What I’ve learned in Ikebana flower class…

jbryanArrangements, Learning Opportunities, Tools1 Comment

So for the last 6 weeks or so, I have been attending a weekly Sogetsu Ikebana class that was offered through the Smithsonian Associates here in Washington, DC. Not only was it a fun outing with like-minded flower friends, and a nice way to unwind after a long work day, it taught me concepts that I have struggled with for years when it comes to good arranging in general.

Ikebana, and Sogetsu in particular, is a very precise flower arranging style, or technique. Lucky for us, our teacher, Jane Redmon, is experienced, well trained, and kind. She is a talented and accomplished technician, and she made the prospect of learning this foreign concept seem very possible. She did a superb job of guiding us along in our journey, but I still hit some bumps.

Here is what I experienced as class progressed.

I walked away from my first of the six classes, not sure if I had “really” learned anything, and chafing a little at the structure of everything, and the minimalist approach. I wasn’t being cocky, it just seemed so, I guess…spare is what I would call it. I am a huge fan of lush, large, full (you pick the adjective) arrangements and working with only a few stems seemed, well, kind of incomplete.

And all the rules! I have never been one to follow rules, and lean more towards being a rule breaker/bender….(Just ask my parents).

We worked with a small number and limited variety of stems. “Only one kind of flower and one kind of green,” I thought to myself, “It’s going to look awful!” …long story short, it didn’t look awful, it just looked different. Different isn’t awful.

Week 2-4 I found more challenging, as there were specific degree-d angles to place our stems and there were stem heights to respect, and vocabulary and variations on a theme. If this, then that kind of stuff. I was glad I had the hand outs.

I was still chafing a bit at the structure and the angles and the lack of ingredients, but then I started to notice something…. on Day 2 or 3 after my lessons, my arrangement would catch my eye and as the flowers in it opened, it really allowed the flower to shine in the display. The sheer volume and quantity of stems were not there to distract my eye from the lovely individual flower I chose to have in my arrangement. It was nice! I liked how they looked and started thinking more about the individual stem, rather than the mass of ingredients I usually work with. A minimalist approach.

My complete transformation to Ikebana fan, occurred quite unexpectedly. As many of you know, I am a long time volunteer at the National Cathedral, working each month on a grand scale to arrange flowers. The big daddy in terms of scale is the High Altar, and this past month, it was our assignment to do High Altar.

In opportunities past, this high profile assignment often made me nervous….. there were many flowers to use, the size was immense, and I wanted to do my best work, and not mess anything up. I did not have the confidence that I was going to do OK. I would overthink it and become overwhelmed and more times than not, leave at the end of the day not particularly liking the work I had done. It was with this history, that I set out to tackle this big job.

We had Yellow Snapdragons, Fuschia Gerbera Daisies, large and small dark pink Carnations, Queen Anne’s Lace, Italian Ruscus, Lemon Leaf and Star Gazer lillies. I loved what we were working with as they were cheerful and happy colors and blooms.


From the get go, I felt good about what I was doing, and something clicked so that my eye was more conscience of the space a flower took up and I thought more about the space it did not. My eye seemed to know exactly what space a bloom should take in the arrangement and where it needed to be. I can only attribute that to the lessons I had been receiving from Jane, and the focus on the principles of Ikebana and the Sogetsu school. In this particular instance, for sure, I learned that less is more.

Here is our finished product from the Cathedral:




Here is one or two shots of the work we did in class:







My last class was last night, and I feel very good about what I have learned. If you would like to learn more about Ikebana, there are sites here and here.

If you are interested in the classes that we took through the Smithsonian Associates program, check it out here. A short while back we posted about a show that used the Sogetsu Ikebana technique at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria.

Here are some handy for the unique tools that are used in the practice of Ikebana arranging, and places to buy them, but I must confess I found my flower frogs at a flea market, used the scissors and vases I already have, and spent hardly any money at all on this project:

Kenzan flower frog

flower frog

Ikebana containers

ikebana container 3 ikebana container 2 ikebana container 1

Ikebana Shears

ikebana shears

Ikebana is not something that you can teach yourself really, but there are lots of books out there that can guide you. If you are interested in the practice of Ikebana, I would encourage you to learn more and take a class…I found it to be incredibly worthwhile!

jbryanWhat I’ve learned in Ikebana flower class…
  • Kathy Fuller

    Hello! I’m with the Smithsonian Associates and just discovered your wonderful blog post and pictures from our Sogetsu Ikebana class with Jane Redmon. Could we have your permission to use some of your class photos to promote the class? If so, please also supply the photo credit information for us to print alongside the image. Many thanks! Kathy Fuller, Program Coordinator, Smithsonian Studio Arts fullerk@si.edu