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A Gorgeous Nineteenth Century Katazome Noren

November 3, 2008

This is an indigo dyed cotton noren, a noren being a kind of doorway covering; it dates to the mid-to-late nineteenth century.   I found this gorgeous thing on my recent trip to Japan and I couldn’t resist buying it because of its startling graphic appeal and the beautiful tones of steel blue against an unbleached cotton.

The pattern shown on the noren is a very commonly used Japanese motif, it is stylized pine bark or matsu kawabishi.  On this recent trip to Japan I spent a lot of time looking at beautifully cultivated and cared-for pine trees that grace gardens, temples and public spaces.  On some of the very old, craggy trees, the bark is extremely thick and has cracked into formations very similar to the chevron-like matsu kawabishi.

The repeat pattern is imprinted using a stencil dye resist method: rice paste is applied through a stencil onto cloth.  Where the rice paste is applied, dye is resisted.  This process is called katazome, and the stencils, katagami, very collectible unto themselves, are the product of artisans who hand-cut mulberry paper which has been saturated with green persimmon tannin called kaki shibu. A huge percentage of katagami production is centered in Ise in Japan, and therefore, katagami are often referred to as Ise katagami.

This fabulous noren is available on my website, so please do have a look.

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A Close up on a Katazome Yogi

September 16, 2008

This is a katazome yogi that was shown in a long shot in yesterday’s post.  I wanted to show it up-close as I think it deserves a bit more of a serious look: it is indigo dyed cotton, probably dates from the first half of the twentieth century and the central mon, or family crest, is of the crossed feathers motif.  (That’s my favorite Noguchi lamp in the left hand side of the frame, by the way.)

A yogi is a kimono-shaped comforter that would have been laid on top of the person who’s asleep like a quilt or blanket; it wouldn’t have been worn.  The repeat pattern is that of peonies amid a very florid trailing vine called karakusa in Japan.  Katazome is a stencil resist technique and the hand-cut stencils (called katagami) used to imprint designs are made of mulberry paper saturated with persimmon tannin and they themselves are works of art and are highly collectible.  I think I’ll talk more about the katazome technique in later blog entries.

The absolutely amazing thing about this katazome cloth is that it is double-sided: the clear impression is equally bright on each side, which means that the katazome artisan had to stencil resist both sides of the cloth, registering the stencil exactly and perfectly, front and back.  Mind boggling if you think about it.

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