Late in May (how is it mid-July already?!) I went on a whirlwind day-trip with a friend in search of Katazome and Katagami. We headed first to Nagoya to see a large-scale exhibtion of my professor Toba Mika’s Katazome artworks and then we jumped on another train to Shiroko in Mie Prefecture to visit the Ise Katagami Stencil Museum. 五月下旬(まさかもう7月の中旬ですか!?)型染と型紙を見ようとした冒険に行ってきました。ギリギリ日帰りで行けない三重県の白子と名古屋の清須へ行って、鳥羽美花の型染展と伊勢型紙資料館も見えました。

Toba Mika exhibition at Kiyosu Haruhi Art Museum 2014

The exhibition was Toba Mika’s, “From the Eternal Place Beyond Time and Space” held from April 12-June 8 2014 at Kiyosu City Haruhi Art Museum, just outside of Nagoya City. 鳥羽美花展は愛知県清須市はるひ美術館で開いていた「「時空を超えて―辿りついた場所より」 でした。

Toba Mika “Leaving Da Nang” 2001 197x570cm
I had seen a lot of my Sensei’s artwork before but never so many at once. Toba-Sensei is working in katazome, creating large-scale folding screens that are vibrant and painterly. Her imagery alternates between that of Japan and scenery of Vietnam. I am always impressed by her use of colour, in particular the way she can use many different colours and tones of dye within one piece and yet makes it look so unified.
“The place to embrace calm” 2007 230x540cm

Toba-Sensei also has a unique way of incorporating texture into her work using coloured nori resist paste, that is, paste mixed with dye. By using this in areas she is effectively printing though detailed stencils directly with dyes. I think this effect helps to soften the harsh sharp lines of katazome and adds a further layer of interest. また、「色糊」の使用によって、鳥羽先生は型染の作品にもう一層の面白さを加えていると思います。型染の硬い線を柔らかくする効果がある気がします。

Detail showing texture from Toba-sensei’s “Labyrinth”
Toba-sensei’s folding screen on display in Vietnam 2013

Most impressive though was a display of Toba-sensei’s hand-cut katagami stencils hanging in the second-floor space of the museum with it’s 360 degree glass windows. Because her works are large, (often a set of panels measuring at least 90cm wide by 2 metres or more tall) it means that Toba-sensei’s katagami stencils are accordingly of a matching grand scale. Seeing them hanging there in the space you could see how detailed and yet enormous they were. 今回一番感動したのは、はるひ美術館の二階にあるガラス張りの部屋に飾られた「型紙」の展示でした。鳥羽先生の作品が大きいから、当たり前ですが、型紙も大きいです。目の前につるされて、裏に緑の畑の風景が見えたり、風に動いたりしていた型紙の細かさを改めて気づきました。

To the viewer with no knowledge of katazome or textile dyeing, they are beautiful hand-cut artworks. If you know about katazome then you know what these stencils are destined for and that they are just one stage in an involved process. But that doesn’t lessen their beauty. Actually, as someone doing katazome it was interesting to see the stencils displayed in that way because we get so used to seeing then just as a tool or an implement in the process and roll them up and stash them away once we’ve printed the resist paste through them. Seeing them hanging there in all their glory reminded me the stencils are an artwork in themselves too.型染や染色が全然知らない人には、展示した型紙はただの綺麗な作品だったかもしれないですね。でも、型染をやった人っだったら、この型紙は、複雑な工程の中に使われる道具を過ぎないと思ったことがあるでしょう。型染をやっている人々は、型紙を糊置きに使い終わったら、どこか暗い場所に置いてしまうから、ただの道具だと考えるのを慣れて来たはずです。なので、そうゆう風に飾られた型紙を見て、型紙自体もとても美しいし、作品なのだと思いました。

the cover of one of Toba-sensei’s catalogues shows details of a stencil of finely cut cherry blossoms.

The katagami stencil paper that Toba Sensei and many other contemporary dyeing artists use today is a wide, plastic-like paper. Traditional Katagami (or shibugami) was something much more sensory; darker in colour, produced in smaller sized textured sheets and with a strong smell you won’t quickly forget. 鳥羽先生や現在型染をする人の多くは、昔と違う型紙を使っています。水で縮まない、幅が広いプラスチック製の物です。昔に使われた型紙(又は渋紙)はまた違うものです。小さい一枚ずつは手触りが粗くて、色は濃くて、記憶に絶対残り香りもします。

Katagami ‘Autumn Sakura’ from the Tanaka Nao Collection held at Kyoto Seika’s Gallery Fleur. Edo Period 京都精華ギャラリーフロール所蔵の型紙。江戸時代。「秋桜」
What is now known as “Ise Katagami” has been produced in the Suzuka area of Mie Prefecture for over 1000 years. Katagami was used in the dyeing of patterns on Kimono and other fabrics. Thanks to a painting by Kano Yoshinobu (1552-1640) depicting an artisan using katagami, we can assume it has been around since at least the Muromachi Era (1336-1573).
Katagami production flourished during the Edo period thanks to it’s popularity for understated kimono pattern dyeing but today the stencil paper is only manufactured in Shiroko in Mie.


Painting by Kano Yoshinobu depicting a dyers workshop
an eye-popping Pine-tree stencil design using circular punches, from the Tanaka Nao Collection, Gallery Fleur, Kyoto Seika University Katagami Collection 切彫りの型紙「松」。京都精華大学ギャラリーフロール所蔵
The paper is made by layering 3 pieces of fine Kozo washi (paper from mulberry fibre) in alternate directions and then painting them with astringent Persimmon juice. This is left to dry in the sun and then hung and smoked in a room which gives it this amazing woody, cinnamony smell. The whole process takes about a month and half before even taking a blade to it!

There are four main techniques for carving Ise-katagami stencils:
1. Shaped punches dougu-bori 道具彫り
Shaped punches. including Petals, rice grains, sea cucumbers, waves, horse hooves, fish scales… Chart from specialist Katagami shop Osugi, they are so friendly there!
The blade tips of these punches are specially made into tiny shapes like sakura petals or crescents or waves. The carver holds the punch upright with their left hand, steadies the blade tip with the right and then pushes the punch perfectly straight with their cheek! It sounds a little odd but it enables them to work quickly and accurately.
2. Semi-circular punches kiri-bori 錐彫り
The metal blade tip on these punches is a semi-circle. The action of pushing it into the katagami stencil paper and rotating it results in cutting a full circle shape. Patterns are created by repeating these very fine circles and often various sized circles are used to create clever effects. Apparently there are examples of katagami that have 100 circles cut within 1cm2 !!
3. Freehand Cutting tsuki-bori 突き彫り

whaaaaat!!?? へえええぇ!?細かい突き彫り。
This is apparently the oldest carving technique and the one that is maybe most akin to contemporary katagami carving. In the case of tsuki-bori, the blade is not dragged to slice the paper but pushed vertically through the paper with a kind of sawing action. A mat with a hole in it is placed below the paper being carved to allow the blade to pass through the layers of paper without damage. The blade for these intricate patterns can be as small as 3mm wide and 1mm thick.
4. Striped Designs shima-bori 縞彫り


These finely striped stencils are carved with a small blade and a metal ruler. Once cut, these very fine lines are held in place with a net of fine silk threads that keeps the stripes straight and the whole stencil in one sturdy piece. The impressive step in this technique comes once all the stripes have been cut and the layers of katagami that were stacked up during cutting are separated from each other and what looks like brown hair falls away. Such fine work!


These techniques are being practiced, documented and kept alive by the so-called “Association for the preservation of Ise-Katagami” which has been classified an ‘Important Intangible Cultural Asset’. Check out this beautiful video that shows 5 members of the association demonstrating carving stencils using these techniques. 伊勢型紙技保存会で様々な知識を残そうとしています。このビデオはとてもいい感じで、保存会の5人も登場します。ぜひ見てください!

I think this is one of the great things that sets Katazome or Textile dyeing apart from just “Art”. There is this extra layer of history, of techniques and of tools that are all behind the scenes and whilst unknown to the viewer of the final piece (and in come cases unbelievable to them), these things all form an important part of making the work.

It was a nice experience to see the hidden background tools of Katagami being shown off and highlighted for what they were: not simply tools but beautiful objects in themselves.