On Campus with Kaino: Shingo Sato Workshop Jumpstarts Creative Thinking

I discovered Shingo Sato’s unique take on fashion/surface design just as I was planning my MFA show this year. I needed to break a design-block that had dropped in on me like a thick London – or in this case Sacramento – Fog.

Seeking deeper instruction than his free YouTube videos provide, I was fortunate to attend a workshop with him on April 2, 2011 at the Hotel Rex in San Francisco. A cozy conference room provided quickly filled up with attendees, home sewing machines and pattern making tools ready to follow along with the Japanese designer’s complex-looking pattern process.

For the uninitiated, Shingo Sato is a fashion designer who sculpts using cloth as medium for his swirling reconstructions. Though Sato has achieved international fame, many are still unacquainted with this Japanese designer who frequents the highest circles of art & fashion. He applies his surface design aesthetic and methodology (called Transformational Reconstruction or “TRpattern Design“) to pret-a-porter, haute couture and one -off custom designs sold worldwide (especially in Japan and Italy) under his own label.

In addition to his design mastery, Sato is a gifted instructor at many international colleges, such as London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art, Parsons Paris School of Art and Design, Milano Accademia Brera Belle d’Arte and Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo. Plus he (very notably) believes in sharing his inspirational teaching, which is why he has posted several fascinating YouTube videos for all to access at no cost.

Though I found the videos helpful, I decided to attend his first USA workshop, in part because it was made possible by SDA member Sandra Ericson (Director of the Center for Pattern Design – see below), a talented and highly acclaimed designer and workshop instructor in her own right. I had attended a previous workshop she offered with Julian Roberts, a British designer known for subtraction cutting methods. It was outstanding – so I knew Ericson excelled at identifying visionaries and making their workshops available.

Upon arriving at the workshop, I met my classmates-for-the-day. They included college professors, independent fashion designers, fashion designers for famous companies, other college students, and avid home sewers (mostly west coast + 2 from New York) which made for some great networking! Sato’s wit and humor won our hearts. Though his English was choppy and heavily accented, he clearly communicated his pattern making methods via the visual/universal language of the demo.

Follow the process via the tags on the images I’ve provided here. See Sato’s design toiles (muslin process samples) of a hood-ruff, a swirling skirt, and a bodice with heart sculpture. The YouTube link above shows how Sato creates one of his spectacular Origami Dresses.

Note how the surface design shapes are drawn directly on the muslin with sharpie or felt pen; then notches and numbers are added; then the intricate shapes are cut as muslin pattern pieces by adding seam allowances. These are taped together to check pattern accuracy quickly – without taking time for the tedious sewing stage and Viola!: Sato’s process for arriving at final patterns.

A finished dress is shown in at right. Note the classic bodice with sculpted seaming over lower torso. Sato reduced the complex-looking haute couture styles to single steps so the class could follow easily. He checked that each of us understood our first attempt at his TR method. You can check out more images from that workshop on the Center for Pattern Design website here.

Sato also offered tips to ease the difficulty of sewing the intricate curves and swirls of miniature convex and concave pattern pieces since we were working at half scale for the day. He was consistently humble in communicating his vision and meticulous about connecting his methods to existing/traditional pattern-making processes such as adding and subtracting fullness and manipulating darts. He repeatedly encouraged us to take his techniques and push them beyond the limits of his own work, reminding us that the possibilities are limitless.

My fog was lifted and I left the workshop re-inspired!

If you find yourself facing a creative block and have only a day or a weekend to spare, try any of the workshops offered by Center for Pattern Design. CPD’s events are rare educational/vocational treasures that spark inspiration – especially for surface designers interested in the sculptural nature of pattern-making. They very effectively deliver continuing education in short, powerful bursts!

Shingo Sato will be coming to USA/Bay area again in September (2011) to conduct more classes. Students will have another opportunity to design and complete a ‘TR’ (Transformational Reconstruction) garment. Check Center for Pattern Design website & newsletter for more information.

E. Kaino Hopper has just completed her MFA at the University of California/Davis. A seamstress for many years, she designs an award-winning clothing line called It Works For Me for women with both lowered and full mobility.

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