Katagami - The world of Kimono Stencils

The katagami - I cannot help but be surprised that this is one of the processes by which kimonos come into the world. I feel like I am seeing the opposite of efficiency, productivity, and fast fashion. When I learned that there is an incredible world before weaving and dyeing, my delight in the beauty of Japan swelled one more notch.

It is not the same as dedicating tremendous amounts of time and labor to a deity or to a king. 

Katagami is the Japanese craft of making paper stencils for dyeing textiles.
It has been used as an elegant way to make decorative patterns on kimono, and designated as one of the Important Intangible Cultural Properties of Japan. (Mie Prefecture)

Multiple layers of thin washi paper are bonded with a glue extracted from persimmon, which makes a strong flexible brown coloured paper. Making the paper itself requires a high degree of technical skill from artisans. After drying, the paper is smoked for 10 days then set aside for a year. The papers are then ready for the cutting artisans who cut each one by hand, with a free-hand knife or a punch tool.

As the kimono is no longer our usual mode of dress, the katagami industry is facing a serious decline in demand. Since the Ise-Katagami is primarily a component in the process of dyeing kimono, this decline hasn’t attracted a great deal of attention.

And the kimonos they inherit from their mothers and grandmothers never get a chance to make an appearance, and are turned into meager cash. I am sure that the number of katagami makers and carvers will drastically decrease, and I feel sad when I think that a culture of 1200 years will become as small as a small light.

However, nowadays artists are recognising the creativity and charm of Ise-Katagami in itself, as something beyond its traditional use. As well, people are now beginning to make innovative use of Ise-Katagami for interior decorations.

I admire and am fascinated not only by the extremely advanced techniques and stunning beauty of the work, but also by the spirit that goes into it. It is a world of skill and spirit.



Here are some good short movies about Katagami on Youtube.

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