Ise Katagami: Ise paper stencils

Ise paper stencils were sent from Japan to my home in NY. They have traditionally been used in the dyeing of kimono cloths with family crests and patterns including those for yuzen, yukata, and the very fine overall patterns known as komon.
These paper stencils were found at the old dyeing store in Muromachi, Kyoto. On the paper stencil of chrysanthemum arabesque design as shown at the right photo, we can see the signature of Yamanaka Sonzaburou, written with a brush and sumi ink, who I heard was a stencil maker in Ise Shirako. Surprisingly, this was made about 125 years ago.
On the other splashed-pattern paper stencil as shown at the left photo, there are no signatures, so I cannot identify how old it is. But when it is held up to the light, the fine motifs beautifully twinkle. It looks like sky filled with stars.

The chrysanthemum arabesque design has middle-sized pattern, which is called chu-gata for yukatas or futon covers. But Ise paper stencils are most popular used in the dyeing of Edo komon kimonos. Ko-mon means small pattern, while I heard that big pattern existed, which were called dai-mon. In the middle of Edo Period (1603-1897) in Japan, mon developed from daimon on the kami-shimo, one of samurai’s formal wears, gradually became finer as samurais’ fashion, and finally grew to komon. Merchants in Edo not only imitated samurais’ fashion and made their kimonos dyed with komon patterns, but also made many livingwares, for example, towels, futon covers, and so on, dyed with komon patterns by craftsmen. Everything has been embellished with komon, expanding beyond kimono patterns.

Geishas sometimes wore conservative Edo komon cloths with their red underwears which were seen during their walk. It seemed to be dressed fashionably with their sexually attractive. Therefore, Edo komon kimonos look wonderful only with a certain combinations, but look intrusive with many kinds of colorful combinations. I think that we should definitively develop sense of styles, if we wear Edo komon kimonos.
That is actually Japanese aesthetic feeling, I suppose.

Nakaya Hisako philosophically wrote about Edo komon kimonos in the book “Japanese Cloths (Tairyu-sha)” that taking advantage of us made taking advantage of others, and taking advantage of all things made us more wonderful and beautiful.

Beyond these paper stencils, I can imagine that in old Japan, women wearing Edo komon kimonos without any hesitation performed daily activities, paying attention to their combinations. So, I am fascinated with Edo komon kimonos, and in addition, paper stencils, which create various kinds of them.


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