Kyoto Stencil Yūzen Dyeing

Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

One of two types of yūzen, a technique of textile surface dyeing

What is Kyoto Yūzen (Kyō Yūzen)?
Yūzen is a dyeing technique of that uses a resist of glutinous rice paste to differentiate the color of the ground and the design. The procedure involves numerous processes, each of which is handled by a different specialist in assembly-line fashion. When a kimono shop receives an order for a yūzen kimono, someone known as a shikkai (literally, “do-everything”) or, more recently, a senshō (master dyer), makes the rounds of various artisans and ateliers bearing a roll of white cloth. Assorted professionals combine their highly specialized skills over a period of months to produce the finished garment. 
Origins of Kyoto Yūzen
The name “yūzen” is said to be taken from Miyazaki Yūzen, a fan painter who lived near the Chion’in temple in Kyoto’s Higashiyama district around the Genroku era (1688–1704). He was not the originator of the yūzen dyeing technique. Then why does the technique bear his name? Because the designs he created were extremely popular. “Yūzen-style” circle patterns and painterly dyed patterns rank in popularity with “Kōrin designs” named after artist Ogata Kōrin (1658–1716).
Kyoto Yūzen in the Modern Period
 As Japan entered modernity, chemical dyes (synthetic dyes) were introduced from overseas. Horikawa Shinzaburō (1851–1914) and Hirose Jisuke (1822–1890) developed a technique of coloring textiles with paste-resist using chemical dyes, which formed the technical foundation for stencil yūzen (kata yūzen). This was a forerunner of the technique of printing designs. Some kimono shops employed professional painters to draw the basic designs, resulting in the appearence of more realistic and unconventional patterns. By the Taishō period (1912–1926), there were professional “patternmakers” (zuanka) who created various unique textile designs.
What Is Stencil Yūzen (Kata-Yūzen)?
In this technique, stencils (kata) are used to dye designs on specific sections of cloth; areas covered by the stencil resist the color and remain undyed. The technique originated with the creation, by  Horikawa Shinzaburō (1815–1914), of mosurin yūzen (‘muslin yūzen’), followed by the application of this technique by Hirose Jisuke (1822–1890) to the dyeing of silk crepe. Instead of stencil dyeing with dyestuffs directly onto the cloth, the kata-yūzen techniques also involve stenciling colors that are suspended within colored paste (iro nori) made by mixing synthetic dyes with the paste. This allows numerous colors to be overlaid without bleeding into one another. The colors and designs employed in kata-yūzen are similar to those of Nihonga (Japanese style painting with mineral pigments), and the process can require hundreds of paper stencils. Years of experience, highly developed skills, and fine sensibility are needed to apply the dye over stencils without getting them out of position and to decide color schemes intuitively by visualizing the finished product.  Stencil yūzen requires a spacious workshop with storage for countless stencils, so today it is done only by families that have been in the business for generations.
The Production of Stencils
Based on the design, the maker decides on the number of stencils needed for colors and shading. The stencil carver transfers the design sketches onto the stencil using a stylus-like pen and red carbon paper. In the past, stencils were made of handmade washi paper coated with persimmon tannin, but today synthetic paper is also in common use, along with silkscreens. Depending on the design, more than one stencil may be used to dye even a single color. Multi-colored designs commonly call for the creation of dozens or even hundreds of stencils.
Color Matching
There are two categories of stencil yūzen (kata-yūzen): suri yūzen (brush dyeing), where dye is applied directly to the cloth with a special brush, and utsushi yūzen (transfer dyeing), where the liquid dye is mixed with paste made from glutinous rice and rice bran, using a stick of lime. The outward color of the paste differs considerably from the color it produces, so the precise composition of the mixture is decided after repeated trials. After the design is applied to the fabric using colored paste-resist (iro nori) and stencils, the cloth is first steamed to fix the dye and then rinsed in water to remove the paste.  Nowadays specialists who make this kind of paste for resist dyeing have all but disappeared. For this reason,  a mounting sense of crisis is being felt not only by stencil yūzen dyers, but also by hand-drawn yūzen artists and  those making minutely patterned Edo komon, Okinawan bingata, and other types of traditional resist-dyed cloth.
Paste Application (Kataoki)
The fabric is attached with a thin layer of paste to a 7-meter-long pinewood frame (yūzen ita) on a stand. The stencils bear marks known as okuriboshi or awaseboshi that serve as reference points for each application of paste and/or dye. Kataoki is repeated over and over, depending on the number of colors and their gradation and shading, and then the fabric is left to dry. Before the background ground is dyed, the other design areas are covered with protective paste so as to resist the background dye. Afterward, just as in hand-drawn yūzen, the dyes are fixed by steaming. Then the fabric is soaked in water and final touches are added.
By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University
Credits: Story

Text written by Yamamoto Masako(Research Fellow of Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS))

Information provided byKoito Sengei, Ltd.

Supported by Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, Fureaikan

Photo & Movie by:Takayama Kengo, A-PROJECTS

English Translation by Professor Juliet Winters Carpenter, Doshisha Women's College of Liberal Arts

Edited by Melissa M. Rinne, Kyoto National Museum

Exhibition created by Yamamoto Masako(Research Fellow of Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS))

Directed by Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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