By Michelle Baggerman

Walking out of an airconditioned building in Kyoto in August feels like walking into a wall. A thick wall of heat and humidity. Summer is definitely not the best time to spend a holiday in Kyoto. But when the opportunity arises to study and work with traditional Japanese silk producers with a group of students from different design fields from around the world, at a university with incredibly inspiring professors, suddenly the weather no longer matters when deciding on a summer destination. 

I’ve already spent two summers in Kyoto as a guest researcher at the KYOTO Design-Lab of Kyoto Institute of Technology (KIT), so I knew what I was in for when professor Julia Cassim invited me to facilitate a summer school program on textiles. With me to brave the heat were DAE students Vivi Ngyuen and Adams Ponnis and we were joined by a group of students and my co-facilitator Marion Lean from RCA’s textile department, students from KIT, Kyoto Saga University of Arts and Tokyo University, as well as professionals from the industry. Between us we covered product-, graphic-, textile-, fashion- and interaction design, engineering and architecture.

The summer school program took place over two weeks. The first week was spent in Tango peninsula to visit a range of textile producers and a textile research facility and learn as much as possible about their production methods and materials and do some first ideation under the guidance of professor Marie O’Mahoney, specialist in advanced textiles. The second week we spent working at KIT to prototype scenarios combining old materials and new technologies and old technologies with new materials, led by professor Anne Toomey, head of textiles at RCA. All the while gaining new knowledge about both old and new methods through lectures, demonstrations and excursions. 

After several rounds of brainstorming and ideation along the themes of surface, structure and scenario, the participants formed six groups with mixed backgrounds but shared interests, to prototype their ideas and build their scenario’s. Outcomes were very diverse,  with some groups focusing on new contexts of use, while others  dove deep into material development. Concepts presented in the end included the use of layered textiles for interior energy efficiency and comfortable living, ways to authenticate textiles and retrace their origins, and new uses for the protein sericin from silk to manipulate woven textile’s characteristics. 

Aside from the invaluable knowledge and experience the students gained from their participation in this program, the outcomes were also very valuable for the Japanese silk industry which is struggling to reinvent itself with the market for traditional silk products diminishing (70 % of silk produced in the Tango area is used for kimono) and competition from low cost producers overseas growing. 

Especially to those companies that have worked in similar ways for generations, it can seem impossible to both honour and break out of traditions. Design can play a role in overcoming this contradiction by carefully unwrapping old processes, reframing aspects of it and through research and prototyping demonstrate new possibilities that value and respect the old ways. 

The textiles summer school was organised for the first time this year and it has been a wonderful learning experience for everyone. Based on our experiences this year, we already started planning the next iteration of the program. When the heat returns to Kyoto, so will I and hopefully even more DAE students can join me next time. 

Many thanks to KYOTO Design-Lab and Kyoto Institute of Technology for organising and funding the textiles summer school and especially to professor Julia Cassim for initiating the exchange between DAE and KIT.

Published: 20-Oct-2017 16:17


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  • Textiles Summer School in Kyoto

  • Textiles Summer School in Kyoto

  • Textiles Summer School in Kyoto