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A kimono is one of the first things that comes to mind when we think of Japan. We always see those traditional dresses exquisitely decorated with painted or embroidered designs. Each of them is decorated with the most beautiful and elegant patterns. However, there are also everyday kimonos with repeating, small patterns of flowers, birds, fans and other motifs. They are made using stencils such as the Ise-katagami, which the Japanese have been creating for centuries.

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A kimono is one of the first things that comes to mind when we think of Japan. We always see those traditional dresses exquisitely decorated with painted or embroidered designs. Each of them is decorated with the most beautiful and elegant patterns. However, there are also everyday kimonos with repeating, small patterns of flowers, birds, fans and other motifs. They are made using stencils such as the Ise-katagami, which the Japanese have been creating for centuries.
The Ise-katagami stencils, cut out of katajigami paper infused with persimmon juice, have been created in the area around the modern city of Suzuki, in Mie prefecture, since the Muromachi period (1337–1573). They have been used to decorate fabrics, in particular those intended for traditional dresses, as well as to cover ceramics, leather, and even patterned sweets. At present, they are also used to create paintings and designs on screens and lanterns.
In 1952, Ise-katagami was recognised as part of the Intangible Cultural Properties of Japan, and because of this fact, Ise-katagami handicraft may be supported by the Japanese state and it can still be developed.
The presented Ise-katagami dyeing stencil with a motif of momiji maple leaves and branches was created by the master Ishimi Ōsugi, an artist who specialises in cutting out katagami, specially for the exhibition A Disappearing Tradition: Ise-katagami and Kimono", displayed in the Ethnographic Museum in Wrocław, the Manggha Museum, as well as the Embassy of Japan in Warsaw in 2006. Ōsugi received a photo of a stencil of the same motif which was part of Feliks Jasieński's collection, and, on the basis of the photo, he made a copy of this stencil. Then he rearranged the motif and created a new stencil of an almost square shape (whereas traditional stencils are of a rectangular shape). This stencil, at present a part of the collection of the Manggha Museum, was used to dye fabric for a new kimono which was also displayed during the exhibition mentioned above.
The pattern of momiji maple leaves and branches refers to autumn — the time when leaves of maple trees change their colour for red, thus adding colour and beauty to the countryside where they grow. While spring in Japan is the time to admire cherry trees in bloom, in November crowds are delighted by the sight of red maple leaves on trees near shrines in Nikkō, Kyoto, and in many other places.
The stencil was made using the tsukibori technique. Tsukibori (Japanese: cutting by pushing) is one of five techniques of cutting out patterns. The distinguishing feature of this method is the manner in which the craftsman cuts out the pattern with a small knife of a long blade and handle, by making cuts from the top downwards, away from himself. It enables him to make large and delicate patterns. Because of their pliability, stencils are often reinforced with itoire silk thread which keeps very thin strips of the cut out paper in the same plane.
Other cutting techniques:

  • hikibori (Jap. cutting by pulling) — this is a method similar to tsukibori, as cuts in this technique are made with a tool of the same type, but in this case, the knife is a bit bent and it is used without breaks in a motion towards the cutter. This is also the most popular method used by both professionals and amateurs.
  • dōgubori (Jap. cutting with tools) — in this method, two blades are used which have the form of readymade patterns e.g. of cherry flower petals, which are fixed to a wooden handle. A craftsman using this technique must be able to make such tools by himself. As he must create various patterns, he often has even a few hundred of such blades.
  • ichimaizuki  (Jap. puncturing with one blade) — this technique is similar to dōgubori, as it consists in making single cuts from the top downwards, but the cuts are made with the use of a chisel of one blade in the shape of a straight line, a semicircle, or a wave. At present, this method is rarely used due to the popularity of dōgubori.
  • kiribori (Jap. punching) — this is the oldest technique created using semicircular blades which are stuck into paper and turned in order to get the shape of a circle a fraction of a millimetre in diameter. Various shapes can be created from those small circles and they can be differentiated by the arrangement and size of holes. In the case of the smallest patterns, there are about one hundred holes on 1 centimetre square of fabric.

During the exhibition in Kraków, master Ōsugi conducted workshops within which all interested individuals had the opportunity to try cutting out designs with a katajigami stencil and to dye their fabrics.

Elaborated by Aleksandra Görlich (The Manggha Centre of Japanese Art and Technology), editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums, © all rights reserved

Bibliography:
Zanikająca tradycja – Ise-katagami i kimono, Anna Król (ed.), Kraków 2006.

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Ornamental subtexts

One of the ideas guiding us in the creation of the portal “Malopolska’s Virtual Museums” is to draw attention to the details of the exhibits, often overlooked intricate decorations, which sometimes surprise when looking closer at the texture and shapes of the presented objects. We strive to use advanced technology to bring out these details and draw people closer to them. With the help of such “magnification”, we would like you to stop you for a moment, or maybe even sometimes make you feel delighted?
What do the ornaments want? What are they to a work of art? Could an ornament be a signature? These, and many other interesting questions, came up during the LXIII National Science Session of the Association of Art Historians entitled Ornament and decoration of a work of art (November 20-22, 2014, Krakow), in which we had the pleasure of participating, presenting exhibits selected for the conference subject matter from the collection of Malopolska’s Virtual Museums.

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One of the ideas guiding us in the creation of the portal “Malopolska’s Virtual Museums” is to draw attention to the details of the exhibits, often overlooked intricate decorations, which sometimes surprise when looking closer at the texture and shapes of the presented objects. We strive to use advanced technology to bring out these details and draw people closer to them. With the help of such “magnification”, we would like you to stop you for a moment, or maybe even sometimes make you feel delighted?
What do the ornaments want? What are they to a work of art? Could an ornament be a signature? These, and many other interesting questions, came up during the LXIII National Science Session of the Association of Art Historians entitled Ornament and decoration of a work of art (November 20-22, 2014, Krakow), in which we had the pleasure of participating, presenting exhibits selected for the conference subject matter from the collection of Malopolska’s Virtual Museums.

All presented objects, seemingly diverse, with a different purpose, being results of the work of manufacturers from different cultures, different types of crafts and artistic periods, are united by one thing: their own ornamentation.
The tendency to decorate, results from the inner need of a human being to aestheticize the surrounding space and the elements organizing it. The motifs and their sets, characteristic for particular periods of history—which created the ornament and thus a certain decorative form—covered and organized the surface of the works. We encounter ornaments in all fields of arts and crafts. It is an inseparable component of a work, even if it does not appear physically, it reflects conscious non-use: an absence. The relationship of an ornament to an object used to vary; it was an accompanying form, its decoration; it could determine the divisions of planes, but, over time, it distinguished itself and assumed the primary role. Treated autonomously, it created forms which constituted artworks in themselves. However, its relation to the surface vacillated from horror vacui to amor vacui, down to complete cleansing. Ornamental forms had their origins in nature, or they were treated as the main source of inspiration, hence the distinction between geometric, vegetal, and animal ornamentation. Its gradual transformation was aimed at achieving an abstract shape, which was, however, still intuitively rooted in reality, or was rather transformed reality:  a set of familiar elements combined in fanciful forms with a surprising relationship to each other.
Distinguishing its character, its accompanying motives and inspirations—including its essence—allows one to get a lot of information about the work itself. This can be done on many levels. A non-accidental juxtaposition of seemingly different objects in a single presentation—in each case adorned with ornamentation—opens up a new field for their interpretation and finding correlations between them.
The desirability of decoration is visible in each of the objects presented—whether in the works of “highbrow”, professional, or folk art—there is an evident need of the conscious or often intuitive use of sometimes very naive ornamental forms, which marked divisions contouring the shape of the object and filling its surface (see: Powder cone, Painted wooden chest with a drawer, Sculpture “Mother of God of Skępe”).
The variety of forms of decoration and ornamentation that has appeared on works from particular cultural circles has been conditioned by many factors. Undoubtedly, the most important was the fashion prevailing at that time, which specified the formal repertoire used, or access to sources of inspiration. However, in most cultures—especially eastern ones—there was a dominant tendency to draw inspiration from nature, which formed the basis for shaping ornamentation in multiple versions (cf. Enamelled vase, Besamin tower box from Vienna, Jewel box, A dyeing template). The ban on figurative art—particularly in Islamic and Jewish culture—led to developing ornamentation as the only acceptable form of art which fully utilized the repertoire of plant and geometrical forms.
The intended purpose of these objects, differing from one another to an extreme extent, allows one to notice that the ornamentation decorating them is not dependent on their function. An ornament is non-political and non-ideological; hence, it was possible to use the same motif on everyday objects and objects of worship (see: Armchair with handrails, Mug with a cover, Chalice). The situation was similar in the case of particular fields of craft, characterized by different techniques, where, regardless of their variety and degree of difficulty, the same ornamental forms appeared. Thus, the quintessence of the ornament is the manipulation of its form. And yet this form itself was specific to the era in which it crystallized. An example of this can be rocaille, containing in its shape, elements and behaviour, epithets corresponding to the Rococo period (see: A woman’s fan). A somewhat different usage and problem, however, was posed by the fact the decoration could take the form of representation, and thus carry specific information, often referring to the purpose of the work or its founder (see: Horn of Salt Diggers Brotherhood of Wieliczka, Baroque chasuble).
Many kinds of contextual trails—which combine different objects on different levels—can be created. Despite their otherness, we can find many correlational factors among them. We encourage you to look for your own links between the objects presented and the function of the ornaments and decorations, which allow you to see the work from a different perspective: both formal and interpretive.

Opracowanie: Paulina Kluz (Redakcja WMM),
Licencja Creative Commons

 Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa 3.0 Polska.

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“Ise-katagami” dyeing stencil with a motif of “momiji” maple leaves and branches

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