top of page


by John Marshall


Katazome is a form of paste resist surface design. That is, a paste made from very sticky ingredients, in this case rice flour, that is pushed through a stencil to define a pattern on a length of yardage. Wherever the paste sticks to the cloth, it will resist, or prevent, any color from staining that spot. The rice paste is resisting the color to create a design on the fabric. The images shown here illustrate the steps involved in the production of a piece I dyed called Fire Babies.


First, a design is transferred to a piece of hand-made mulberry paper called shibugami. The shibugami has been treated with persimmon tannin and smoked as a preservative and has a deliciously nutty aroma.


The design is cut into the shibugami using a very sharp traditional knife and a variety of hole punches. Silk netting is later attached to the front side during the lacquering process. Notice how the areas that have been cut away allow the paste to go through the stencil and stick to the cloth, and how the paper portion of the stencil blocks the paste, forming the basic design on the fabric.


Since this is a repeating stencil, it is very important to match up the pattern exactly as the stencil is moved along during the pasting process. The stencil is used repeatedly in this manner, eventually covering the entire cloth with the paste design, as you can see in the photo.


Notice the two diamond shaped area of paste down toward the lower right. I'll be pointing these out again later.


The cloth is stretched up with a set of wooden clamps and bamboo sticks called harite and shinshi.  The colors are applied one at a time–this process is called irosashi.  


All the colors I use come from natural sources such as plants (indigo, gardenias, and onion skins to name a few), insects (cochineal and lac), and minerals (such as dirt and iron rust). Each is applied a minimum of three times to build up depth of color.


Once I have the basic colors applied, it is time to stop to take a look at how well the colors are socializing with one another. In this particular case, I realized that  the tone of the conversation is a bit more heated than I would like, so I've decided to pacify the party with a light wash of persimmon juice, a yellow tint that will mellow the mood a bit.


Now that I am satisfied with the tone of the party, it is time to pick things up and give the piece a little more spark. This is done through a process of accenting areas to focus the viewer’s attention. These accent marks are called kumadori, which is the same term used by a kabuki actor in reference to the bold lines he paints on his face.


Much darker colors are applied to specific areas of the design to accent and embolden. The overall effect of this dance of dots is to give a base rhythm to the entire work.


The most difficult step of all is now at hand. That is, simply leaving the piece alone for approximately three months. The dyes are not heat-set. They are simply allowed to become permanent stains, and this happens best through patience. The longer the dyes sit unmolested, the richer and more permanent the final colors will be.


Once the dyes have sufficiently cured the long awaited day has arrived – the day to wash off the paste and reveal the full beauty of months of work and planning.


The fabric is taken down from the rafters where it has been curing out of harm's way, and placed in a warm, inviting bath of fresh clear water. Here it soaks at its own leisure, patiently allowing the paste to dissolve away. Gently the fabric is coaxed from its lulled state, to be rinsed repeatedly, removing the last traces of any excess dye and reluctant-to-part paste. Then, as with the spank of the newborn's behind, it is given a vigorous swish as it is yanked up out of the water by its selvage edge, gloriously proclaiming itself to the world.


Air drying is the final stage in bringing forth a new personality into our family of textiles.


Remember the diamond shaped areas of paste I mentioned above? The paste has been washed away to reveal a highly detailed pattern. The now-white diamonds may be seen at the shoulders of the completed kimono.

fire baby kimono-.jpg
bottom of page