Sayonara, Japan!

My time in Japan was such a whirlwind that, despite my best intentions, I am just getting the chance to write about my experiences now that I’m back in the States.

For the first 10 days of my time there Fujino was my home away from home. And what a home it was!

Our group of 10 “Indigo Otters,” coming from California, New York, Texas, Russia, Australia, and our contingent of two from Wisconsin, met each other at a hotel in Tokyo and got to know each other as we traveled with Bryan by subway and train to Fujino, about an hour west of Tokyo. For the last leg of our journey we traveled by car through the twisting mountain roads to Bryan’s beautiful home, surrounded by terraced tea plantations, gardens, rivers and streams.

This 200-year-old silk barn has been skillfully reclaimed over the years by Bryan to become a center for the study of traditional Japanese textiles and a comfortable home for his students.

Front entrance flanked by indigo vats
Kitchen and third floor bedroom

It was cold and rainy for most of our time there, so Bryan’s beautiful bath house out back was my refuge at the end of the day. Like all the other rooms of the house, the dressing room had one of Hiro’s beautiful flower arrangements. After showering you remove the wooden lids from the tub and slip into the hot water of the furo. While soaking you can try to stay awake by watching out the window for a possible sighting of the local monkeys who come looking for ripe persimmons. (I never was lucky enough to see them but some people in our group did.) And then the icing on the cake is to slip into your bed that has been warmed by these incredible Japanese hot water bottles that Bryan had for all of us. It gets filled with very hot water and slipped into its drawstring bag made from recycled wool sweaters. The top gets tucked in with a kitchen towel before the bag is cinched closed and then slipped between your covers. This might be one of the best inventions EVER! That bottle was still warm the next night and I just had to replace about a third of the water every night to keep toasty warm.

For the next 10 days we lived, ate, learned and worked here together, sharing meals, stitching late into the evening, sharing knowledge and resources, dips in the indigo vats and lots of laughs.

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Oh, and we survived a typhoon together, too! More on that later….

For more information on Bryan’s workshops visit:




We’re here! It took a six-hour drive to Chicago, 12-hour flight to Tokyo, 90-minute bus ride from the airport, ten-minute walk to the hotel, and a 14-hour jump ahead into tomorrow, but we made it.

Thunder Bay is out there somewhere

Many of those hours on the plane were passed by making progress on another of our homework assignments, a stitched shibori linen piece that feels like it will take a lifetime to complete.

Mokume Shibori 

It will all be worth it once we are immersed in stitching and dyeing.  But first, a day to take in as much of Tokyo as we can.



October Gold and Blues


October is really pulling out all the stops here lately. The leaves seem to be turning more and more golden right before your eyes. The sky is so blue, that intense, deep autumn blue that seems reserved specially for September and October skies. Living in the midst of a sugarbush means a feast of color for the eyes and clean, crisp air for the lungs.

Indigo Smoothie

We’ve had a long grace period for the garden, only one frost so far, which is remarkable for this northern latitude. But two days ago we knew another was coming so it was time to harvest the last of my little bed of indigo, Persicaria tinctoria.

In contrast to the lengthy and exacting process needed to extract indigotin from the leaves to make a fermented dye vat, dyeing with the fresh leaf process couldn’t be easier. Cut the stems, strip the leaves from them, grind them well in a blender with ice water, strain the frothy juice through muslin, and voilá, the dye bath is ready!

With this juice I dyed a silk tank top I “rescued” from a thrift shop and a hank of a beautiful silk/cotton thread. They were massaged in the liquid for about 15 minutes while I listened to the Cubs beat the Washington Nationals (Go, Cubs!) and watched the maple leaves turning more golden. The teal blues you get from the fresh leaf process are so amazing and always so surprising. It’s that “magic” that keeps me hooked! To use up the last of the dye I added a rayon scarf that turned a pretty celery color.

Silk, rayon and silk/cotton thread dyed with fresh indigo

This is only my second fresh leaf dye vat but so far I’m seeing that the oxidation process is slower than with a fermented vat, the blues revealing themselves and deepening over an hour or so after being removed from the vat. I haven’t washed any of these articles yet and will be interested to see how much color remains once I do.

There’s a pot of transplanted indigo in our greenhouse now (thanks to my supportive master gardener husband) that will maybe, hopefully, live long enough to set seed, and a vase of stems in the house that will hopefully sprout some new baby leaves while I’m gone. So now there’s nothing to help me procrastinate from packing any longer, and there’s another Cubs game to listen to while I do.



Fresh Leaf Indigo Dyeing:

Indigo seeds (and much more!):

The gift of seeds, support and inspiration (thank you, Debbie!)



Eleventh hour

It’s not like the world really needs another blog or anything. I imagine cyberspace is already humming along quite well without my added megabytes. But I’m about to launch into a three-week trip to Japan to study indigo dyeing and shibori techniques, so this seemed like a good time to finally dip my toe into the blogging world and to have a way to share what I’m learning with friends and family, as well as other textile artists who like me have fallen in love with the magic of indigo.

And now it’s the eleventh hour, time to get the last tasks crossed off the ‘To Do’ list, pack the bags, and make the trek to Chicago for the flight to Tokyo. The 13-hour flight!

But first… homework.


One of our assignments was to design and cut three katazome stencils that we’ll use to apply a rice paste resist to our fabric before immersing it in the indigo vat. This is a new technique to me so I’m really looking forward to seeing how it turns out.