Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Washi Decorations

A friend recently introduced me to making crafts with washi paper. It is made in Japan wa and by hand shi from fibers found in the leaves and stems of the mulberry tree along with fibers from the mitsumata bush and the bark of the gampi tree. It is very strong and extremely durable and yet it feels soft almost like a cloth. Documents written on washi paper still exist from 1,300 years ago.  Washi paper comes in many colors and designs and has many uses in Japanese life. I love textiles generally and so the paper's palette and variety of patterns appealed to me. I had thought the paper was just for origami.

Japanese washi paper comes in a variety of colors and patterns
Turning washi paper into an ornament requires a base. My friend used eggshells and strung them through their middles with gold thread. To acquire the eggshells one must blow the egg out of a tiny hole. Being a novice crafter, the first time, I shook the eggs and shook the eggs to get them cleaned out- it took a while. Instead I'd recommend the following.

Rinse the eggs (shells) before you start. Room temperature eggs (meaning warmer eggs) are easier to puncture. Use a pin or skewer to poke a hole. Hold the pin or skewer in place while holding the egg, then gently tap it like a nail with an object- I used a kitchen knife. Go through the egg and out the opposite end if using a skewer or flip and tap again if using a pin. There may be eggshell chips to remove. Assuming you've pierced the yolk, put the egg up to your mouth and blow (which is why I suggest rinsing them first). Blow the contents into a bowl to collect for a recipe. Rinse the egg and blow out the water. Store the egg in the egg carton and collect a dozen for a rainy day when you have some time to decorate them. You could also use paper mache balls from a craft store, but the point here is handmade.

Poke a hole with a skewer or pin and tap gently through
Supplies needed: washi paper 6" x 6" per eggshell, blown eggshells, ruler, flexible tape measurer, pencil, white glue or mod podge, scissors, paintbrush, and shellac or varnish.

When you've collected your eggshells to decorate, you have to measure them with a tape measure (flexible kind)- length: top to bottom, and width: circumference around the widest part. Measure in centimeters. Using a pencil, mark these measurements onto your egg. Label your egg and your paper too such as A, B, C, etc. if you are doing several at a time so that you can easily match your egg to your paper.
Write the measurements on your egg and code to correlate with a piece of paper
Fold washi paper in half, making a rectangle with the open end being the top and the fold being the bottom. Using a ruler and your egg's measurements, mark off with a pencil on the white side of the paper: starting from the bottom fold (because it is folded) go up to the measurement that is half of the length of your egg (from the top to the bottom of the egg divided by 2) and then going across the paper the width (all the way around the widest part of the egg). Cut the paper along these marks (still folded); it will look like a rectangle.

Create a pattern from the paper to cover your egg. Using a ruler and pencil, mark a dot at the half centimeter (0.5 cm) measurement along the top and keep going across marking each centimeter thereafter with a dot- these will be the top of the arch points. Using a ruler and pencil, draw a line one centimeter (1 cm) up from the bottom fold, across the paper. Then mark off every centimeter going across this bottom line with a dot. You are making a pattern to cover your egg. The line going across prevents you from cutting through the paper. Starting from the bottom line's edge, draw arches: go up to the first mark at the top (that half centimeter indent) then down to the one centimeter mark on the line and then back up all the way across- it will look like a series of arches or a picket fence.
Washi paper markings for an egg (unfolded)
With the paper folded, cut along the arches you drew, rounding them out a bit. Sharp angles will leave gaps when you attach it to the egg whereas rounded arches will overlap and cover the egg better. Do not cut through the one centimeter line across the bottom- just down to it.
Washi paper is folded and cut out
Cut out all of the papers you plan to do. Be sure to tag each paper and eggshell so that you can match them when you are ready to do the gluing part.

Glue the paper onto the eggs with mod podge or white craft glue. In Japan a bit of rice glue is added, but a shopkeeper assured me that any combination of glue will work. My friend thinned her glue with a few drops of water. If you have a large opening hole on your eggshell, add a chip or two of your paper cuttings to the top, apply a dab of glue to the paper and then place covering the edges of the hole- use two or three small triangle shaped chips as needed. This is also the time to insert string if you wish to hang your eggs later. Make a loop and tuck both ends into the egg and secure by gluing a bit of washi paper onto the string, then allow to dry.

Apply glue to the backside (white side) of the washi paper- a brush or sponge may be helpful. Place the egg in the center of the paper insuring that the edges meet, the arches will be at the top and at the bottom. Smooth paper from the center up and the center down. Fold down the top flaps and then the bottom ones- insure that your egg is covered.  Use a bamboo chopstick or the backside of a spoon to smooth out the paper- start from the center, stroke the paper in an outward direction to press air bubbles and wrinkles as needed. Aim for smooth paper. Allow to dry completely.

Coat the dry egg with varnish or shellac. Allow to dry, repeat 4 to 10 times. Several layers will add shine and hide imperfections in the paper wrapping.
Washi Egg
Covering a lot of eggs takes time and with all of that measuring it is not so easy for young children. However, using the same techniques, a child could cover a drawing tablet for a sibling using sheets or cut out pieces of the washi paper for a personalized gift. A plain brown book could be used for this purpose.
Try covering a notebook for a simpler gift idea
Steps in summary for making a washi egg:
1.  Prep the egg
(a) Rinse it
(b) poke a hole in it
(c) blow the innards out; rinse again
(d) set aside to dry.

2. Measure the egg in centimeters and record on the egg with a pencil
(a) length- top to bottom only, then divide number in half for marking your paper
(b) width around the widest part of the egg

3. Cut the paper
(a) fold paper in half with white side out & open part at the top
(b) mark off the width of your egg horizontally going across
(c) from the bottom fold go up half of the length (top to bottom/2)
(d) cut the paper (still folded) as you have measured it- it will look like a rectangle.

4. Cut the arches
(a) Draw a horizontal line across your paper 1cm above the fold
(b) along this horizontal line, mark a dot every 1cm starting from the edge
(c) along the top (where it is open) horizontal edge, mark dots starting 0.5 cm from the edge and then every 1cm thereafter
(d) Draw an arch starting from the edge of the horizontal line 1cm along the bottom up to the top dot a the 0.5cm mark at the top, continue down to the next 1cm mark along the bottom so that you have an arch every 1cm until the edge
(e) cut the paper arches, keeping the tops rounded to insure good coverage when the flaps are folded onto the egg.

5. Insert string, if you want to hang them
(a) insert string into center of the egg- tuck both ends into the egg so that you have a loop on the outside 
(b) using chips from the paper, glue around the string to secure it
(c) allow to dry

6. Glue paper onto the egg
(a) unfold the paper
(b) place glue on white side of paper
(c) place egg into center of paper- flaps will be at the top and bottom
(d) press the paper onto the egg- first going around the center and then by folding the arches or fingers onto the top and bottom of the egg until covered
(e) smooth out the paper gently using a chopstick going up or down from the center of the egg
(f) allow to dry completely.

7. Varnish the egg and allow to dry, repeat until it is as shiny as you like.