Zanshi: Weaving using remaindered threads

Helen Frostell, in association with the Journeymen, has been experimenting recently with weaving using remaindered threads. By knotting together thrums left over from other weaving projects and then dyeing them, she has used them as weft with warps of thin cotton. The knots are left showing and become an important textural feature.


The Japanese who used to work in this tradition, known as zanshi and now largely fallen into disuse with the dominance of machine-made cloth, would sometimes deliberately downplay the appearance of using recycled material. They would try instead to create weaving that looked as ‘new’ as possible, at least superficially and from a distance. Much attention was paid to concealing the knots and creating very regular stripes and checks.
Some contemporary American weavers working in this tradition weave with wool and experiment with recycled fibre in both warp and weft. The free-weaving aspect of zanshi resonates with the modern Japanese hand-weaving tradition of saori, where wefts are introduced at random in a “liberated”, serendipitous way.
Helen has been inspired by the Japanese tradition of zanshi, weaving using recycled fibre, and the elegant simplicity of the finished cloth accords with her admiration for the formal intensity of the Scandinavian weaving tradition. Her weaving in the saki-ori or Japanese rag weaving tradition, using recycled obi fabric, appeared in Weave, recently published by Murdoch Books.
The Guild’s Japan Style Study Group, a new group devoted to Japanese textiles and interior décor, has informal sessions planned for 2008 devoted to needlework (temari, sashiko, kogin and shishu.) Later we will cover paper (orikata, origami, kamiko, shifu and bookbinding), weaving (sakiori, zanshi), dyeing (kakishibu, indigo) and fabric printing (katazome, yuzen).

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