A multi-colored stenciled fabric printing technique emulating imported textiles

The fruit of the Age of Discovery
Printed cotton chintz originated in India, a country with advanced cotton dyeing techniques and a cotton cultivation tradition dating back to the time of the Indus civilization (2600 BCE–1800 BCE). Trade in patterned chintzes with rich patterns in red and other colors spread from the middle of the 15th century, as Europeans advanced into Africa, Asia, and America with the dawn of the Age of Discovery. At that time, cotton was unknown in Europe and Japan. People were thus fascinated by the exotic and vibrantly colored motifs of these printed textiles, as well as the durability, lightness, and softness of their cotton fabrics. In Edo period (1615–1868) Japan, chintzes were prized by the daimyo lords and other members of the samurai class, who were the arbiters of taste, and by sophisticated townspeople.
The development of wasarasa (Japanese chintz)
Vast quantities of hand-drawn or printed chintz made in India, Indonesia, and Europe was imported into Japan,where it was called sarasa. Imported sarasa, however, was too expensive for ordinary people. Admiration for the imported cloth prompted imitation, and handbooks appeared describing the techniques. Three important handbooks (Sarasa binran, Zōho kafu binran, Sarasa zufu) were published in the second half of the eighteenth century and became textbooks for hand-patterned chintz made in Japan. Initially, however, the patterns were applied to imported cloth, taking time and effort, and such fabrics remained expensive. In time, with the spread of cotton cultivation in Japan, domestic cotton became more readily available, and the use of katagami stencils for dyeing leather and komon-patterned textiles (miniature-patterned stencil dyed fabrics) allowed for multicolored stencil-dyed Japanese chintz (wasarasa) to come in reach of Japanese commoners.
Multicolored dyeing with katagami stencils
In the Edo period, important areas for the production of wasarasa included Kyoto, Sakai, Nagasaki, and Nabeshima. Relevant techniques can be divided into the three areas: hand-drawn patterning, stencil (katagami) dyeing, and the combined use of katagami and woodblocks. The most laborious of these is hand-drawn patterning, which has fallen into disuse. Today, apart from Nabeshima wasarasa, which uses a combination of stencils and woodblocks, most contemporary wasarasa textiles with various designs are produced using katagami. Before the advent of wasarasa chintzes, Japanese stencil dyeing was essentially single-color dyeing, done with only one or two katagami stencils. In order to create complex wasarasa patterns with katagami, a layered dyeing technique was developed using any number of stencils.
The katagami stencil technique
It could be said that katagami developed in Japan because of the nation’s high-quality paper and blades. Initially, wasarasa designs tended to comprise three or four stencils, but as demand increased for more detailed patterns with more colors, the number of katagami used for a pattern gradually increased. Dyeing with any number of katagami is known as okkake (successive) dyeing. In this process, the katagami craftsmen look carefully at the design and, bearing in mind the layout, use their experience and intuition to break down the pattern, cutting out the katagami with due consideration for ease of dyeing and handling. Although there is a degree of predetermination, this work requires artistic judgment.
Edo period wasarasa
At first, wasarasa often involved just copying patterns from Indian printed chintzes, but as time went by there was a move toward the development of patterns unique to Japan. Imported sarasa chintzes in the Edo period had the advantage of being color-fast when washed, but it was hard for Japanese people to work out the techniques behind this by merely looking at the cloth. They thus adapted familiar techniques to enable dyeing with pigments. Pigments, however, fade when washed and, as a result, wasarasa was mainly used in applications where washing was not required, such as futons, traditional jackets, furoshiki (Japanese wrapping cloth), and bags.
The spread of wasarasa and its modernization
Most of the stencils used for wasarasa were Ise katagami stencils, cut in Ise. This is because, with the protection of the Shogunate, Ise stencils were sold under that name across the whole country, with commissions also being taken. Production of wasarasa began later in the city of Edo than elsewhere, at the end of the Edo period. As the Meiji period (1868–1912) began, many dye craftsmen moved to Tokyo from Kyoto, increasing the volume of production. Chemical dyes were also introduced and the appearance of wasarasa changed significantly. After the Pacific War, production began in Tokyo of Edo sarasa (Edo printed chintz), which enjoyed popularity. These are silk textiles dyed using dozens of katagami with patterns derived from imported textiles.
Modern printed chintz and color creation
Because modern wasarasa uses mainly synthetic dyes, there is no longer the same concern about fading after washing as there was with the Edo period chintzes. However, multicolored textiles still require multiple stencils (katagami). The young craftsman Nakano Shiro has taken on these traditional techniques for dyeing wasarasa with Ise katagami, while taking full account of how color is used today.
Modern wasarasa techniques (1):    Jibari (cloth stretching)
When dyeing a kimono or an obi (sash), the length of cloth is fixed using a thin layer of glue to a long workbench known as a nagaita. Dyeing with absolutely no distortions or mistakes is what a fastidious Japanese client would consider to be "properly dyed."
Modern wasarasa techniques (2):  Kata okuri (stencil setting)
With Edo komon, Nagaita chugata and other stencil-dyed fabrics done with one color, there is typically a register mark through to the design to confirm that there is no mismatch between each stencil placement. For wasarasa, a complementary register mark is also needed to avoid mismatches in subsequent layers of dye.
Modern wasarasa techniques (3):     Nassen (printed)  dyeing with a round brush
The katagami is matched up in the correct place, and then the color is rubbed on using the round brush in a circular motion. During the task, the dyer watches carefully to ensure that no spot is left undyed. 
The future of wasarasa
The very fact that over 10 katagami are used to dye one pattern makes wasarasa production extremely time consuming. Nowadays, when so many textiles are printed using silkscreen techniques or simple ink-jet printing, the process of communicating the intrinsic value of wasarasa requires consideration of many factors, including choice of production site, ideas about color, and applications. The wasarasa artist Nakano Shiro, while honing his own dyeing techniques, is studying stencil cutting under the master Ise katagami craftsman Isao Uchida, and is making every effort to communicate the value of wasarasa to future generations.
By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University
Credits: Story

Information provided by Nakano Shiro, Kumagai Hiroto

Supported by Seibundo Shinkosha

Text written by Tanaka Hiroko

Photo by Minamoto Tadayuki

Exhibition created by Suzuyama Masako & Mao Jiaqi Kyoto Women's University Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Edited by Melissa M. Rinne, Kyoto National Museum

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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