Thinking through a stencil design

There are generally four ways to approach the design of katazome stencil – negative (dyed background), positive (dyed foreground), outline (resist lines on a dyed background) and string (dyed lines on a resisted background).  Here’s a simple design illustrating these four approaches. I’ve added bridges where necessary so the structure of the stencil holds together.



Oftentimes a single stencil will contain more than one of these approaches.


I am working on a stencil I call  “Spring” – some trees with branches and buds. I want to shift the shapes from negative on the bottom to positive on the top. The problem is how to navigate this transition gradually – I don’t want an abrupt break. I added a area of grass-like lines in the middle area of the composition. After attaching my cartoon to the surface of the shibugami (stencil paper), I sketched in some lines to clarify where I want to make my cuts. I made black marker lines to represent the positive leaves of grass – these I cut between –  and red marker lines to represent the negative leaves of grass. These I cut away.

Here’s the middle section after cutting.


It’s now ready to reinforce. (See the two “V” bridges at the top edge – these will be cut away.)

Author: Kit

I’m a St. Paul MN visual artist, working in drawing, printmaking, and textile art.

9 thoughts on “Thinking through a stencil design”

  1. This is amazing! It’s a really striking design. Since you are putting so much work into this one stencil do you plan to use it repeatedly? or is it for just one special project?

  2. Fab design………..worth every cut on bud, branch and blade. Thanks so much for sharing more of the process. Can we see it printed/dyed here as well?

  3. Thank you for your comment – yes, I will do multiple “prints” of this stencil. I don’t usually do them just once, especially if I am using shibugami, the special stencil paper.

  4. I’ve enjoyed paper cutting for years as an artist and only very recently learned of the long history of stencils and printing on paper and fabric ….I am so enjoying seeing your work!

  5. Thank you so much for visiting! It is always great to discover something new. I remember being inspired by a library book of German paper cuts a couple of decades ago, which led to screen printing with dyes on fabric (starting with a papercutting), which eventually led to katazome.

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