Katazome stencils are made by transferring a design to specially treated paper, carving out the negative spaces in the paper, then applying a silk or polyester mesh over the paper and adhering the mesh with paint. The traditional paper, shibugami, is made of several layers of handmade mulberry paper which are strengthened with persimmon tannin and then smoked (giving a lovely smell of old tobacco). The traditional paper, alas, is no longer being made, though it can still be purchased. Synthetic stencil paper is now being manufactured. Both kinds of paper are available from John Marshall.
Traditional stencils are carved using a special knife (which John sells), but a craft knife with the standard #11 blade (used with a self-healing cutting mat) will work just as well. If you can’t buy the traditional or synthetic stencil paper, heavy watercolor paper can be used in a pinch. (It won’t last as long, though.)
I’ve also successfully used a fusible interfacing stencil as outlined in Jane Dunnewold’s book Art Cloth, though the detail is not as good as with the stencil paper. Jane’s book contains the full details, but basically you take two layers of a medium-weight, nonwoven fusible interfacing, face the fusible sides towards each other, and cut a stencil out of both layers at once. Then you insert a layer of nylon tulle between the layers, carefully lining up the two layers exactly, and fuse the two layers together. Finally, you seal the stencil using latex house paint, carefully removing any paint in the nylon tulle. Once the paint has fully dried, iron it briefly on both sides. After that, it is good to go. But I recommend buying the book for the more detailed instructions.
Once the stencil is carved, prepare a stack of newsprint by spraying each sheet (start with about 10 sheets) lightly with water. It should be darkened but not outright glossy. (If newspapers are rare where you are, U-Haul sells sheets of newsprint as packing paper – very inexpensive and a convenient size.) Now, put the netting onto the front of the stencil and apply glossy floor paint to the netting + stencil, ONLY on the side with the netting. The other side does not need to be painted, as the purpose of the paint is to adhere the netting. (John uses a piece of rubber foam with the corners tied up to apply the paint; Karen Miller, another teacher, uses a small paint roller.)
Once the paint is applied, place a sheet of dampened newsprint over the paint and smooth it down with your hands. Remove it immediately, peeling it back very carefully at a steep angle to the paper so the netting doesn’t come off with the paper. Repeat with a second sheet of newsprint. Then apply a new sheet, flip the newsprint sandwich over, and carefully peel away the sheet that is now on top. Continue, flipping the newsprint after each sheet, until relatively little paint comes away and the netting is clear of paint. (If a bubble of paint is stuck in the mesh, gently press the bubble with your finger; that should remove it.) Put the stencil inside a final sandwich of newsprint, then dry it completely, held flat on a table and weighted with something heavy and flat. (John uses an old edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.) Check every ten minutes or so for the first half hour to make sure that the stencil is not adhering to the newsprint; if it does, carefully pick off the newsprint and replace it with a new, slightly dampened sheet.
Once the stencil is dry, repeat the process. This time you can leave more paint on the stencil, as long as the netting is clear of paint; the idea here is to strengthen the bond of the netting to the stencil.
Once the stencil is completely dry, it is ready for use.
Here is a photo of one of John’s finished stencils, which I used in the class. If you zoom in on the full-size photo, you can just see the netting in the carved-out sections.
Stencils can be carved with amazing detail. Here is a stencil from John’s collection:
The dots are made using a hole punch, traditionally handmade by the stencil carver. John Marshall sells round hole punches as well, though they are not cheap!
More details on stencil carving can be found on John’s website. (The link leads to the introduction, but if you click on the small images on the bottom of the page, you can find the other sections on stencil carving.)