Journey to Japan: Learning With a Master


If you've been following along then you know that my long-awaited trip to Japan finally took place this year. The trip involved two days of sight-seeing and shopping in Tokyo, followed by a ten-day workshop hosted at Bryan Whitehead's farmhouse in Fujino. To put into perspective how unique and special this opportunity was, you should understand a bit about Bryan.

Bryan lives in a small mountain village just outside Tokyo. He grows his own crop of Indigo every year and processes the leaves into dye using traditional methods. He breeds silk moths, raises the silkworms and reels/ spins the silk from the cocoons. The silk is then dyed with natural dyes and woven on traditional Japanese looms.

Needless to say, learning from him, in his native work space and home, was an opportunity of a lifetime.

An experience like this trip is best put into words with images. I have so many captivating pictures from this journey that I've decided to split them into two "chapters" — our time learning with Bryan and our adventures around Japan. Consider this Part One with Part Two shortly following!


There is so much incredible beauty in Japan's landscape... You could literally just sit and take it all in for hours. This is some of the countryside surrounding Bryan's home in Fujino.

Every morning of the workshop we would gather for a lesson with Bryan. He would show us things like stitching methods, how to wrap things, and would share antique fibers and fabrics with us. Every morning was an adventure in knowledge of Japanese culture and society.

This is one of the beautiful antique fabrics that Bryan shared with us. The detail and intricacy are simply gorgeous.

Below you can see what a cake of Indigo looks like... That is Indigo that has been harvested and processed and made into a cake form. Next to it is one of Bryan's Indigo vats — he has two huge crockery vats, about 30 gallons each. Because we were a large group he added two more made out of garbage cans so we'd all have space to work and learn during the workshop.

Hiro was our chief cook and made incredible meals. Everything was fresh out of the garden or from the market that day. Here he's showing us bamboo shoots that had just been picked that morning. The one in his right hand was just picked, and the one in his left had been peeled.

During our stay we journeyed into Fujino to an Indigo grower and dyer. He showed us his Indigo seedlings, as well as the Indigo he was composting from the previous year. Here you can see the wooden bucket he used with burlap covering the compost and the Indigo in the center. The heat coming from it was incredible!


On the right you can see his Indigo vats, which were sunken into the ground so that they weren't effected by the winter cold as much.

And this is just Bryan foolin' around with Jo as she's dying items in the Indigo 🙂

Below you'll see that after we had dyed our items in the Indigo and everything was oxidized, several people would take them down to the river. Here you'll see Bryan and three ladies from the workshop, they rinsed the Indigo out and then beat the items against the rocks. That removes the excess Indigo, and also pounds it into the fabric.

During one of the workshop days we took two trains to get to a town to visit a stencil dyer. He is a sixth-generation stencil dyer and has been doing this his entire life! He demonstrated how he uses stencils and a rice-resist paste which is put on the cloth, dried, and then put into the Indigo. The result was breathtaking stencil designs on cotton cloth.

We worked with the paste and used our stencils as well as some of his to explore and practice with. You can see Kris below washing the stencils, and how many kinds we had! That was a wonderful day and we got to come home with samples of fabrics.

There was a young woman who came almost every day to help Hiro with our meals. One day she wore a dress that she had made, including most of the fabric it was made out of.

You can see the beautiful design on the back of her dress — she created it herself by doing all of that intricate stitching, then dying it in the Indigo to get that wonderful design. Simply stunning.

This is a piece of fabric that Bryan had... I'm going to reproduce this design this year! It won't be an easy project, but this fabric is beautiful and I can't wait to share my finished product.

And finally, here is our "End of Our Time" photo. We all wore something we had created as you can see. Down in the front are Bryan and Hiro, they were probably ready to see us go home but none of us wanted to leave, we had had so much fun and such a wonderful time there!

This trip was truly one to remember and memorable in so many ways...

Stay tuned for more photos from this incredible trip coming soon.

To see where I'll be headed next, you can check out my itinerary here. Want to learn what I was taught in Japan?

Sign up for one of my classes, join me at my studio or invite me to teach for your group!

About Debbie Maddy

I am a quilt designer, fabric designer, author, lecturer and international traveling teacher. I love sewing, quilt making, jewelry making, fabric dyeing, cooking and traveling to teach. I especially like meeting new people ..... Seeing old friends.
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