Japanese stencil resist dyeing
| Kata means stencil, and someru means to dye, so this is stencil-dyeing, although what is actually applied through the stencil is a rice-starch paste used as a resist for the dye, much as wax is used in making batik. The stencil is made of several sheets of mulberry paper laminated with rice paste, and tanned with persimmon juice, which is very acidic and makes the laminated paper strong and waterproof. The stencils were cut by hand, using a variety of small knives and punches, although later die-cut stencils came into use. Register holes in the edge of the stencil allow it to be picked up and put down accurately, producing a seamless pattern -- although in the rare case when the joins are visible, it is interesting to us today to see this evidence of the production process.
Patterns are laid out with elements that disappear off one edge and connect to the other in a way that obscures the repeated pattern caused by the rather small rectangle of the stencil while producing very beautiful rhythmic patterns over the entire piece when they are properly sewn together. Katazome patterns were a way for poorer people to obtain brocade-like patterns inexpensively, and sometimes had an additional color, usually a reddish tone, added. This was done by mixing red dye into resist paste, and applying it carefully in specified areas, so that those areas were simultaneously protected from the indigo dye bath while they absorbed the red tone. Since material goods were always scarce, a quilt was acquired at birth or upon marriage, and thus the patterns often represent auspicious plants and birds, such as the pine, plum and bamboo (sho-chiku-bai), the phoenix sipping dew from the flowers of the paulownia tree, and, most commonly, chrysanthemums, usually with scrolling vine (kiku-karakusa).
After the resist-paste is applied down the entire bolt of cloth, it is then dyed in multiple indigo baths, as many as 30 dippings. Varying shades of blue are achieved by removing the paste from some areas after fewer dippings, which then produces a lighter shade of blue. Pinpoint dotted backgrounds soften the effect of the nearly black deep indigo dye without reducing the amount the cloth absorbs, as indigo not only strengthens the cloth, but is also thought to repel insects and snakes. It has thus achieved top status among folk dyes in Japan, as well as in much else of the world, where it formed the basic coloring of work clothing, down to denim jeans and work shirts today -- increasingly achieved with chemical dyes since their introduction in the later 19th century.
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