Ise paper stencil printing Ise katagami
An intricately patterned history
Four highly-skilled cutting techniques, each with their own charm
What is Ise paper stencil printing ?
Katagami means paper stencils and today Ise Katagami produced centering on the city of Suzuka in Mie Prefecture are a much appreciated part of textile dyeing. From olden times, such stencils had been crafted in Shiroko in Ise Province (present-day Suzuka City), and accordingly are known as Ise Katagami, Ise-gata, or Shiroko-gata. In Japanese, appropriately enough two different kanji characters can be used to write the word kata, one meaning “shape” and the other meaning “pattern.”
Ise Katagami are made by pasting layers of Mino washi or Japanese paper with persimmon tannin to give reinforcement; the stiffened paper is used as a base card, and stencil designs are hand-cut with a variety of minute knives or chisels, applying four types of cutting technique.
One of the key features of Ise Katagami is its distinctive finish being carefully and skillfully cut by master craftsmen. Such stencils are used for dyeing designs and patterns on a wide range of kimono, including yuzen, komon (fine-patterned), and yukata (summer cotton kimono). Nowadays the stencils are not used only for dyeing kimono, but are applied to interior decoration such as fusuma (sliding screens) and shoji (sliding paper doors) or LED lighting; such exciting new approaches are increasingly drawing attention.
Ise Katagami has a long history dating back many centuries and with several different tales of their origin. One theory considers stencils already existed by the end of the Muromachi period (1392-1573) and cites as evidence “A Scene of Various Artisans” depicted in the Muromachi period clearly showing artisans engaged in stencil dyeing.
In the Edo period (1603-1867), Ise Katagami received the strong patronage of the Kishu domain, and stencil making centered on the Shiroko and Jike areas flourished. These areas located on Ise Bay were the base of the trade, which also contributed greatly to its success. In addition to the artistic development through cooperation among artisans, an extensive network soon grew up to sell and distribute the stencils all over the country.
With the Meiji period (1868-1912), the adoption of Western fashions hit the industry hard, followed by a further wave of decimation with World War II bringing about the almost total disappearance of stencil makers. However, with the rebirth of the postwar Japanese economy and increasing prosperity, demand for kimono returned and around the 1960s, stencil production was once more thriving.
Today, due to a decline in the overall demand for kimono, and the spread of new dyeing techniques, the number of stencil makers is again falling; to ensure the skills will be passed down to future generations, a society to preserve the art of stencil making has been launched. The artistry of the designs is much appreciated resulting in this skill becoming an artistic handicraft, and an increasing number of people enjoying stencil making as a hobby.
General Production Process
- 1. Hozukuri (Making the Base Card)
Stencils for dyeing require a strong material that will not expand or contract, and the process of making Ise Katagami starts with the creation of a stencil base card called katajigami.
Firstly, 200 to 500 sheets of Mino washi are stacked and cut to a standard size.
- 2. Kamitsuke (Pasting Paper)
Washi has the property of being strong crosswise and weak lengthwise; therefore, 3 sheets of paper are alternately pasted in the order of vertical, horizontal, and vertical to create a strong base, and the application of a persimmon tannin glue makes the sheets water resistant. This process known as kamitsuke is similar to making plywood.
- 3. Drying
After kamitsuke, the base is left for one to two days to allow the persimmon tannin glue to bond more effectively with the washi, and then the base is laid on a cypress panel and dried in the sun.
- 4. Murogarashi (Smoking Room)
The dried base is left for about one week in a cedar sawdust smoking room at a temperature of about 40ºC to help solidify the glue between the washi fibers and create a strong base card resistant to expansion and contraction.
- 5. Completing Katajigami
The base card is again soaked in persimmon tannin glue, dried in the sun, and returned to the smoking room, where after 45 days or so it will have turned a dark brown katajigami and be ready for inspection, but it will not be ready for stencil cutting until it has been allowed to mature for a further one or two years.
- 6. Cutting
A dyer will request a design artisan to draw a pattern and this will be cut by the stencil maker. There are four cutting techniques: shimabori, tsukibori, dogubori, and kiribori.
Shimabori: A steel ruler is used to cut uniform strips with a thin knife. To cut one strip, the same line is traced three times with the knife. In an area 1 cm wide, a highly-skilled craftsman may cut as many as 11 strips.
Tsukibori: Five to eight katajigami are stacked on an anaita (a wooden board with cutting holes), and working away from the body, a thin knife with a 1 to 2 mm blade is used to vertically pierce through the katajigami and into the cutting hole. Currently, when cutting straight lines and large patterns, the small knife is pulled toward the body. This technique is renowned for giving the cut lines a subtle curve, and creating a warm flowing feel in the final design.
Dogubori: A technique to cut a variety of patterns using tiny blades made into such shapes as flowers, fans, and diamonds. In Edo komon kimono, this technique is commonly called gottori. Dogubori is characterized by the expression of symmetrical patterns or diverse shapes. This technique actually begins with the making of the tool, and the quality of the tool greatly affects the finished work. The craftsmen specializing in dogubori have a huge number of knives with some even owning as many as 3,000.
Kiribori: A kiri drill with a semi-circular tip is held vertically, and rotated by the fingers to cut many tiny circular holes, which form delicate and incredibly intricate patterns; these stencils are used for the classic Edo komon kimono. In some works, as many as 100 holes are cut in an area as small as one square centimeter; this technique requires years of practice and considerable endurance.
- 7. Shabari, Ito-ire (Reinforcing)
Since the cut stencil is used for dyeing, depending on the cutting method it may need reinforcing, and shabari involves pasting the stencil onto a fine silk gauze with urushi lacquer.
In ito-ire, to prevent a fine striped pattern from being torn, silk thread is inserted as reinforcement between two completed stencil sheets. At present, ito-ire is applied only for stencils made with shimabori. Since the stencils must be perfectly aligned, a high degree of concentration is needed.
Finally, the completed stencils are delivered to the dyers and used for dyeing kimono.
Where to Buy & More Information
Ise Katagami Shiryokan
ClosedMondays, Fridays, 3rd Tuesday of the month, December 28 to January 4
Business Hours10am to 4pm