Katagami are Japanese stencils originating from the Nara period 710-794, cut from hand-made mulberry papers. The intricate designs are cut or punched through the purple/brown paper and were used to apply designs to Japanese armour. These were later used for dyeing textiles in the 19th and 20th Century.
The rectangular papers are typically less than half a metre in size. The skilled stencil cutters served apprenticeships from a young age to use the knives and punches to make detailed and elaborate designs.
These beautiful papers remain as artworks in themselves, stained and with irregular edges, surrounded by a border of uncut paper. The border is often wider either above or below the image. The paper can be heavily textured or smooth; designs can be geometric, rhythmic, curled, wavy or straight. More abstract designs can be screen-like with repetition of motif.
Kirobori: dot patterns made with a crescent shaped cutter.
Dogubori: punch cutting to create ovals, squares, triangles and diamonds.
Hikiboro: drawing the knife towards the cutter to create stripes
Tsukibori: push cutting with knife turned away for floral, arabesque and scenic designs
Intricate patterns often repeat in sequence; tiny registration marks are visible to help the dyer achieve a perfect matching pattern. Two stencils can combine to make a pattern, for example with two colours. Some of the early papers were made from recycled inn registers and account books, with vertical lines of Japanese inscriptions. The cut stencil overlays the texts.
There is great variation in negative space, with the space being very open (cut away) or left blocked in (intact paper). The stencils can be on separate sheets or in book form, where the design lies horizontally across the two open pages of a brown paper book.