For many, many centuries Japanese cloth was embellished through the use of dying thread and then weaving it into the desired patterns and designs. This was a laborious process that slowly evolved toward mechanization. One of those steps was the making of large stencils known as Katagame.
First seen in the 17th century, these stencils are made from the bark of the mulberry tree which is then left to soak in the juice of ripened persimmons which makes the paper strong and resistant to water/dyes. A gauzy silk or sometimes even human hair was used to further strengthen the paper and made it more durable for continued use. Patterns were then created by slicing the paper with a fine bladed specialized knife. This process began around 1880 in the Edo Era and continued in use until around 1910, the beginning of the Taisho Era.
Revival of Katagame as an Art Form
Even though the use of stencils was faster than weaving, it was still extremely labor intensive. Development of more technologically advanced methods rendered katagame obsolete until it came to be recognized as an art form in and of itself in the mid 20th century. In recent years it is once again being used by lovers of textiles and crafts and framed as fine art. You can view the process of making katagame by going to YouTube where several videos show a master at work. Here is one YouTube video.