Yuzen designs were originally produced for the textile industry in Kyoto, Japan where the production of fabric for traditional Japanese kimonos reached its height. Yuzen patterns typically included a great deal of gold and were quite extravagant. The word Chiyogami (gami means paper in Japanese) refers to the repetitive, traditional patterns applied to paper in the Edo Period (between 1603 and 1868 in the history of Japan). Originally printed with woodblock prints onto paper, these patterns migrated to silkscreen application in the 12th century. The terms Yuzen and Chiyogami are now used interchangeably.
The process beings when base papers are brought into the studio. Depending on the individual studio, base papers are made from different materials such as Gampi, Kozo, or Mitsutama,. To create a single completed sheet of Chiyogami, each base sheet is silkscreened with as many colors as there are in that particular pattern. Each pattern must have as many screens to be stored as there are colors. The screens for subsequent colors must be painstakingly registered (aligned) so that the color layers lie precisely in relation to each other, thereby, creating the complete, multi-colored pattern.
Authentic Japanese Yuzen has an intense color which is resistance to fading. The pigment-based inks used in traditional Chiyogami create a distinctively intense color that stands up well to fading and use. You can often see or feel the different layers of color applied on the base sheet. On the back of each sheet of genuine Chiyogami you will often find a harmless paste residue. This comes from the papers being temporarily pasted to boards as they travel from one color station to the next to keep them properly aligned. Often the final layer is a metallic overlay which provides shiny highlights that catch light and accentuate the pattern.
Traditional uses for Chiyogami included paper dolls or decoration of tea tins or small paper boxes; still today the scale of the often small, repetitive patterns reflects these early uses. Artists, craftspeople and hobbyists of today have vastly expanded the range of applications for Chiyogami. The most common uses are probably as cover papers for bookbinders, and as accents or envelope linings, but many other uses such as collage, origami, chigiri-e, iris folding, and gift wrapping are common.
The sheets of yuzen or Chiyogami are cut into squares of varying sizes for use in origami and other papercrafts.