Jan Paul’s husband had to make a hole in the ceiling to fit one of her looms in their home.
“I’ve almost lost track of how many looms I own,” said Paul, an award-winning Kirkland handweaver who practices her unique talent for Sanganishiki – the Japanese weaving technique practiced only by a handful of people in North America.
Saganishiki, which loosely translates to “Japanese gold brocade,” is the weaving of silk onto paper warps. The warps come from Japan in silver, gold, and lacquered paper, and the technique can be used to create anything from pill boxes to divider screens.
A traditional and cultural art, Saganishiki items are often given to heads of state in Japan. The process is time consuming – weaving just an inch of a complex Saganishiki pattern can take an entire day, and even a simple pair of earrings requires three or four days for Paul to complete. Paul has 24-carat gold warp she plans to use soon.
Unlike knitting, Paul says, Saganishiki takes patience, full attention and ample space. It’s a hobby that requires passion and inspiration. For Paul, that inspiration can come from anywhere: nature, ancient textiles, and unique colors.
Making this Japanese art form into an attractive American product is what Paul excels in, so much so that she will give a lecture in Japan on the subject next month. Her primary focus will be how she has adapted the technique to sell in the U.S. market. Paul has made the traditional art a profitable hobby in the U.S. by making her items simpler than their Japanese counterparts. She makes less complex pieces such as earrings, pendants, and brooches, her top-sellers.
Many Japanese weavers are thrilled with the interest some North Americans have shown in Saganishiki handweaving, Paul says. She was invited to give the lecture by Miyako Ide, creator of a nonprofit organization that educates people on the cultural importance of Japanese weaving.
Paul’s fascination with handweaving began as she pursued her arts degree at the University of Idaho in the 1970s.
“I took a weaving class and knew I had found my calling,” she says.
Years later, Jan attended a Handweavers Guild of America conference, where she took a class from Tokyo Saganishiki weaver Mihoko Karaki.
Since then, she has served as the president of the Seattle Weavers Guild and as the Washington State representative for the Handweavers Guild of America. She teaches at conferences regularly and even had one student go on to study with a handweaving master in Japan, a very high honor.
The community can see Paul’s work at regional shows such as Aki Matsuri, a Japanese cultural event, in Bellevue this September.
Paul has made her passion into a hobby and a career, something she said is challenging to accomplish. As an artist it can often be a struggle to make your business profitable, she says. Paul often spends up to 30 hours a week weaving and teaching students. Though it can be exhausting for the eyes and mind, she encourages those interested in weaving to take private lessons or look for workshops that can teach the rare art.
MOLLY WALDRON is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.