile mystery!


  1. Fascinating, I love textile mysteries. Your shifu is also very intriguing, I love the colour and the effect when woven.

  2. Anonymous9:16 AM

    great shifu, think Habu carry a silk that is similar.

  3. Anonymous3:04 AM

    Hi. Yah, I have a piece of obi like the one you have, woven with washi (Japanese paper) and silk. I have been told that this kind of weaving is no longer done. I forget the Japanese name for it but I will ask the ever-educational Mrs. Mandu for you.


  4. Jean-Pierre emailed me with this info:
    I just spoke to Mrs. Mandu about the washi / Japanese paper and silk weaving. You have an example and I have one too, a narrow obi of burnt orange and cream white stripes.

    Mrs. Mandu says that it is an example of the larger group of sakiori, which you know all about. Usually, recycled cloth is used for sakiori but sometimes washi and silk was also used. She says that the washi is light and warm so it was useful in colder areas. In fact she says that it would only have been made in colder areas, like the Tohoku region.

    The example I have is an obi Mrs. Mandu's grandmother gave to her mother. It would have been made some time between 1900 - 1930. She also says that making washi / silk sakiori lasted up to the start of the war. After that, I guess tastes changed and it was also expensive because washi is not cheap. Her mother never used the obi because she thought it was something only a country bumpkin would wear.


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