What are Katagami?

Katagami are Japanese stencils that were originally used for applying patterns to kimono cloth.

The stencils were created by drilling, punching and cutting detailed and intricate designs into mulberry paper.   This was done by hand by skilled Japanese craftsmen before the end of the nineteenth century.

The katagami stencils were originally produced simply as tools; they were part of the process of dyeing indigo designs onto clothing ranging, from everyday worker’s garments to the finest silk kimonos.  More recently the katagami have come to be appreciated as remarkable and beautiful objects in their own right.

The designs on the stencils amount to more than decoration.  They have great significance within Japanese culture.  They might evoke a season or express wishes for longevity and good fortune.  In some cases they make reference to an entire folk story.

The katagami at MoDA are part of the Silver Studio Collection, and were acquired as design reference in the 1890s.  It is one of the UK’s important collections of Japanese katagami stencils.  Other significant collection can be found at ULITA, part of Leeds University, at the V&A in London, and at the Museum of Carpet in Kidderminster. You can now view some of our katagami stencils online

MoDA’s project, Katagami in Practice, Japanese Stencils in the Art School did not focus on the history and significance of katagami within Japanese culture.  But you can find more information on this in a booklet published by ULITA, available from our online shop.