Katagami is the Japanese art of using paper stencils to create patterns on cloth and paper. Katagami has been used in Japan for centuries with evidence of stencils that date back to around the 6th century. It gained increased popularity during the mid to late 1800’s when Japan opened up trade with the west.

These amazing paper stencils are often combined with Katazome which is the traditional art of dyeing textiles using a resistant rice paste. In this technique rice paste is applied to cloth by pushing it through a Katagami stencil. The fabric is dyed and the dye only absorbs where there is no rice paste, thus the name resist dying. Katagami is so important to Japanese culture that it has been designated as one of the Important Intangible Cultural Properties of Japan.

It is quite labor intensive to make a Katagami stencil. The process starts by bonding together multiple layers of washi paper using a glue made from tannin rich persimmon juice extract, or kakishibu. The paper is then dried in the sun. Once dried it is cleaned with a knife to remove any dust and then smoked for seven to ten days. After it has been smoked it must cure for about a year before it can be used to create a stencil.

This process creates a strong, flexible, brown colored paper that is perfect for cutting stencils. The paper is also long lasting and many katagami stencils still exist from hundreds of years ago. These old stencils are now sold as artwork or used to create household items such as lamp shades and fans.

Katagami stencil designs can be amazingly intricate and delicate. Some of the designs are so intricate they need to be held together with a fine silk screen. The stencils are cut by hand using very sharp knives and/or small shaped punches. Amazingly with all this labor each stencil was typically only used to make fabric for one Kimono, although often the artist would cut more than one stancil at the same time.

The Blue Katagami necktie and batwing bow tie both used a printed cotton dobby from Japan that uses a number of motifs that are developed from Katagami stencils. Below are some videos that cover the process of making and using Katagami stencils.

Here is a link to our pinterest board on Katagami Stencils, https://www.pinterest.com/olafolsson/katagami/


August 13, 2017 — Olaf Olsson