Thursday, April 30, 2015

All about the latest hanji dress

In 2008, I was in Korea doing Fulbright research and met a teacher in her 80s who showed me how to fuse paper to paper. She provided colored hanji and white hanji and had me make six sheets of this joomchi process as my initial "homework." The paper shrunk slightly down to 22x33" and the next steps were: back it, make a garment, have a famous person model it, and then hand over the clothes and photos to my teacher. Like old studios in various cultures, whatever you make under the master becomes the master's work. I only got the first step done, and then left the sheets with my aunt so she could return them with my apologies for not finishing all my homework. Above is the hanji on the left and iron-on interfacing on the right.
This is after the interfacing is fused, not quite wide enough for the entire sheet, but serviceable. In 2014, I was back in Korea on a different grant and my aunt happened to uncover the paper—she had never returned it! I brought it to Jeju Island to see my teacher, now in her 90s, bedridden, with enough dementia to render me a stranger. It seemed counterproductive to return the paper and I brought it back home in December, determined to finish some of my homework.
I went to Bolt and Spool for thin interfacing and a manageable pattern. Debbie was super helpful and gave me good advice on all of the initial steps while pulling out simple patterns. I spotted one called "Washi Dress" and asked, "What about that one?" My initial attraction was to the name: washi means Japanese paper, which is the center of my current research report after going to Japan last November on a different grant. The pattern was named after the fabric design, which was named after washi tape (colorful tapes made with washi, which seem more popular than the paper itself...a big sigh from the papermaker here). I thought it would work well with the idea of making a hanji (Korean paper) dress! Above, you see the biggest flaw in my construction, which I couldn't work around: the back had to be constructed from seamed sheets.
After all the hanji was backed and cut, I used my mom's sewing machine during a trip to NY and did my best to follow instructions. I am not a dressmaker, so there was a lot of running back and forth between the sewing machine and the computer, searching for things like, "what is staystitching and DO I HAVE TO?" I did almost everything by the pattern, which was a great lesson! All the things I hadn't realized that I had been curious about throughout my life, in relation to how clothes are made, became really clear and mostly fun.

The front is constructed more elegantly than the back, with three panels on the front skirt to compensate for the limitations of the paper dimensions. For the most part, the seams coincide with the pleats to reduce distraction.
Getting it back to Cleveland on a plane was slightly nervewracking, because it's not easy to iron this: not because it's paper, but because of the joomchi-ed pieces on the dress. I put it in a garment bag and then the overhead compartment; the plane didn't have a closet.
Shirring was so fun! I kept the seam out of the photo so that we can pretend it never happened.
Home safe! I took it to the studio a few weeks ago when a bunch of book folks were in town for a gathering, and was surprised when the chairperson, from Iowa City, said, "Hey, is that the washi dress?" She had bought the pattern but hadn't made the dress yet!
People always marvel at paper dresses and always ask, "Can you wash it?" I could, but it would never look the same. I don't make paper dresses to wear them, especially warm weather dresses. Paper is such a good insulator that I work up a sweat whenever I wear this dress or my paper scarves. I like the idea of making clothes (and everything else) out of paper, and seeing how cloth-like paper handles. Sometimes it acts more like paper, sometimes more like fabric. The interfacing definitely helps with strength; there is no way I could have sewn this without backing, and even with it had a few tears—no surprise, given how thin the paper was.

Special thanks to Bolt and Spool! They had asked me to write a blog post about this dress back in February and I said okay, but not until I finish my other writing. After seeing Debbie yesterday to show her the dress, I felt guilty for not writing it, so I figured I'd post it here. Also, I'm still not done with my other writing. But you can read more about joomchi in Chapter 8 of my book, Hanji Unfurled (with pictures of making this very hanji, before I even knew I'd see it again and turn it into a dress). And no matter what, the washi report will be done in less than a month and free for the public to read!


  1. Anonymous12:19 AM

    wow - just WOW! the dress looks wonderful, love the picture of you modeling.

  2. You are amazing. For a beginner sewist you did a wonderful job with your hanji dress! Too bad you can't wear this more than on the rare occasion. I've been sewing forever and I don't think I would have had the nerve to do the shirring in the back.

    My only experience working with hanji is knitting and dyeing the flat weaving tape purchased on a cone. I have a shawl and a small scarf (that includes silk/stainless steel thread too) and I'd like to eventually knit a sweater. I have lots of hanji yarn left!

    1. How kind, thank you! That hanji tape is super strong and I always find it's so much easier to work with than the yarn I make from my own paper.


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