This exhibition highlights the traditional Japanese craft of katagami: paper stencils carved by master artisans for use in decorating textiles. These stencils often take nature as their subject, and are made from natural materials. Cooper Hewitt’s collection of katagami mostly dates to the late Edo (1603-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912) eras, when the craft was at its height. The works on view demonstrate a range of styles and cutting techniques, reflecting the great expressive potential of the medium.
To create the stencils, pounded mulberry bark is treated with fermented persimmon juice, resulting in a paper that is strong, flexible, and waterproof. Once the paper has been cut, thin silk threads are sometimes added in order to reinforce the design. These treatments are necessary because, since at least the 16th century, katagami have been employed in a dyeing technique called katazome. In this method, a highly-skilled dyer places the paper stencil over prepared fabric and applies a dye-resistant rice paste (or “resist”) through the stencil. This process is then repeated along the fabric’s length, creating an unbroken pattern. Later, when the fabric is dyed—usually with natural indigo—the areas protected by the resist remain untouched by the color. Finally, when the resist is washed away, the finished textile retains the stencil’s design.
Image: Installation view of Nature by Design: Katagami
For more information: https://www.cooperhewitt.org/channel/nature-by-design/