A variety of implicit challenges in the design and application of katagami makes their artistic and technical success even more remarkable. Yardage dimensions, garment construction and the necessity of pattern repeats impose significant practical considerations. The ingenious design strategies in these works show endless variety in texture, depth, shading, motion and subtlety generated from the simplest of means; figure and ground.
The majority of stencils were created as repeat patterns on yardage rather than for dyeing isolated motifs. Width is determined by the standard weave of Japanese cotton (approximately fourteen inches), while the height changes to accomodate the pattern size which can be as little as five inches or more than three feet.
Many stencil patterns embody classic motifs and composition that enchanted the western eyes first caught sight of Japanese design when Japan opened its ports to trade in the late nineteenth century.
Above, stencil with pattern of rippling stripes, thrust-carved and reinforced with silk webbing. In this technique, a knife is inserted vertically into the paper with the cutting edge facing away from the carver and the blade is pushed up and down through the paper in a delicate sawing motion, like a jigsaw. Thought to be the most versatile of all carving methods, it is primarily identified with airy free-form patterns on an open ground.
The rhythmic nature of repeat patterns is an essential part of their impact; the interplay of positive and negative space offer a dance between stylized, discrete objects and continuous, overall elements is a visual tranquilizer, as in Sparrows cavorting in striped hoops, at right.