Katagami in Practice: Project Launch


The Project Begins

Participants in the Katagami in Practice project met together at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture for the first time in September 2016. It was great to see everyone buzzing with ideas and thinking about how their different approaches might work together.

The participants will work both individually and collaboratively to produce a variety of outcomes over the next year. We will be documenting and reflecting on the process of research itself, through a series of short video interviews.


Introducing the Participants: from dance to calligraphy

We’ve got a great team, each bringing a range of backgrounds and experience.  Caroline Collinge is a designer maker who comes from a costume and performance background. She has a long interest in Japanese crafts of origami, and in the way in which fabrics move when worn on the body. She is intending to create garments informed by close analysis of the katagami in MoDA’s collection.

Caroline will develop these into costumes to be worn for a dance performance. We’re hoping to find some way of collaborating with the dance department here at Middlesex Universityfor this aspect of the project.

Caroline’s work chimes nicely with the ideas put forward by Mamiko Markham. Mamiko was born in Kyoto and grew up making katagami from a young age. She has a deep knowledge of the symbolism of the motifs used in katagami design and in the techniques used to make them.

Mamiko’s work for this project will include analysis of images of the katagami created using an infrared camera. This will reveal marks such as stamps and signatures which are not visible to the naked eye, which should enable Mamiko to accurately determine the dates, geographical origins and makers of each specific stencil. It’s even possible that she might find we have the work of her great grandfather, who was a katagami maker!


…and from dots to drawing

Dr Alice Humphrey’s interest in katagami stencils is from a rather different angle. Her PhD at Leeds University looked at the analysis of spirals in decorative designs.  Her interest in this project is in using mathematical modelling to determine how the effects of light and shade are created in the stencils using only varying thicknesses of line.

Alice has developed an online tool for manipulating designs using this method, and she hopes to develop this further. Alice works closely with ULITA at Leeds University, which has a collection of katagami stencils similar to MoDA’s. We hope to be able to work together more closely with ULITA through this project, sharing knowledge and developing joint resources.

Dr Sarah Desmarais began her career as a fine artist but found herself always drawn to textiles in particular. Her practice as a textile designer-maker has developed into an interest in the slow and manual processes of making.

Sarah is particularly interested in the interrelationship of digital and manual craft cultures and the meditative and repetitive nature of making things by hand.  This project is also an opportunity to think about the deep engagement with the material world that this entails.  Sarah’s plan is to engage in the process of making katagami herself – no doubt aided by Mamiko’s expertise – and to observe and reflect on that process.


Japanese Stencils in the Art School

The title of this project refers to “Japanese stencils in the Art School”, and part of the aim is to consider how these stencils have been used in art and design teaching.  We want to look at this both historically and in a contemporary setting. Katagami stencils exist in many other museum collections across Europe, particularly those which evolved from schools of art or technical colleges.  We want to look at how katagami stencils can engage students’ creative practice today in a deeper way than simply inspiring them to reach for the laser cutter.

To this end, Sarah intends to devise workshops for students that will consider katagami as ‘taskmasters’, ‘ambassadors’ and ‘networkers’, in human-material interweavings across time and space.   There will no doubt be many other ways in which this project can support teaching both at Middlesex University and elsewhere.

All of the participants bring a wealth of experience and expertise from entirely different – yet strangely complementary – fields of research.  Several common themes are emerging already, including perhaps the relationship between the manual and the digital in cultures of making.

This project continues until Spring 2018, and there will be a variety of outputs along the way, not all of which are decided yet.  We’re also interested in documenting the process of research, and we’ll be helped in this by Jack Adams, an historian and filmmaker, who will be recording video interviews with the participants along the way as they reflect on their research, refine their ideas and share their progress.


This project is supported by Designation Development Funding from the Arts Council England



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