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You might not have ever heard of kyo-katagami before. Allow our two experts to explain it to you.

Kyo-Katagami: A Tradition of Stencil Dyed Papermaking from Miyoshi Dyeing Works, Kyoto

Kenzo Fujii, Dyeing and Weaving Researcher

When it comes to stencils for engraving patterns used in stencil dyeing (kata-zome) (the method of dyeing fabric using a katagami) such as komon-zome (small-sized stencil dyeing on kimono) and chugata-zome (medium-sized stencil dyeing on kimono), people often refer to the stencil dying of the Ise region (Ise-katagami). However, while patterned paper made from shibugami (paper treated with astringent persimmon juice) stencils produced in Shiroko and Jike areas in Ise became established as a monopoly product under the protection of the Kishu Tokugawa family in the middle Edo period, it is thought that in Kyoto, which was the main production area for dyed goods, most patterned paper was produced locally before and after that. In the later Edo period, when indigo-dyed cotton became popular and Ise-katagami spread throughout the whole country, it nevertheless seems that Ise-katagami could not easily establish a sales base in Kyoto, which specialized in silk-dyeing. It is thought that Ise-katagami pattern technology was incorporated by Kyoto printers, and highly skilled pattern production has continued there ever since.

Kyoto stencil dyeing, which specializes in high-end items, mainly uses jishiro-gata* (white stencils), and I have heard that many of these were itokakegata (threaded stencils) where stencil designs were cut away from the backing paper and sewn together with silk thread, in the same manner as babituri-hitta* patterned paper, which was a side occupation of lower-ranking courtiers at the imperial palace. Additionally, it is thought that these stencils were carved using pattern paper made by applying tamashibu (persimmon juice) produced in Minamiyamashiro to high-quality Mino paper or scrap paper. In fact, wide jishiro-gata made of waste paper and stencils with old-fashioned figures without (repeated units of patterns) or layout can be found later, suggesting that unique stencil carving continued to be practiced. Another characteristic is that mass-production engraving techniques and patterns were not developed, as in the case of the Ise type, where many pieces were engraved at one time. Incidentally, the Okinawan ko-bingata* (old-bingata) pattern, which is thought to have been passed down from Kyoto, is similar to Kyo-katagami because it still uses the traditional stencil style of jishiro and itokake. Pattern stencils with characteristics such as paper quality, carving technique, design, and thread application are still sometimes found in old dyehouses in Kyoto. However, after the Meiji period, Kyoto also adopted a mass production system, purchased a large amount of patterns from Ise. In this context, Kyoto craftsmen completed their training in Ise, and Ise craftsmen also moved to Kyoto and did a lot of work in fine pattern engraving using drills and and other specialized tools. I have heard that the craftsmen from the past, who excelled at the techniques of hikibori carving, devoted themselves to stencil carving for suriyuzen (a technique in which the pattern is rubbed into the fabric using a dye-soaked brush), utsushiyuzen (a technique in which the pattern is dyed onto the fabric using colored glue), and itajime-shibori (a “tie-dye” method of making patterns via pressing cloth between carved boards), all of which require a large number of stencils and elaborate patterns.

Miyoshi Dyeworks, which has operated a dyeing business in the Oshiromae* area of Kyoto adjacent to the castle from the Edo period to the present, has handed down a large amount of engraved stencils used in the family business. In general, most of them are Ise-kata from the modern era, but there are also stencils that use scrap paper inside, threaded jishiro-gata with floating patterns, and uniquely patterned stencils with thread running through the front and back in a diagonal latticework. They are also characterized by the fact that the patterns are not judgemental images as in Edo-period hanjimono nor fashionable designs such as arabesque futon patterns. Rather they reveal the calm themes of Kyoto and the vicinity, and express the subtle sense of irony unique to the Kyoto region. Such patterned paper stencils are called “kyo-katagami” by the dyers of Kyoto, who rightly treasure them.
We hope that many people will see “Kyo-katagami” learn about it, and value its deep traditions.

The Charm of Kyo-Katagami

Yuki Ikuta, former curator, Mie Prefectural Museum of Art

You may be puzzled by the somewhat unfamiliar sound of “Kyo-katagami.”
In this case, the word “Kyo-katagami” has two meanings. One is “pattern paper stencils (katagami) made in Kyoto” and the other is “pattern paper stencils made for Kyoto.”
To explain it in a little more detail, the former is “made in Kyoto” because it is dyed in Kyoto, and the latter is “made somewhere other than Kyoto” to be dyed in Kyoto.
Continuing, if you were to ask “What place besides Kyoto?” the most likely answer would be the the Shiroko and Jike districts of Suzuka City, Mie Prefecture, which, since the Edo period, has boasted overwhelming quality and quantity as the largest supplier of katagami. Accordingly, it can be assumed that most of the stencils were made in Ise for dyeing in Kyoto.

Now, as a practical matter, it is extremely difficult to strictly distinguish between these two types of Kyo-katagami. This is because there are almost no records left about when, by whom, and for what purpose the katagami was produced and bought. Katagami have long been, and still are, tools for stencil dyeing (kata-zome) (the method of dyeing fabric using a katagami), and it was rare, except for special orders, for those who make katagami, those who sell them, and those who dye with katagami to bother tracking each individual stencil during the transfer from one owner to another. In exceptional cases, if the “dealers’ seal” stamped on the katagami can be deciphered, it is possible to obtain a clue from the place name or the merchant's trade name written there, but there is no guarantee that this is the source since it might only be indicating that “this katagami passed through here.”

To put it another way, katagami, when viewed in a broad framework, is a tradition that has always been influenced by the whims of history as one of the handicrafts that support the huge dyeing industry, but if you really zoom in and examine it closely, it has developed in a very closed world of wholesalers, indigo dyers, katagami dealers, and katagami artisans. While there are certainly “disadvantages,” such as the lack of written materials and the absence of masterpieces and masters, there are also “advantages,” such as the fact that katagami remained grounded in the real world while being closely related to the economy, trends, and sometimes also politics and diplomacy. In a sense, these are two sides of the same coin, and it can be said that this is where appeal and new possibilities of katagami are hidden.

In any case, once the kimono that we, as consumers, see and pick up at a department store or kimono shop bears the name “Kyoto,” it exudes a “quality,” “class,” and “elegance” that seduces everyone and keeps them coming back for more. Of course, the craftsmen's unwavering skill shines through here, but there is no doubt that kimono wholesalers and katagami dealers' clever strategy of preserving and nurturing the indescribable charm elicited by the name “Kyoto” has had a considerable impact.

This is exactly what you feel when you touch and feel the Kyo-katagami collection hidden in the storehouse of Miyoshi dyeworks. One after the other, there are patterns so varied that it seems as if no two are alike; you won't be able to take your eyes off them. As testaments of kimono culture, from the mid-Edo period to the Taisho and Showa periods, the vast amount of katagami you can feast your eyes on - as many as 10,000 - vividly conveys the beauty, interest, and above all, the nostalgia for Kyoto komon (fine patterns in the Kyoto style) today.

Katagami is often explained as being developed as a tool for dyeing Edo komon, yukata, and stenciled yuzen. However, after surveying a variety of katagami remaining here and there, I noticed that typical examples of modern pattern dying that come to mind, such as the pattern carved with the techniques of kiribori (drill carving), including “same,” “gyogi,” and “toshi,” which is an accumulation of detailed points, as well as technical masterpieces with nearly 30 stripes in a single inch, constitute only a very small number of katagami as a whole. The majority of katagami were inspired by the beauty of flowers, birds, wind, and moon, by a love of flora and fauna, by collecting familiar vessels, or by Kabuki or Noh plays. In any case, they were searching for inspiration for patterns with such vigor that one comes to think there is nothing in the world that does not have a pattern. Therefore, you can certainly feel that “people” and “life” are breathing in the depths of these designs. This is the reason why katagami have never lost their appeal over time.

Even if it is a serious material, the artisan tries to distort it a little, or use a scene that would be daring to use as a kimono pattern without hesitation. Looking at Miyoshi Dyeing's collection of Kyo-katagami one can't help but smile spontaneously with admiration. “They sure knew what they were doing...” “They chose this?” It is strange that before you know it, you will feel like you are having a conversation with the craftspeople of that era through the katagami stencils. It is a “closeness” not found in the exquisite, dignified, and graceful “Hare” kimonos that Ise-katagami specializes in; a kind of comfortable, flexible “inclusiveness” that tolerates even slight excess, and in fact, seems to find it amusing. They are not straightforward, which is why they draw you in. Is this not exactly in line with the temperament of the people of Kyoto?

  • annotations

  • jishiro-gata
    A method of carving a stencil whereby the pattern is created by flipping the stencil on its back.
  • babituri-hitta
    A technique in which the hair of a horse’s tail is used to reinforce a hitta shibori pattern.
  • ko-bingata
    Stencil-dyed works made in Okinawa with distinctive patterns, color schemes and expressions.
  • Oshiromae
    The name commonly used in the late Edo period to refer to the area on the south east side of Nijo Castle across Horikawa-dori.