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Chiyogami: a 1000 year old Japanese art

As we have seen in my previous blog post, once the washi paper is made, it can either be left natural (used for calligraphy or decoration) or coloured. For this second option, there is a practice, actually a real Japanese art, which consists in applying several colour patterns on the paper: the art of "Chiyogami".

What is the Chiyogami technique?

In Japanese, "Chiyo" (千代) means "period of 1000 years" and "Kami" (紙) means "paper" (root also found in the word "origami") literally: 1000 years paper. It is indeed a technique that was born many years ago and has evolved in the way it is applied, until today.

Initially, Chiyogami consists of manually inking a sheet of Washi paper with engraved wooden blocks and plates or cut-out stencils, each of which is used for one part of the design (outline, pattern or colour). The craftsman then has to ensure that the colours are accurately superimposed so that the patterns are clear.

Nowadays, the screen printing technique is used more often, whereby the designs are printed manually using "screen printing screens", which are used as stencils. Several successive passes of colour and gold are then made to create the designs.

The use of Chiyogami washi papers is really multiple. We know it here for origami but it can also be used for cardboard, bookbinding, decoration, for dressing furniture or walls, for framing...

Here is a video showing the manual and progressive printing of the motifs by screen printing:

What patterns can be found on Chiyogami Washi paper? What are the meanings?

The variety of patterns found on Chiyogami washi paper today is inspired by the Edo period in Japan, from the 17th century. Indeed, the designs are inspired by the patterns and embroidery of kimonos.

Historically, the motifs refer to symbols of good omen and longevity such as the turtle, the crane and the pine tree. The themes are indeed very specific and important symbols in Japanese culture: the crane for long life, bamboo for flexibility, plum blossoms for beauty. Some of the papers may also represent the four seasons of the year.

Nowadays, Chiyogami washi papers are mainly decorated with animals (cranes, butterflies), geometric shapes (waves, dots, rhombuses) or flowery patterns.

To go a little further in the discovery, feel free to browse my collection of origami earrings that I make with Washi Chiyogami papers, generally very flowery, from Japan.

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