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by John Marshall

H-BridgeARI copy.jpg

If special care is not taken when cutting away the unwanted portion of a stencil, you will run the risk of having the stencil fall into several pieces or be so weak that the different sections move or tear easily during paste application, rendering the stencil useless. The bridge, or connector, was developed to hold the stencil faithfully in place, giving it the strength required to survive repeated usage. The connectors may also serve as an important and decorative part of the overall design, lending a distinctive stencil-dyed appearance.


All stencils require bridges to hold the design together in its paper-only form. In many cases, the bridges may be disguised as part of the design. In the first figure to the right the lines defining the petals, leading to the center calyx, are actually bridges in disguise. In the next figure, the areas of paper between the dots function as bridges.


Often it is necessary to add temporary bridges – bridges that do not contribute to the design of the piece but serve the very important function of holding floating elements in place until the paper has been securely attached to the netting, or sha.  Once the elements have been secured in place by lacquering the netting to the stencils, the bridges that are not part of the design are cut away and disposed of. Therefore, bridges fall into two categories: those that will remain in the stencil as part of the design, and those that are removed before the lacquer is completely dry.


Take a look at how bridges work, from carved design to completed dye project, in the examples to the right.  


▶︎With the bridges cut away during the lacquering process, we have a very secure, free-floating design.


▶︎Notice how the blank area of the finished piece corresponds to the cut out area of the stencil. This is, of course, where the paste was resting during the dyeing process. (The paste is washed away in the final steps to reveal the full beauty of the work. The role the paste plays is especially clear when compared to the finished stencil–the center image).


▶︎The netting is especially important for supporting large floating areas, or long meandering lines.


▶︎Draw your initial design without worrying about where or how the bridges will be placed.


▶︎Now stand back and examine your design carefully. With a contrasting color, ink in small breaks in any long lines.


▶︎If you would prefer to incorporate your bridges into the design of your stencil, you must work toward creating a balanced placement of them to enhance the movement of the design.


▶︎If there are large open areas, draw in extra bridges to stabilize the elements of the design.


▶︎When drawing bridges to be removed, try drawing shapes that are easy to detect, a shape that is in stark contrast to the rest of the design. This makes them easier to spot when it comes time to remove them during the lacquering process.

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