Ise Katagami Stencils

Sophisticated openwork paper stencils for textile dyeing

By Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University

Peacock feathers, Ise katagami (文化11年) by Photo by Suzuka CityOriginal Source: Suzuka City

What are Ise katagami
stencils?

Katagami (finely cut paper stencils) are used in the dyeing of cloth, typically long bolts of cotton, silk, or other cloth used for kimono and other Japanese garments. Ise katagami stencils are made from layers of handmade Japanese traditional paper bonded together with persimmon tannin and carved with openwork designs. Katagami stencils have long been used in, for example, Edo komon (usually silk or ramie textiles dyed with minute, repeating patterns), cotton textiles for yukata (summer kimonos), and yūzen dyed silks. Various patterns are expressed on katagami stencils, and they show the richness and interest of Japanese design, as well as the remarkable prowess of Japanese fine-cutting techniques.

Oleander, Ise katagami (元禄7年) by Photo by Suzuka CityOriginal Source: Suzuka City

Ise katagami Museum (Terao family house) by Photo by Suzuka CityOriginal Source: Ise Katagami Museum

Areas where Ise katagami
are produced

The Shiroko, Jike and Ejima districts of the city of Suzuka, Mie prefecture, are known as the largest site of katagami production, and the stencils produced in this area are called "Ise katagami," named after the ancient name for the region. The pigments used with the stencils were largely developed in the Edo period (1615–1868). They were not only used for the kamishimo (vests with stiffly extended shoulders and matching hakama trousers, worn over kimono) uniforms of the samurai but also the garments of the commoners, and their use spread. In 1955, six katagami artisans (five men and one woman, specializing in stencil cutting or and thread insertion) were designated as Living National Treasures (officially called Holders of Important Intangible Cultural Properties). In addition, the Association for Preservation of Ise Katagami Techniques (Ise Katagami Gijutsu Hozonkai), an organization dedicated to preservation of the art of Ise katagami stencil-making, was approved in 1993, and has been continuing efforts to pass on and develop relevant techniques.

Nanbu Yoshimatsu(1894~1976) working on tsukibori ("push" cutting), Ise katagami by Photo by Suzuka CityOriginal Source: Suzuka City

Passing on techniques
and skills

Katagami are produced by highly trained craftspeople. They “carve out” patterns on stencil paper made from traditional Japanese paper. Carving methods of for these stencils are divided into categories: tsukibori (push carving), kiribori (drill carving), shimabori (stripe carving)i, and dōgubori (tool punching). Each method requires a different type of stencil carving knife and results in different types of intricate patterns.

Tsukibori (“push” cutting), Ise katagami by Photo by Suzuka CityOriginal Source: Suzuka City

Tsukibori
(“push carving")

Tsukibori is a method whereby the craftsperson cuts through the six layers of the stencil paper, which is held in place on all four sides by twisted paper string, by pushing the the tip of the stenciling knife away from him or herself. This method is particularly suitable for figurative openwork patterns. Tsukibori knives must be razor sharp, and are sharpened by the artisans before use. 

Katagami (tsukibori), Ise katagami (1974) by Nanbu Yoshimatsu (1894~1976)Original Source: Suzuka City

Tools of tsukibori (“push” cutting), Ise katagami by Photo by Suzuka CityOriginal Source: Suzuka City

Rokutani Baiken(1907~1973) working on kiribori ("drill" cut): by Photo by Suzuka CityOriginal Source: Suzuka City

Kiribori
(“drill” cutting)

Kiribori is a method of using a stenciling knife with a semicircular blade to create a pattern of circles, cutting out a large number of small holes by rotating the blade against the stenciling paper. In some cases, there are around 100 holes per square centimeter. This monotonous method is difficult and requires great concentration in order to execute the correct size and spacing of the holes.

Ise katagami (kiribori) (1960) by Rokutani Baiken (1907~1973)Original Source: Suzuka City

Tools of kiribori (“drill” cutting) , Ise katagami by Rokken YasuhideOriginal Source: Suzuka City

Nakajima Hidekichi(1883~1968) working on dougubori ("tool" cutting), Ise katagami by Photo by Suzuka CityOriginal Source: Suzuka City

Dōgubori
(“tool punching”)

A special stenciling knife with a tip in a predetermined shape—a cherry blossom petal or diamond, for example—is used for dōgubori. The knife is applied vertically and the pattern is essentially punched out of the paper. The quality of the cutting tool will determine how the stencil comes out, and so making the tools also requires a high level of skill. 

Ise katagami (dougubori) (昭和35年) by Nakajima Hidekichi (1883~1968)Original Source: Suzuka City

Stenciling knife for dougubori (“tool” cutting), Ise katagami by Nakajima Hidekichi (1883~1968)Original Source: Suzuka City

Kodama Hiroshi (1909~1992) workin on shimabori ("stripe" cutting), Ise katagami by Photo by Suzuka CityOriginal Source: Suzuka City

Shimabori (“stripe carving”) or hikibori (“drawn carving”
)

As the name implies, this is a method of cutting stripes. The craftsperson cuts stripes by pulling a stenciling knife toward themselves against a ruler. In the most detailed work, there might be as many as 31 stripes per sun (an inch-like traditional measurement equaling 3.03 centimeters). This is known as gokumijin (“extreme mincing”) and requires consummate skill.

"Spring Ocean", Ise katagami (shimabori or hikibori) (昭和42年) by Kodama Hiroshi (1909~1992) and Jounoguchi Mie(1917~2003)Original Source: Suzuka City

Jounoguchi Mie(1917~2003) working on Itoire (insertion of threads), Ise katagami by Photo by Suzuka CityOriginal Source: Suzuka City

Itoire
(insertion of threads)

In patterns with many openwork tsukibori sections or with a lot of long thin shimabori lines, there is concern that the delicate stencils will tear during the dyeing process. For this reason, before use, the layered papers of the katagami are peeled apart into two layers, and the fragile sections are reinforced with thin threads that are held in place by persimmon tannin. After inserting the threads, the layers of the katagami are carefully pulled back together. This process is called itoire.

The final task is to blow between the stripes to remove any excess persimmon tannin, and it has been thought that women’s breath is best for this step. If this step of thread insertion is not done carefully, the entire painstakingly cut katagami will be wasted. This task requires expert skill and extraordinary sensitivity.

Oboshi Yuranosuke (文久2年) by Utagawa Kunisada (Utagawa Toyokuni III) (1786-1864)Original Source: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Katagami stencil-dyed textiles in ukiyoe prints

Edo period ukiyoe prints often depict garments thought to represent stencil-dyed textiles.

    Among these are the three “signature” komon (miniature) patterns (samé, toshi, and gyogi), which are all equally detailed, and which were used for the kamishimo (matched sets of a stiff-shouldered vest and hakama trousers) of Edo period samurai in particular. In ukiyoe prints, not only the samurai but also kabuki actors and townspeople are depicted as wearing stencil-dyed clothing, indicating that textiles patterned with katagami were in wide use at that time.

Logical Rain / Die Logik des Regens, an exhibition by Wolfgang Scheppe for the Dresden State Art Collections (2014-11-30/2015-03-22) by © 2015 Staatliche Kunstsammlungen DresdenArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Collections of katagami
stencils at home and abroad

In recent years, there has been a great deal of serious research into katagami stencils. Collections in Japan and overseas have been surveyed, and there have been exhibitions. Furthermore, it is now possible to view many of these collections more easily, via databases, for example.

Overseas, it has become clear that, like ukiyoe prints, katagami were popular in Europe at the end of the 19th century, and that they influenced European arts and decoration.

Meanwhile, within Japan, in Mie prefecture in particular, but also in various regions nationwide, there survive katagami collections that have been preserved with care. Research continues into, for example, how stencil dyeing with katagami spread and became accepted, and into the design characteristics of each region.

Logical Rain / Die Logik des Regensan, an exhibition by Wolfgang Scheppe for the Dresden State Art Collections (2014-11-30/2015-03-22) by © 2015 Staatliche Kunstsammlungen DresdenArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Kirschblüte & Edelweiss / Der Import des Exotischen, Textilemuseum St.Gallen (2014-03-23/2014-12-30) by Textilemuseum St.GallenOriginal Source: Textilemuseum St.Gallen

Kirschblüte & Edelweiss / Der Import des Exotischen, Textilemuseum St.Gallen (2014-03-23/2014-12-30) by Textilemuseum St.GallenOriginal Source: Textilemuseum St.Gallen

Kirschblüte & Edelweiss / Der Import des Exotischen, Textilemuseum St.Gallen (2014-03-23/2014-12-30) by Textilemuseum St.GallenOriginal Source: Textilemuseum St.Gallen

Installation based on katagami patterns, Kirschblüte & Edelweiss / Der Import des Exotischen, Textilemuseum St.Gallen (2014-03-23/2014-12-30) by Textilemuseum St.GallenOriginal Source: Textilemuseum St.Gallen

Installation based on katagami patterns, Kirschblüte & Edelweiss / Der Import des Exotischen, Textilemuseum St.Gallen (2014-03-23/2014-12-30) by Textilemuseum St.GallenOriginal Source: Textilemuseum St.Gallen

Credits: Story

Information provided by Suzuka City, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden,Textilemuseum St.Gallen

Supervised by Ikuta Yuki , Curator, Mie Prefectural Art Museum

Text written by Yamamoto Masako(Research Fellow of Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS))
and Kamo Mizuho, Post-doctoral Fellow, Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Exhibition created by Kittaka Misaki, Watanabe Masako Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Edited by Melissa M. Rinne, Kyoto National Museum

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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