From ancient Japan comes a tradition of cutting fibrous paper into thin strips, twisting it into yarn and weaving it to make cloth. Shifu, meaning woven paper, uses paper yarn as the weft (the horizontal threads on a loom that travel back and forth on a shuttle) and cotton, silk, or hemp threads as the warp (the long vertical threads). My interest in textual and symbolic storytelling and its historic relationship to cloth production led me to appropriate shifu as a method by which paper could serve as a substrate for recording written or drawn narratives, then undergo a double transformation into spun yarn and woven fabric.
Upon utilizing shifu spinning and weaving in a ritual textile project with the active engagement of a faith-based community, I sought to bring the process to other populations with stories to tell. I partnered with Cheyenne McCarter, a sculptor and social worker, and co-created Spin a Yarn, Weave a Life, an award-winning project recognized for artistic excellence, collaborative elements, audience diversity, opportunities for learning, and the ability to illuminate unique qualities of a community. Since 2011, we have worked with elders, educators, war veterans and other trauma survivors, healthcare providers, and people of all ages at public events.
Click the vertical image on the right for an interactive, digital map of words and images that comprise a community fabric, woven with participation from a diverse public at the annual Cambridge River Festival.