Hello! It’s been a while, so welcome to 2016!
I was hoping I might clock up my 100th blogpost in 2015 but didn’t quite make it, so there is another goal for this year! For now, here comes post #94. I think this is finally the last of my better-late-than-never posts, wrapping up some textile-y experiences from early 2015. Anyway, enjoy!
It was last April and my Textiles Professor had a pile of enormous boxes on her desk. She opened the first one to reveal a mountain of amazing hand-carved katagami stencils. Each frail sheet was made from the old-style katagami paper; a rich brown washi that had been coated in persimmon juice and then smoked. That very particular earthy smell had faded from these 100-year-old stencils but the incredible craftsmanship was still preserved.
When told to take our time and leaf through as many we liked, the look on our faces must have been akin to that of a child being told they are allowed to help themselves to the lolly jar!
|OMG. Awed by the details is↑fellow Katazome-ian Amy from moyou.com.au|
I’ve written about katagami before and the different cutting methods (although if you translate the Japanese terms, it’s called carving). The boxes we were leafing through were filled with all different kinds of katagami, each as impressive as the next.
These stencils are part of a collection of pieces that were gifted to Kyoto Seika University by the Tanaka Nao Dye supply company of Kyoto. They were carefully sorted and catalogued by the University and since 2008 they form a part of their strong ‘Traditional Craft’ resources collection. They even house some of these resources in a special dedicated room in the library with lacquer-ware and things on display too! Oh, how I miss that little room….
So let’s take a look at some of the different styles and techniques we found in this collection.
1. Dohgu-bori 道具彫りの型紙
Stencils carved with shaped punches.
These stencils are all cut with tiny, sharp metal-tipped punches, pressed with force through several layers of washi at once, over and over and over, with incredible precision. Often these punches have simple circular tips, but they can also be petal shaped, oblongs, crescents, leaves, you name it!
The most impressive dohgu-bori stencil we came to would probably have to be this one. The stencil itself was pretty worn out, a bit shrunken and wrinkled from use, but the combinations of different patterns was amazing! Waves, autumn leaves, autumn flowers…
|a detail of the stencil above この一枚は凄くきれいでした。|
Other impressive dohgu-bori stencils included this very fine design of bunches of grapes (i think?)
And below, this uber fine scalloped design! those “punched” circles are more like pin pricks in this one! Can you imagine sitting there and punching out each and every hole, one-by-one and still maintaining symmetry? Not to mention your sanity?!
2. Stencils that require silk thread mesh to keep them together.
In stencil cutting, you tend to avoid very long thin parts in a design because they are inherently weak. You also stay away from parts that jut out because they are likely to catch your spatula edge when it comes time to apply the resist paste over the top.
BUT! Never ones to shy away from difficult obstacles, the craftsmen of years gone by came up with a method of applying very fine silk threads to the stencil to reinforce it and keep all its parts aligned and secure. The threads are so fine that they do not affect the application of resist paste. This mesh method is still used today but the mesh is very uniform and machine made, often it is synthetic.
|modern synthetic mesh applied to the front of one of my Katagami stencils from 2012|
But the old mesh was more labour intensive. Sometimes it was strung up on a board by craftswomen, and sandwiched in between two sheets of the same stencil. At others, it was literally sewn in, to catch all the little edges.
|“Ito-ire” the meticulous process of creating a grid of silk threads and then sandwiching it in between the two layers of cut stencil with lacquer. Eek!|
|An example of a sewn-in mesh!|
|Willows and the surface of a pond, so so so detailed!|
|Here’s the detail. you can see the little skimmer insect as well as the silk mesh|
|detail of mesh that has been sandwiched to keep these open curvy areas and long thin lines under control.|
3. A clever style where the thickness of vertical lines creates a pattern within a pattern. 縞彫りの種類。
How cool is this? Edo-period craftsmen knew all about optical illusions! Just by carving varying thicknesses of lines, they can make you see clouds, birds, patterns, plants…These definitely have silk threads running horizontally to keep all those pesky verticals in place.
This one below, like most of the stencils, repeats on its long side. in the image below you can see two lines that stick out just a tiny bit further than the others. These are the “registration marks”, if you want to use screen-printing terms. They are the tiny guides, to show where to match up the repeat each time it is printed.
|Swallows, clouds, those diagonal lines may be representing rain because the swallows are numerous in the rainy season in Japan.|
4. Pairs of stencils – 二枚型 Nimai-gata (or sometimes 文久小紋 Bunkyu-komon)
This type is really mind blowing. So a stencil has some limitations right? It’s got to have parts that connect to each other so that the whole thing doesn’t just fall apart That means you can’t have design elements that float; everything has to be touching. BUT!
If you create two stencils, that get pasted one after the other in the same spot, you can actually “erase” some of those connecting parts and achieve the look of separate, floating design parts.
This is pretty hard to explain. The first or base stencil is called the “Main stencil” (omo-gata) and the second stencil applied on top is the “Erasing Stencil”(keshi-gata).
This Japanese site has excellent visual explanations and here is one example below.
|plus stencil 2…|
It is truly Japanese ingenuity in practice. What a lot of trouble to go to, simply to get a particular ‘look’. These days, a screen-print can quickly produce the effect that the elaborate ‘nimaigata’ were developed to produce. But a machine-printed design will never have the same touch as one printed from a hand-carved stencil.
|Here is one of a pair. We couldn’t find it’s matching stencil.|
And lastly, some very belated New Year wishes with an auspicious “Sho-chiku-bai” pattern. This traditional motif combines pine needles (a long-lived and evergreen tree), bamboo (produces many shoots) and plum blossom (flowers even in the cold season).