Adventures in Japan

My interest in silk production took to me a rural village of Fujino in Japan.  For hundreds of years, Fujino was home to families rearing silk worms and spinning silk thread from cocoons.  It's a gorgeous place, behind layers of mountains(and fog on this particular day).  But it is surprisingly close from the bustle of metropolis, about one and half hours outside central Tokyo. Steep slopes were cultivated to farm tea shrubs and mulberry bushes were grown to feed hungry silk worms.

As the fog rolls over the mountain, novices are hard at work squeezing indigo out of spun silk threads.

Indigo workshop run by Bryan Whitehead is located in a traditional Japanese farmhouse.  Bryan is Canadian born textile artist who's been living in Japan for past 25 years.  While staying at Bryan's, I spent magical 11 days working with and watching experts of Japanese crafts at work.

Silk cocoons.  Indigo stained finger nails

Cocoons are boiled and silk thread is spun from them.

Fermented indigo balls are results of months of hard work raising indigo plants and slow drying & fermenting indigo plants.  These balls the the basic ingredients of deep blue of Japanese indigo blue.

Healthy indigo vat with glorious indigo flower on the top.

Beautiful skeins of silk threads, all hand spun, all hand dyed with natural dyes.

Bryan does everything the old fashioned way, no matter how time consuming it might be.  This means raising his own silk worms, growing and harvesting mulberry shrubs to feed the worms, spinning silk from cocoons, growing and fermenting his own indigo.  Spun silk is dyed and woven into fabrics using one of the traditional looms stationed at his farmhouse.
Moth visitor at farmhouse.
While staying at the farmhouse, I saw a few huge moths flying in and around the house.  As results of years of silkworm rearing in the old wooden house, the ever present moth pheromone residue constantly brings wild moths into the house.  I saw this moth, the size of a sparrow hanging out just outside the mudroom.

Katagami, ombre and shibori experiments in blue

at the indigo vat.

Mr. Noguchi is 7th generation Katagami artisan. I got to visit his workshop and saw old indigo vats and the aged workshop.  I also got a chance to dip dye some of my designs at the workshop.

Old loom at the farmhouse was a wonderful teacher.  I wove a small piece of fabric from silk threads dyed with indigo and persimmon tannin, 

All together now...I asked everyone at the workshop to show me their indigo stained hands.  It's not everyday you get to see many beautiful hands together at one place.


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