Sunday, 11 March 2018

Katazome...Japanese Stencils: Recreating Antique Japanese Textiles


I've seen thousands and thousands of pieces of Japanese katazome indigo stenciled cloth. I don't get too excited.

Only a well-drawn stencil, a cleverly designed stencil, a rare motif, exceptional indigo color and often a nostalgic stencil a friend or old student has cut can make me pause, examine and think.

I picked up this Japanese butterfly patterned cloth at Morita Antiques in Tokyo a few years back. Butterflies would not make it on a list of favorite motifs but the clever use of other natural motifs set in the wings was so elegant yet humble. The use of soot to get the gradations of grey to black and the delightful shades of faded blue made it irresistible.

Pre-industrialised poetry. Before electricity.





It is from the late Edo period  1800 to 1850.
It is made of handspun  Japanese cotton and handwoven at a 36-centimeter width.
It was part of a cotton kimono or an afterbath kimono worn by a man. Samurai class or perhaps merchant class. 

The background is naturally dyed indigo. The black and grey parts are dyed with soot and bound to the cloth with soy milk. 

The pattern is finely drawn. Natural motifs of peonies and bamboo leaves are inside the wings of some of the butterflies. Typical of Japanese design.

I took the cloth to my old friend 7th generation Noguchi san's studio and told him I wanted to reproduce the cloth and needed his help with the eventual pasting.

He looked at it with disbelief.



 The main obstacle to reproduce this antique cloth was finding someone who can cut the stencils for it. I thought of trying myself but simply do not have the time or the skill level. I found the master of masters, Isao Uchida from Ise in Mie prefecture. (This town supplied all the stencils for all of Japan historically. ) He is the head of the Japanese persimmon paper stencil preservation association. He is a tsukibori stencil cutter. He uses the board with the holes underneath the paper so to cut graceful lines. 







I visited his home and studio 5 years ago and took the above pictures.




I took a  sample of the cloth and headed down south to meet him and ask for his help last month. 

He agreed.

It took him a few weeks to complete the cutting.  I can see how he cleverly reproduced the stencil with the use of carbon paper and his God-given drawing skills and infinite patience with a razor sharp knife. 

People are bigger than they were hundreds of years ago and I asked him to add a few butterflies on the 36cm width to get a full 40cm width.




The stencil arrived today and they are beautiful. It takes seven different stencils to recreate this pattern. Three for the white lines alone and four to help cover with paste the grey and black areas once they are painted in with soot and soy milk.



The stencil would be too fragile to be cut on a single piece of paper. So the fine lines were spaced apart from each other and spread over three papers.


You can see the pattern with two of the three overlaid on each other.


Whiteboots photobombed the stencil to be used to resist the grey sections. 


I started writing a book on Making Japanese Hanten Jackets. Starting with indigo seeds. 

The reproduced butterfly stencil will be used to dye a gorgeous lining for the jacket.

I'll take the stencils to Noguchi's place with my first wave of workshop students this spring and see what we can do.

Very very exciting days...