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.)

Minnows and mussels … alive, alive-O

Several moons ago I began to re-design my minnow stencil. I got back to the task last week with a lot of wheel spinning and not much progress. Over the weekend I perused some of my favorite design books (especially Principles of Pattern Design by Richard M. Proctor.)  I want the final stencil to be 12×16″, which will make it useful as a 4-way repeat for the widths of fabric I plan to use. Within that, I want the individual repeated units to be 6×8″, so that the final stencil will encompass 4 of these units. Playing with minnows, mussels and water swirls, here’s a sketch of the basic unit.

I scanned this into my computer and played with variations using Photoshop. Here are some results. C and D appeal to me most. I’ll be working with these as drop-repeats in the next post.