Monday, 4 March 2013

Katazome Technique Part Three: Shimabori

This third technique seems easy enough to categorize. Shimabori, stripe-carving, is about cutting the stencil paper in stripes to create a striped surface pattern on kimono material. (The obvious question is why stencil on stripes when they could be warped on in real-time colours in the first place?) I found that designs that are somewhat stripy were categorized as shimabori at one studio and categorized as tsukibori at a museum.This needs to be clarified. I'll do that next time I travel to Ise.

We saw many striped shimabori examples but didn't take many pictures. Here is an example. There is a person standing behind the stencil and she is not part of the design!

The technique looks simple because the cutter simply draws the blade along a straight edge. A minute inconsistency in the width of the stripe would be obvious to the eye. One centimeter can have 11 hairline stripes (22 cuts).

Here are a few stencils from a book. There are some variations on the stripes.

What makes these striped stencils so unique is the netting that is attached to hold the structure together so it can have paste scraped across it without ripping to pieces while leaving behind an orderly pattern of rice paste on the cloth. Usually a silk net is lacquered in place on the surface of the stencil.

This is impossible with a striped stencil as the stripes will not behave well enough to be set in place. They will twist and bunch together. The ingenious technique is to sandwich a layer of silk net between two identical stencils and re-align the stripes so they sit on top of each other.

I thought I had read that this technique had died out. The last thread insertion craftswoman had passed away 30 years ago. But no. When visiting the kakishibu paper making studio I pulled back a curtain as I was snooping around the factory to reveal a woman working on inserting a silk thread mesh into a stripe stencil. I literally shouted with excitement. I climbed into the room and enthusiastically gushed at the respect I had for the ingenuity of the technique and my overflowing respect for the woman who had mastered this insanely beautiful and practical art form. 

You can see the master craftswoman herself behind her work. You can see the silk cross threads holding the stripes in place in more or less their proper position on the top half of the stencil. They are sandwiched in place between the two identical stencils with a brushed-on coating of persimmon tannin. The lower bands of paper are temporarily added while the stripes are manipulated to match up and then gently pulled off as she works down the stencil.

Here you can see the temporarily places bands that hold the stripes in place while the thread is applied on one side of the paper.

The paper is stretched on a frame to keep it from wrinkling and making the work of threading a net possible. The cross sandwiched support threads are visible.

Bamboo pegs are used instead of metal nails that would react with persimmon tannin. The silk thread is woven back and forth across the top of the bottom stencil. The tannin is coated on. The second stencil is placed on top sandwiching the thread between. The two layers of the stencils are meticulously aligned with a thin bamboo knife-like tool.  The silk thread looks to be ten cocoons reeled and left unspun and not de-gummed. this exciting stuff or what? I want to go back and study this technique from her for a few weeks. Perhaps this summer!


  1. hooray for katagami-san.awe and reverence inspiring.
    i think japanese craftsmen put on the story of dying crafts to be left alone and carry on w. their work.

  2. it is a wonder that such labour intensive skills survive but how long can they continue without support, understanding and respect?I had never heard of this technique. it is amazing.

  3. Hi Jean,
    Basically it is bed-ridden and on life support as it stands. I'll go and learn more and teach as many people as I can. Hopefully some young designers will pick it up and carry on for a while. And of course some consumers that are willing to pay a little extra are necessary.
    Spring almost there? it is supposed to be in the low twenties this coming weekend. I'll believe it when I feel it. Cedar pollen covering everything right now.

  4. Hi Bryan,
    This technique is so amazing.... I am eternally grateful that you're sharing this with us - your blog is by far my most favourite!
    namaste, elserine

  5. Hi Bryan,
    Thank you so much for sharing these amazing Japanese textile techniques in English! These stencils are so fabulous - hard to believe that this art may be dying a slow death if it wasn't for people like you! Your blog is by far my very favourite! namaste, elserine