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Katazome Stencil Dyeing 型染め

Katazome stencil dyeing is the Japanese art of fabric dyeing with a pre-cut stencil design. Using a pre-cut stencil allows for patterns and motifs to be repeated and is therefore a more cost effective method of beautifying a bolt of fabric compared to hand-painting it Yuzen style. This affordability meant that more people could wear kimono with decorative patterns and motifs. Most natural fabrics are suitable to be dyed using this method and the designs are only limited by imagination!

The paper used to create the stencil is a handmade mulberry paper called kozo which has been strengthened and preserved with persimmon juice. It is also called shibugami. It has the properties of being able to be washed and reused. This is important because stencil dyeing frequently uses repeating patterns and a reusable stencil enables the artist to repeat the pattern over far greater areas than the stencil may cover just on its own. 

How do you make a katazome design and stencil?

Firstly, a beautiful design is create by drawing sketches and or repeating patterns. Once the artist is happy with their design they will draw it onto the shibugami.  

After the design has been drawn onto the shibugami, it is then cut out with sharp blades and hole punches.

Any areas that are very fine or require reinforcement to keep their shape can be strengthened with a fine silk thread or mesh as this still allows the dye to pass easily through to the fabric.

You can see this reinforcing in the image left.

Another important element of Katazome is the rice-paste resist that is used to protect the areas of fabric that are to carry the design and constrain where the dye may or may not penetrate.

Other techniques such as Indonesian Batik use wax in a similar way to perform the same duties, however unlike Batik, the flexibility of the rice-paste resist prevents any cracking in the lines of the design.

The rice-paste resist is applied with a spatula over the carefully-positioned stencil and goes through to the fabric placed underneath. It is pressed in carefully so that the resist completely penetrates the fabric and is able to prevent dyes from staining the underside of the fabric.

Once the rice-paste resist has been applied to the stencil it is time for the textile artist to prepare the fabric with a soybean sizing (a kind of glaze to prepare the fabric) and then apply the dyes where they need to go.

Katazome dyed fabrics can be dyed all over with the same colour or the artist can choose to paint colours onto different areas where it needs to go. For instance, the same stencil of flowers can be used in one single colour or each flower can be painted with different colours and the background can be another colour altogether.

Generally, when more than one colour is used, then each colour will be applied one at a time, although blending colours can be decided by the artist.

(c) Melinda Heal.

When all the colours have been applied it is time to steam the fabric to help it to set. The steaming also helps the rice-paste resist to soften.

After steaming and ensuring that the colours have set properly it is time to remove the softened rice-paste resist and this is done by rinsing the cloth in running water. In times gone by, this would have been done in rivers however, in modern workshops there is usually a large basin or tiled pool just for this purpose.

The finished dyed cloth may then be re-steamed before drying and then it will be ready for making into kimono and other fabric projects.

The video here is an example of Katazome stencil cutting and dyeing done by master stencil cutter, Isao Uchida.

Recently, Melinda Heal interviewed with me about her Katazome stencil and Yuzen dyed fabric artworks. Melinda uses Katazome and Yuzen both separately and together to create many of her artworks.

Read more about Melinda Heal here.

Where can I learn how to do Katazome?

The Kyoto Seika University’s Faculty of Arts - Department of Material Expression offers a textile course over four years, covering Katazome and Yuzen. 

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