E-gawa are the special decorative leathers found adorning various parts of an armour. They have been in use on Japanese armour since the Heian era of Japanese history 平安時代 (794-1185AD) where they are seen on the great O-yoroi armours of the period.
E-gawa come in many different patterns with the design being stencilled on to soft doeskin using various natural pigments. In the past the stencils were hand cut by a specialist craftsmen into the desired pattern and are called Katagami 型紙. Today, true E-gawa is still made using handcut stencils but silk screen printed modern varieties are available commercially. These though are used for cheap reproductions and toy armours as used in the boys festival. I was fortunate enough to be taught by my teacher in Japan, how to make E-gawa by the old traditional method by hand cutting a stencil and then applying the dye
To begin making E-gawa, a stencil has to be cut using handmade stencil paper which is made from Kozo 楮紙 (Japanese mulberry). It is made by pasting about five layers of paper together after which it is then smoked. This is followed by a coating of Kakishibu 柿渋 (astringent persimmon juice) to waterproof it
After the stencil is cut it is laid on top of the doeskin and the dyes are then applied through the stencil onto the leather. When the stencil is removed the dyes are allowed to dry sometimes up to 2-3 months. This design was a commision to be used on a shoulder strap of a Muromachi period 室町時代 (approx 1333-1573AD) Domaru armour.
This is another design called Mitsu tomoe 三 巴 (three comma's). Also, if you look carefully in the design are three stylised dragonflys surrounding a snowflake. This was made for a commission. The original E-gawa design is Heian period in date although this is a reproduction of an Edo period 江戸時代 (1603-1867) version.