About Ise Katagami

pht01 Ise Katagami is a traditional Japanese handicraft (tool) with a proud history of over 1,000 years that involves dyeing textiles with patterns such as yuzen, yukata, and komon.

Katagami are created by carefully chiseling sculpted patterns and kimono designs onto processed washi paper. Making these patterns requires highly advanced technique, perseverance, and patience. In April of 1983, the Ministry of Trade and Industry recognized Ise Katagami as a traditional handicraft (tool).

Paper manufacturing process

In addition to the advanced engraving technology, the paper that is used for dyeing must be strong and non-stretchable. This paper is called katajigami, it is traditionally processed by veneering Mino Japanese washi paper using persimmon tannin and then smoking and drying it.

Manufacturing katajigami

1. Bozukuri
About 200 to 500 sheets of washi paper are cut into standard dimensions.
2. Attachment
Three sheets of paper are veneered vertically, horizontally, and vertically along the eye of the paper using persimmon tannin.
3. Drying
Paper that has gone through the attachment process is stretched on a fence and left to dry on a sunny day.
Muro-garashi (Smoking)
The dried paper is put into a smoke chamber, and the approximately one-week long smoking process creates difficult to stretch brown katajigami. Once more it is soaked in persimmon tannin and then dried and smoked again. After the surface has passed inspection, the process of making katajigami is complete.

Processed katajigami

ShimaboriShimabori (pull cutting)

A uniform striped pattern is engraved using a ruler and a carving blade. It may seem like a simple process, but the same place must be traced over three times with a small blade in order to make one stripe, so an advanced level of technique is required.

There may be up to 11 stripes engraved within the width of1cm. This carving technique requires use of a thread holder.


TsukiboriTsukibori (push cutting)

Five to eight sheets of katajigami are placed on a perforated plate and pushed forward to make vertical carvings with a 1mm~2mm tipped chisel. Stretched fabric may be fastened to it for further reinforcement. Straight lines or large patterns are created by pulling the chisel toward to the carver. This technique imparts the design with a unique, warm feeling because the grooving has a slight sway to it.


DoguboriDogubori (carving)

A chisel which has been engraved with patterns such as flowers, fans, or wheat stalks, is used to carve out a variety of patterns. This method begins with creating the chisel, and the performance of the tool has a strong influence on the outcome of the finished product. One of the greatest features of carving with these tools, is that the patterns are uniform, and a variety of shapes can be expressed. This is one of the general techniques used to created Edo-komon and is also known as “gottori”.


KiriboriKiribori (engraving)

This technique can be used to create types of komon including same, gyogi, tooshi, and arale patterns. A chisel with a semi-circular edge is placed vertically on the katajigami and small holes are carved as the cone is rotated.

There are some pieces that have around 100 holes within one square centimeter. Although the pattern may appear simple, this technique is incredibly difficult and complex.


pht02 Different from regular traditional handicrafts, Designated Traditional Handicrafts are those that are recognized by the“Act on the Promotion of Traditional Craft Industries (Traditional Industry)”. This designation means that specific requirements must be met in areas such as “using traditional materials and techniques/skills that have been passed down to the present, and embodying their special qualities while still being improved to suit the current industrial environment and meet the needs of the times.”

In order to be officially designated as a traditional handicraft under the law, the following requirements must be met.

1. Items that are primarily used in everyday life

This is defined as items that have real relevance in the daily life of families whether they are used all the time or only several occasions a year. It also includes items used for ceremonial occasions and seasonal festivals.

Crafts are also known as “usable art” and through being touched and seen for a long time by many people, they have continued to be perfected for better usability. In addition, their color, pattern, or structure is deeply entwined with the Japanese lifestyle and cultural background.

2. Main aspects of the manufacturing process are primarily done by hand

Every aspect does not have to be made by hand, but parts of the item’s quality, structure, and design that make up its primary characteristics and special qualities should fall under the conditions of being “handmade.”

Since each product will go through the process of being touched by human hands, it should be safe and have ergonomic dimensions and shape.

3. Created using traditional techniques or methods

Traditional crafts are defined as those that have been passed down for over 100 years.
The technology and techniques for making these products should have been used for over 100 years and are thought to have been established by improvement through trial and error at the hands of many creators. Although techniques and technology are inseparable, technology would be considered as “the skill of the creator” as it relates to the “craftsmanship” and “precision” of the individual, whereas technique is considered to be “having a historical knowledge of the know-how which encompasses selecting the raw materials to manufacturing methods.”

The traditional technology and techniques to not need to exactly replicate the original ones but should include improvements or developments that can be made without creating fundamental changes to the product or its characteristics.

4. Created using traditional materials

As with the 3rd condition, materials should be highly scrutinized and used for over 100 years. They should be friendly to both humans and the environment. Additionally, if the supply of certain materials is exhausted or hard to obtain, it is still considered traditional to convert to a similar material without changing the original taste of the item.

5. The main producing area is in a specific region

It is necessary for manufacturers to be located within a specific region to a certain scale, and that production of the item is established as a local industry. This scale is determined as over 10 companies or over 30 individuals. They should not just work as individual companies, but there should be a level of trust and responsibility throughout the production area as a whole.

As of April 2009, 211 handicrafts from around Japan have been officially recognized by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Reference: Japan Traditional Crafts Center

An explanation of the dyeing stencils that are primarily used for Ise Katagami.

Dyeing stencils are used to create komon, yuzen, and yukata patterns on textiles. The number of stencils used differs depending on the pattern. In the case of stripes, only one stencil is used. However, in the case of yuzen designs which include different patterns and colors, there may be hundreds of stencils required. This is because stencils are used according to pattern and color, so each stencil is considered to be its own pattern.

Each stencil is engraved based on a design. These designs are created by designers at the request of the dyeing company, and often use classic Japanese patterns and motifs. They differ from normal pictures because all the lines are connected. To prevent the pattern from coming off when they are engraved, they are attached using connections called, “nige.”

There are four techniques used when creating Ise Katagami, each with their own unique characteristics. When engraving large designs, hikibori (pull) and tsukibori (push) techniques are used. Alternatively, when making delicate patterns like komon, dogubori (carving) and kiribori (engraving) techniques are used. At times, push and pull techniques may be used to create smaller designs, but for the most part they are categorized as written above. Each technique has its own benefits. Hikibori can create straight lines, whereas the lines made when using tsukibori have a sway to them which gives a homemade feeling. It is also excellent for overlapping multiple layers. Kiribori produces only circular patterns and can be used for incredibly detailed engraving. Dogubori uses a different chisel depending on the pattern, so it is excellent for creating well-balanced designs.

The engravers use many layers of katajigami when engraving the stencils. It might take a day to create a striped dyeing stencil using pull techniques, however complex stencils may take around a month to complete. This duty requires both the patience and perseverance of the craftsman. Depending on the engraving process used on the finished stencil, it may need to be fastened using stretched fabric, usually a net of silk threads that are pasted with varnish. Completed stencils are shipped to the dyeing company, where they are used to dye textiles and clothing.

When starting the dyeing process, the stencil is first soaked in water to prevent it from stretching. Then, a dye-resistant paste is placed on the fabric. In principle, each color is dyed once at a time, so depending on the pattern, this may be repeated several times. Cloth which has been pasted is then dyed with the dyeing agent. After that, the paste is washed away leaving white behind and making a pattern. If several colors are being used, the final one will be the strongest, so dyeing starts with the base color. In the case of stripe patterns, one stencil is pasted and placed at a time. Stencils have “star” marks on them which are relied on during use. After the dyeing is complete, some alterations are made, and the fabric is complete. It is then bought by kimono wholesalers.

This process differs slightly when dyeing yukata robes, and a method called “chosen” is used. The resistance paste is placed in a specific order on the attached cloth. Then, it is folded and layered. After this, the air is sucked from the bottom and the dyeing agent is released starting from the top. In doing so, the paste at the topmost point creates an embankment which prevents the colors from mixing, so multiple colors can be used. By adding water, blurred patterns can also be created. The cloth is flipped over and the dyeing agent is released again. After this, the paste is washed off and the garment is complete.

Stencils that have been used to dye textiles are saved. They may be used again, or they may be kept as references. Many dyeing companies store thousands of stencils. Based on this stock
new stencils are also ordered. Both dyeing shops and stencil makers work hard to better their craft through friendly competition and aim to create even better garments.

An explanation regarding the two characters for “kata” that are used to spell “Ise Katagami. “

Historically speaking, the “kata” part of Ise Katagami was expressed as the character「形」.
This usage continued throughout the Edo Period to the Meiji Period. However, starting from the Taisho Period into the Showa Period, the characters「形」and「型」, both pronounced “kata”, were both used. After World War 2, this was unified to be expressed by only the character「型」.

Ise Katagami, written as「型」, was used when six artisans were recognized as masters of the important intangible cultural property “Ise Katagami” in 1955. However in 1983, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (current: Ministry of Trade, Economy, and Industry) used the character「形」when registering Ise Katagami as a designated traditional handicraft.

As seen in these cases, the characters of「形」and「型」are still used interchangeably to this day.

However, efforts are currently being made to unify the spelling using the character of「型」. When considering the meaning of 「形」(shape) and「型」(mold), the latter’s meaning is more appropriate. When considering public recognition, internet searches show that the spelling using「型」are much more common.

With this being the case and in order to unite the industry, the Ise Katagami Cooperative Association was established in 2009, and when patenting Ise Katagami as a local brand, the「型」character was registered.

As previously stated, since at the time of being designated as a traditional handicraft the character of「形」was used, it is impossible to entirely escape both versions of the spelling. However, the industry is trying to spread the use of spelling with「型」as much as possible.

Considering that the two spellings have changed with the flow of time, they add a tasteful character to the history of Ise Katagami.