MFA Craft Practices at West Dean

Craft Practices

MFA Craft Practices

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Applications open
Duration: Two academic years (36 weeks pa) full time course
Location: West Dean
Scholarships and bursaries - see available funding

The Master of Fine Art (MFA) Craft Practices at West Dean College is a two-year full-time masters course designed to support you to further advance your practical, theoretical and professional skills, through an emphasis on specialist studio practice. You are likely to already have a well-developed craft practice but want to spend a further period of time specialising and refining your core concerns and creative ambitions.

Our MFA Craft Practices focusses on the making of objects or artworks using traditional and contemporary craft techniques, materials, and processes. It combines the skills and knowledge of traditional crafts with contemporary design principles and artistic expression.

Craft Practices encompass a wide range of material knowledge, including ceramics, woodworking, metalworking, textiles, willow, paper, as well as inter and cross-disciplinary practices. Craft often involves the use of both traditional and innovative materials and techniques, such as recycled or found objects and digital fabrication in the creation of unique and original works.

Craft Practices often reflects broader cultural context, addressing social, environmental, ethnographic, and political issues. Makers may explore themes such as sustainability, identity, consumerism, or the preservation of traditional craft practices through their work.

One of the distinguishing features of contemporary craftmaking is the emphasis on individual craftsmanship and the artist's personal voice and expression. Artists and artisans working in this field often push the boundaries of accepted techniques, experimenting with new techniques, forms, styles, and ideas. They may incorporate elements of abstraction, conceptualism, or other contemporary art movements into their work, or research ancient lost-making methods, resulting in objects that may be both functional and visually compelling.

On this programme you will be encouraged to explore interdisciplinary practices, as well as those focused on a single discipline area such as furniture, clock making, musical instruments, tapestry, bookmaking, small and large scale metals and ceramics. You will benefit from sustained periods of studio-based activity, alongside developing your critical reflection towards a dissertation in the second year.

Learning environment

  • Individual studio spaces
  • Excellent staff-to-student ratio with regular tutorial support
  • Specialised lectures, seminars and workshops with regular visiting lecturers and artists 
  • Expert support from workshop technicians
  • Professional development - gallery visits and other external events
  • Contact with a regular series of professional Artists-in-Residence
  • An immersive environment with a large applied arts collection and rich connections to art history, particularly Surrealism, through the legacy of College founder Edward James

You can expect

  • Support in consolidating studio/workshop practice to a high standard
  • Access to facilities, workshops and expertise for the fabrication of artifacts relating to the individual student's ambitions.
  • Individual studios and outdoor facilities make it possible to realise ambitious work
  • Opportunities for innovative approaches to studio practice so conceptual ideas can be tested and informed using selected media
  • To develop originality in the application of knowledge, together with a practical understanding of how established techniques of research and enquiry are used to create and interpret knowledge in craft practices
  • Systematic understanding and critical awareness of current debates in contemporary craft and art practice
  • To develop an aptitude for professional practice, independent research or employment, including opportunities for public exhibition

Interdisciplinary study

Students are encouraged to collaborate with other College departments, particularly the full-time programmes in Fine Art and the School of Conservation, making the most of the wide range of specialist knowledge, materials and equipment that is available.

Course Structure

Course units

MFA units include

  • Studio/ Workshop units run consistently throughout the MFA programme
  • Creative Research Strategies - with access to relevant collections and archives to develop new work and supporting research
  • Craft Research and Criticality - lecture series with support in research skills
  • Professional Practice - supports you in preparations for the Summer Shows and onward into creative practice, including workshops dedicated to Makers Statements, documentation, profile building, curator/buyer-led critiques as well as relevant media and marketing


You will have access to our specialist workshops, 8.30am-9pm, 7 days a week*. Collaboration with other craft, art, design and conservation practice specialisms makes for a uniquely enriched learning environment.

Facilities include:

  • Individual workbenches for each student
  • Access to the full range of metalworking and woodworking facilities in the adjacent departments
  • Digital photography facilities for the production of photographic records and documentation

The on-site Art and Conservation Library puts thousands of specialist books and journals within your reach, and you can access specialist databases in the IT suite.

Access to short courses
Students can access over 700+ short courses to develop particular skills and techniques. If places are available at weekends during term, students are encouraged to attend free of charge (there may be a charge for specific material or model fees) or can book in advance at a reduced rate.

House, Grounds, Collection and Archive
The House and Estate offer ambitious exhibition opportunities and unique research material, and students can submit site-specific proposals throughout the year.  The Edward James Collection is an outstanding resource, giving students access to significant works of art and historical objects.

West Dean Tapestry Studio
One of the world's leading producers of hand-woven tapestry, students have close contact with the expertise of Master Weavers and designers and access to the studio's Dye Rooms, a specialist facility for the dyeing of yarn. Find out more about the professional Tapestry Studio.

Exhibition Opportunities

Each year students stage a series of public exhibitions, including pop-up exhibitions, an annual fundraising exhibition and the celebrated Summer Shows that are held at the College and one other location. Through these, students develop skills in the requirements of exhibition management, such as production, installation and marketing.

As well as being encouraged to exhibit externally, both locally and nationally, during their studies, students have the unique opportunity to propose installations within West Dean House and West Dean Gardens. Project proposals are encouraged to reflect the rich heritage of West Dean and the legacy of College founder Edward James.

Artist-in-Residence Programme

The Artist-in-Residence programme sees a series of professional artists and crafts people living and working onsite, amongst the students. They enrich the creative learning environment by offering tutorial sessions with students as well as public presentations on the work produced during the residency and their wider practice.

School of Arts Residencies

Fees and funding

Course fees are the same for UK and international students

  • £4,160 per term (£12,480 per academic year)

Lunch, accommodation and other living expenses are additional. Find out more

A £250 course fee and £200 accommodation deposit (if residential) is required to secure your place. Details will be provided to you in your offer. Fees are billed termly in advance. Please see the Terms and Conditions for further information.

We may routinely increase our course fees from year to year for one-year courses and may review and change such course fees without notice.

Scholarships and bursaries are available.

Find out more about funding

Entry requirements

The following qualifications will be considered for entry on to the MFA programme: 

  • A good Honours Degree 2:1 or above or equivalent qualification in Craft, Design or Fine Art or related discipline 
  • Relevant work experience in an arts-related field which demonstrates the ability to study at a postgraduate level 
  • Portfolio: including evidence of current practical work, including sketchbooks and evidence of critical writing. An appropriate level of engagement with current debates in contemporary arts and making is required 
  • English language: CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) Level B2 or IELTS 6.5 

How to create a portfolio

Do you need help creating a portfolio to apply for one of our Art, Design & Contemporary Craft courses? Read our portfolio advice to learn about the general requirements, what we look for in a good portfolio, and what it should reflect.

How to apply

Applications for this course can be made by submitting a completed application form and emailing it to: [email protected].

Any questions?
Email [email protected]; call us on: (01243) 818 300 and select option 1, or read more about our Admissions processes.


Commendations from the University of Sussex include:

"The high quality student experience and strength of student representation within the College."

"The changes to units so they draw on and make use of specific collections within the archive."

"The linking of theory and practice, and delivery of theory by studio technicians."


Tim Bolton, Head of School of Arts at West Dean

Tim Bolton MA RCA, FRSA

Tim Bolton is an Artist, Educator. He is currently Head of the School of Arts at West Dean College having previously been Head of Programmes at Dartington and prior to that Vice Principal at Arts University Plymouth. Tim’s research interests are split between understanding and developing creative pedagogy and supporting endangered craft skills, nationally and internationally.

Dr Nicholas Pyall Musical Instruments Tutor at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation

Dr Nicholas Pyall

Subject Leader - Musical Instruments

Nick makes instruments that are inspired by the Viennese guitars of the early and mid-nineteenth century, including those with extra bass strings, and by mid-twentieth-century North American guitars.  He is currently Subject Leader for the FdA Historic Craft Practices - Musical Instruments.

Arnaud Giral

Subject Tutor - FdA Musical Instruments

Arnaud Giral completed his violin making studies at the Newark School of Violin Making in 2004. He then moved to Montpellier where he focused on viols and baroque violin making. His dedicated approach to historical instruments and his attention to gut strings has led him to work for numerous specialist musicians and renowned early music ensembles.

Shem Mackey tutor at West Dean College Credit Jack Lawson

Shem Mackey MA

Master Craftsman Tutor

Shem Mackey is a founder member of the British Violin Making Association (BVMA) and founder editor of its newsletter. His research into instrument construction has been published in The Strad, Early Music and various publications of the BVMA and Viola da Gamba Society.

Daniel Pateman specialist teacher in furniture design and craft at West Dean College

Daniel Pateman

Subject Leader, Furniture (and Related objects)

Daniel designs and makes furniture to commission inspired by the principles of the arts and crafts movement which had a profound influence whilst serving his apprenticeship at the Edward Barnsley Workshop in Hampshire. He has an affinity for using hand tools and how they creatively contribute to the making process.

Phil Lyons, Subject Tutor for furniture courses at West Dean

Phil Lyons BA BAFRA

Subject Tutor

Phil is a BAFRA accredited conservator/restorer based in Buckinghamshire. He has twenty years experience in private practice running a small business providing a professional conservation/restoration service. 

Dale Sardeson, Tutor at West Dean College

Dale Sardeson

Subject Tutor, Clocks (and Related Objects)

Dale Sardeson is a subject Tutor, Clocks (and Related Objects), professional clockmaker and conservator based in West Sussex. Dale is an accredited member of ICON (the Institute for Conservation).

Tim Hughes, clocks tutor at West Dean College

Tim Hughes

Subject Tutor, Clocks (and Related Objects)

Tim Hughes MBHI, clock maker, trained at West Dean College and works as a clockmaker and scientific instrument restorer, and as external consultant at Bellmans Auctioneers. He has received several awards, including the Trustees' Prize while at West Dean College and a QEST Scholarship. 

Kate Jennings - Metals tutor at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation

Kate Jennings

Subject Leader, Conservation Studies specialising in Metalwork

Kate's background includes practicing as a solicitor before making a career change to train as a blacksmith and specialist Metals Conservator. She earned an MA in Conservation Studies from West Dean, following which she founded a small business specializing in the conservation of forged and architectural metalwork.

Philip Sanderson

Subject Tutor - Tapestry, Fine Art
Studio Leader - West Dean Tapestry Studio

Philip Sanderson is Leader of the Professional Tapestry Studio and a Subject Tutor on the MFA in Fine Art. He is also the Tutor for the Tapestry Foundation Diploma and a short course tutor. During his time at West Dean Philip has translated the work of a number of artists into large-scale tapestries including Marta Rogoyska, John Hubbard, Tracy Emin, and Eva Rothschild. 

Joe Orchard - Furniture tutor at West Dean

Joe Orchard

For the past 18 years, Joe has honed his skills as a traditional craftsperson, creating exquisite bespoke furniture pieces. His work has received the prestigious Guild Mark Award and has featured at esteemed events like Masterpiece London.

Leszek Knyrek, Books tutor at West Dean College

Leszek Knyrek

Subject Tutor Books and Library Materials

Leszek gained his Diploma in Bookbinding in 1997 and has been a Master bookbinder for the last 25 years. More recently he became a qualified book conservator. He has been in private practice in London and Poland as both a bookbinder and more recently book conservator.