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Akemi Nakano Cohn

June 2015

KATAZOME with Natural Dyes on Silk

Course Description
The most spellbinding kimonos derive their beauty from intricate imagery found within the natural world. Many popular images are portrayed through Katazome, a traditional Japanese rice paste resist technique that is applied to fabric through hand-cut mulberry paper stencils (katagami). In this workshop, participants will create images by experimenting with the entire process of Katazome: making rice paste & soymilk with traditional recipes, stencil cutting, application of a variety of natural dyes and mordant, then setting colors to complete the process. Mineral pigments will be demonstrated for details of design. In addition, tsutsu (like pastry cone) will be explored for free hand paste resist drawing. We will observe objects in nature from the surroundings of Shakerag, such as leaves, flowers, and branches, to get a sense of the Japanese aesthetic.

Skill Level
Open to all levels.

Artist's Biography
Akemi Nakano Cohn was born in Yokohama, Japan. She studied traditional Japanese dyeing techniques in Japan for ten years under the master Haru Izumi. She has an MFA in Fiber Art from Cranbrook Academy of Art. Cohn has taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as in workshops at Haystack, Penland, Arrowmont, International Surface Design Conference, and Zijdelings (Netherlands). Her national and international exhibits include the Museum of Arts and Design( NY), The Bellevue Arts Museum (WA), the University of Nebraska, and the Gallery Uesuto(Japan). She has been an artist-in-residence at Anderson Ranch and Ragdale Foundation. Commissions include the Unitarian Church of Evanston, Loyola University Medical Center, and At Home Company Ltd. She lives in Chicago, Illinois.

Artist's Statement
My current work focuses on a process of memory by applying various ways of using traditional Japanese rice paste resist technique. I discovered that the process itself is a reflection of the idea of my work. My work is made by cutting stencils through which dye is later applied. While working, I realized that the negative spaces of the cut-out stencils were traces of existence, which echoed my theme of a memory-induced world where plants, animals, and human beings co-exist respectfully. When I walk, I see traces of squirrels, birds, and other animals and vegetation in the snow-covered ground. The snow remains even though the animals are gone, but their footprints are proof of their existence. The snow becomes a record of their presence. Some traces, such as footprints on snowy ground, will melt away; some memories, such as the warmth of a hand shake or a delicious smell, are ephemeral; some traces remain as fossils; some traces of people remain as a memory in the mind.

Natural dyes are used to remind us of the flora and fauna of our environment. The flowers themselves may be gone, but the colors can be preserved by collecting flower petals and extracting dye materials and dyeing a fabric. The colors may not be exactly the same as the flowers, but they may remind us of their original source. The fabric then becomes a record of their presence. Nothing stays the same. Creatures in the natural world will disappear. I would like to capture images of ephemeral or transient moments in my work based on inner observation. Fabric and paper are used in place of snow. Cut-out pieces are the “footprints” in our memory. This is my medium for recording and expressing my thoughts.

Artist's Website

Supply List:
  • * pre-washed white/natural fabric (total of 2-4 yards) (silk works best, cotton or linen is less bright in dyes)
  • * 2 – 4 small and medium size nylon brushes (flat and round).
  • * 3-4 wide brushes (2”~ 3 1/2” wide) to paint background color.
  • * Sketch book/ notebook and pencil
  • * X-Acto knife or sharp pointed knife
  • * Masking tape
  • * Correction liquid bottle (e.g. White-out)
  • * Black felt tip pen (e.g. Sharpie)
  • * Disappearing marking pen or chalk to mark fabric
  • * Thin and regular rubber gloves
  • * Scissors
  • Old credit card or phone card
  • Thin or medium weight of cotton or cotton-poly blend fabric to cover your piece while steaming
  • * 5-6 Plastic or Styrofoam plates, or small tray (to use as pallet)
  • * 5-6 Plastic / Styrofoam cups
  • Newspaper (amount is approx. Sunday newspaper)
  • * 12” ruler
  • * Needle & thread
Optional supplies:
  • Hair dryer with extension cord
  • Pastry cone with tips
  • Mat for stencil cutting
  • Set of fabric stretchers or wooden frame to stretch fabric
  • Nylon net; approximately handkerchief size or 1/4 yard if you can get it
  • Textile paints e.g.
* Items marked with an asterisk* are available for purchase in the Shakerag store.

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