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A Song of Praise for Shifu

Shifu Sanka 紙布讃歌

Susan J. Byrd presents a comprehensive description of the making of shifu—a Japanese textile woven from thread made with paper. This is complemented by an historical overview of the many uses of shifu through past centuries. Also included is detailed information about making the paper and thread from the sheet, spinning and weaving, as well as dyeing the thread and the finished textile with natural dyes. Appendices include artistic works created by internationally renowned artists, resources (suppliers, museums, and craftspeople/artists), and an extensive glossary in Japanese and English. The book features two samples: Nishinouchi shifu yōshi, a paper handmade for shifu by Daisuke Kikuchi and a finely woven silk and paper cloth made by Sadako Sakurai, the esteemed Japanese shifu weaver.
Samples in Book — Nishinouchi shifu yōshi and shifu dyed with alder cones.

2014 Eric Hoffer Book Awards

Grand Prize: Short listed ⋅ Montaigne Medal (most thought-provoking book): Finalist

da Vinci Eye (superior cover artwork): Winner

First Horizon (superior work by debut author): Winner

Best Micro Press Book (publishers issuing 24 or fewer books per year)

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About A Song of Praise for Shifu


I am loving your book. I am maybe half way through and am so in love with what you have done! It is a masterwork, I believe, and a true song of praise. You have managed a bunch of “stuff” about shifu with incredible skill and grace. The book works as a whole and flows beautifully. I love the enormous footnotes; that was a great solution to all the related but not entirely text–worthy information. Your book is so timely and so very wonderful!!! Thank you for writing it.  Velma Bolyard


Your book is breathtaking! It is exactly the resource I have been researching and hoping to find. It will be interesting to see how a new audience interprets and explores the possibilities of paper thread as a result of your passion for Shifu.  Beth Showalter


. . . fabulous, fabulous book.  Linelle Dickinson


I’m really enjoying your book! Great research with all details. And photos are beautiful. I showed your book to Mr. Shiraishi, Oji Fiber, and Mr. Sato, Curetex. They are very impressed by the quality of your research and your book itself, "Beautiful book!" They are also pleased that their company's name is in the book. I had two copies and Curetex bought one of them. They will use your book as an educational tool for their clients, what is 'washi', what is paper yarn, how it's made, etc. They have some local offices in China and Singapore. Your book will be at their Singapore office. Your book gives me great help to promote my items and project - introducing paper yarn. Hope your book will reach many readers.  Mayumi Kaneko


I had to think awhile about purchasing your book at that price, but it was truly worthwhile. You spent so many years researching, making, and living shifu, that it was like I spent $85* at a shifu workshop. Of course it is not the same and I still want to meet you some day, but for now it’s fine.  . . . plus I enjoyed reading about your experiences.  Donna Sakamoto Crispin

*$80.00 + $5.00 S&H within the US.


. . . my friend who I gave the book to...................... she was ecstatic over it.............. No words for all your work and research and the love and care that went into it.  Chéusa Sienna Wend


I ordered your book through Alan Isaacs (UK) and he sent it as soon as he had received copies, so I am very pleased to have the special samples too. I am delighted. It is so informative, well documented and also very readable. So, congratulations. I do hope that it will sell well for you after all that hard work. Thank you for including a piece of my work too. Shifu has had a place in my life for about 30 years. I first came across it through Eleanor Burkett who had been to Japan to study it and then she taught groups in the UK, and I did two courses with her. I used my own paper thread with some filament silk in some takadai braids that went to a kumihimo exhibition in Japan in 1992. How well I remember the careful cutting and endless rolling on a piece of concrete. I used to spin a great deal so that side was not a problem. At that time we were able to purchase kozo paper from Eleanor. So - it is really interesting to read your beautiful book now - and I must say that I am very tempted now to make more of my own, if only I had the time.  Jennie Parry


Your shifu book is a masterpiece of research and information. So well written too. I am an art historian and studied in Japan from 1986 to 1991. Your study is the first scholarly and in-depth study of this particular part of Japanese culture I have ever come across. I have read and own about half a meter of books on similar subjects, such as Japanese kimonos. I am telling everyone; weavers and silk painters about your book!  Helle Vesterby


I have your book open to page 120 (Chaper 5: Early Beginnings of Shifu) for reference as I start weaving a new hanji gourd. I absolutely love that chapter and am so grateful to have the book for reference right at my fingertips now. I think it's funny how these things happen all at once: first, no books on hanji, and then mine and one in translation were published in the same year. Same with shifu.  Aimee Lee (author of Hanji Unfurled: One Journey into Korean Papermaking by The Legacy Press)


CB: . . . authors from the intimate world of Asian papermaking have recognized that The Legacy Press is sympathetic to the idea of covering subjects that are quite specific, especially works that must be supplemented by a large number of images. With the next TLP book, A Song of Praise for Shifu by Susan Byrd, I have gone a bit outside my layout "rules" to accommodate her unique, poetic vision. This strong relationship between publisher and author is, I think, rare, especially for "trade" books. 

GK: If I recall correctly, isn’t shifu a type of material woven from thread made of paper?

CB: Yes, that's right. Until reading Susan's book, I had no idea that this craft has been around for centuries, and there are extant examples of clothing that are hundreds of years old. Even though I know that under all but the most adverse conditions such as fire and mold, paper is a remarkably stable and resilient, it is still amazing to me that work clothing worn everyday for many years survives. The most appropriate paper to convert into thread has properties that vary somewhat from paper destined for other more common purposes, and there still exist papermakers who specialize in shifu paper.  Cathleen A. Baker (excerpt from bookseller Gabe Konrád’s interview with Cathleen A. Baker, the founder of The Legacy Press). 


Your book is so special. Without someone like you, it couldn’t be published. As one of Japanese, I’m thankful for all you did.  Sawako Tajima


Your book A Song of Praise for Shifu is rapidly becoming one of my all time most special book friends along with In Praise of Shadows and the intimate agenda: inside the creative process (it really is all lower case) just to name a few.  You’ve made scholarly reserach as accessible as a great novel. Very special.  Thanks for all it took to be able to write this insightful, authentic book.  I am happy to have ordered the book and to have learned so much.  Deborah Brooks


This book is a true work of art and beautiful homage to the craftspeople in Japan!  We are so proud of you!  This is not just a book about the “lost art” of shifu, but the history and stories of the master craftspeople committed to preserving the time-honored techniques while exploring new natural fibers around them and beyond.  We are all loving every page of it!  All of our fiber arts geek friends would salivate over the scholarship and beauty of this book.  The beautiful shifu samples at the end were a wonderful surprise. Congratulations on completing one of your life’s work, Susan Byrd!  Now I feel like showing this book to every Japanese store and museum in town!  Royd Hatta, Shu-Hsien Ho and Kay Hatta


Your book is a treasure that honors this beautiful craft and art of Shifu.  Thank you for preserving the knowledge and sharing it with the world.  Margaret Rhein


I wanted to write and tell you that I finally had a chance to sit down last Sat night and spend an hour or so with your amazing book, such an amazing balance between deals and technicalities that have never before been shared with the english speaking world and a genuine feeling for the humble yet creative and dedicated people that are keeping this paper thread alive.  To say I was impressed just doesn’t cut it - I was mesmerized.  I saw myself in those photos where you are sitting and learning and listening... I came so close to staying on in Japan for life.  And I see now it took decades of your dedication as well to put it all together.  It may have a small audience but it is such an important and worthy endeavor.  Susan Ball Faeder

Your beautiful book has arrived safely - thank you for the careful wrapping. I was so touched to find the envelope with the paper and cloth inside. How very beautiful and precious the samples are - they feel like a kind of paper treasure. I'm so enjoying your writing which I find extraordinarily moving - the detail, the generosity of spirit, the insights and the warmth which emanate from the pages are all remarkable. I feel very lucky to have a copy of such an exquisite book.  Dr. Charlie Lee-Potter

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