Follow the Thread

a textile & costume history blog from the Design Center at Thomas Jefferson University

Katagami, Part 1


T&CC 1984.68.43, katagami stencil

by Emily Radomski

Textile printing is a practice that has been performed by many cultures over many centuries. Some of the earliest known printing methods date back to 2500BC. No matter how many advancement stages printing techniques go through, the main principles stay the same. Textile printing involves using a plain, clean, white cloth and applying dyes that penetrate the fibers in certain areas to create patterning on the surface of the fabric. In order to achieve this result, the dyes can be painted on, pushed through a screen, or even rolled on via an etched rotary printer. These are just a few examples of the many ways to print on fabric.

One of the lesser known, yet long established forms of textile printing is called katazome, which utilizes katagami stencils. These stencils are Japanese in origin and are described as hand-cut stencils made from laminated mulberry paper which are then used in textile dyeing and printing. Katagami is the name of the stencils and katazome is the name for the process of resist dyeing with these stencils. These names are derived from the root words kata meaning “pattern” and zome meaning “to dye.” These stencils are hand-cut from mulberry paper, a material that is meticulously crafted, and treated with persimmon juice, tannin, and smoke to create a waterproof, laminated surface. The process of creating and aging the paper to make these stencils takes upwards of a year to ensure the paper has reached peak strength and maturity so the delicately cut areas are resilient enough for repetitive use.

The incredibly intricate and precise patterns of these stencils are designed and cut by skillful artists. There are many methods of cutting the stencils and a wide variety of motif types and pattern arrangements the artists can use. These stencils are masterfully engineered, often times with a thin silk screen laminated between multiple pieces of mulberry paper to reinforce the incredibly intricate and narrow areas of the designs. Stencils can take upwards of eight hours of continuous cutting to complete!

In addition to an immense amount of skill, determination and patience are needed to craft the paper and cut the stencils.  The process of dyeing and printing with katagami also demands the use of many ingredients. Before any dyeing or printing can occur, the fabric goes through multiple processes to prepare it to receive and retain the dyes for the lifetime of the fabric. After the preparation is complete, the stencil is first placed onto the piece of fabric and a resist paste is spread across the surface. The resist paste that has traditionally been used in Japanese cultures for centuries is made from glutinous rice, a mixture of rice powder and bran powder, salt, slaked lime (calcium hydroxide), and water. The stencil is then removed and the paste is left to dry on the surface of the fabric. The katagami artist then proceeds with a paintbrush and paints the dyes onto the fabric, applying color wherever the resist paste does not lay. The resist is then removed and the resulting fabric is beautifully patterned!

Katagami stencils are remarkable because they are thin but strong enough to withstand being used repeatedly. These designs can be single motifs or repeating patterns that tile across the whole length of fabric yardage. Some stencils may seem small because they were designed to be used for printing kimonos where narrow fabrics are used for the construction of the garment and a small pattern is desirable.

Part 2 of this blog post will highlight the Textile & Costume Collection’s Katagami objects. Stay tuned! In the meantime, to learn more about these stencils and the art of Katazome, take a look at the links below.

Books Referenced:

Murashima, Kumiko. Katazome: Japanese Paste-Resist Dyeing for Contemporary Use. Lark Books, 1993. Stephan, Barbara B., and Eisha Nakano. Japanese Stencil Dyeing: Paste-Resist Techniques. Weatherhill, 1985.

Collection Intern, Textile & Costume Collection, The Design Center, Thomas Jefferson University

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