What is Katazome?

Heron Stencil © Kit Eastman

Heron Stencil © Kit Eastman

Katazome, or stencil dyeing, is a Japanese paste-resist surface design technique for cloth and paper. While the process is centuries old, the art was revived in the 20th century by Serizawa Keisuke, an artist of the mingei, or "people's crafts" movement of 1920's and 1930's Japan. The process incorporates elements of both printmaking and painting, and relies on simple non-toxic materials such as rice paste resist, natural pigments and soymilk.

Below is a brief outline of the steps in the process, followed by a gallery of images illustrating each step.

1. Once the design is complete, the stencil is cut from a water-impervious Japanese paper called shibugami, and reinforced with a fine silk mesh.

2. The fabric is then sized with soymilk to prepare it for the paste and the dyes. In addition to preventing the dyes from wicking, the soy sizing gives the fabric a temporary paper-like feel.

3. Rice paste resist is spread through the stencil. This step is somewhat like screen printing, but rice paste resist (rather than color/ink) is transferred to the cloth. The paste resist dries to a strong yet water-soluble resist, which prevents the dyes from reaching the areas of the cloth as defined by the stencil design.

4. The natural pigments are blended with soy milk, which serves as a binder. The pigment colors come from plant, mineral and other natural sources, and are both subtle and rich.

5. The colors are hand painted in three separate layers plus highlights. Pasted areas are protected from the dyes.

6. The fabric is left to air cure for at least 7 days. Air curing causes the soymilk used to carry the pigments to oxidize, creating an insoluble protein polymer, which binds the pigments to the cloth permanently. Finally the rice paste is soaked off in cold water, revealing the design.

There is no color wash-out from this process – the pigments are permanent, locked into the weave of the fabric by the high-protein soy milk. In addition, the original feel of the fabric is restored by gently washing the piece in a mild fabric soap.