Slow Craft in Action: katagami printing techniques

K1.1, Katagami stencil from the collection at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture

How do museum objects directly inspire and inform creative studio-based students?

That is the question at the heart of MoDA’s current research project, Katagami in Practice: Japanese Stencils in the Art School, funded by the Arts Council. Katagami stencils are a traditional tool for applying pattern to cloth: but how can we encourage today’s artists and design practitioners to use them in a critically engaged way – beyond simply seeing them as examples of interesting motifs?

applying rice paste through a stencil onto fabric

One of the practitioners working with us on the project is Sarah Desmarais, whose research is around themes of slow-making and the relationship of craft to wellbeing. As part of her contribution to MoDA’s project she recently ran a three day workshop with a group of Middlesex students from BA and MA Crafts, run by Helen Carnac.

Part of Sarah’s method is to ask participants to slow down and take their time to really look at the katagami stencils. It’s easy to be over-awed by how intricate and delicate they are, but taking time to engage with them through close observation and drawing makes it possible to understand them on an entirely different level.
Students started the session by making drawings of some of the katagami from MoDA’s collections; then over the course of the three days they cut their own stencils, mixed a traditional rice paste to act as a ‘resist’, and dyed their fabrics using indigo.

The students found the experience extremely rewarding; it was an opportunity to learn new skills and also to reflect on the process of making and the ways in which the materials and techniques inform that process.

By the end of the three days everyone had made something they could be proud of. Luckily the weather was good so the indigo dying could be done outside the Grove building at Middlesex University, so as not to get blue dye all over the workshop space!

Sarah’s workshop demonstrated the intimate relationship between the materials, the skill of the maker, and the appearance of the end product. She’ll be writing up her reflections and findings in more detail soon.

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