indigo, inside and out, with bryan whitehead

indigo, inside and out, with bryan whitehead

By David Owen Hastings, guest blogger

SEATTLE WA  I’ve just returned from nearly a month in Japan…a dream trip come true! The main impetus for my trip was a 10-day Japanese Textile Workshop led by Bryan Whitehead in the mountain town of Fujino.

For 30 years, Bryan has been living and working in Japan, learning all aspects of Japanese textile arts from living treasures. He generously shares his knowledge and enthusiasm with visitors from all over the world.

Workshops are held in spring and autumn in his 150-year-old traditional farmhouse, which is filled with beautiful art objects, gorgeous flower arrangements by his partner Hiro, and textile apparatuses of all kinds.

Each day began with a “Bryan Talk” on things like the history of indigo in Japan. How indigo plants are grown, harvested, and processed to create the beautiful blue hue the world loves. The many forms of shibori bound-resist dyeing. Stencil dyeing and paste resist. Weaving. Silk production.

Bryan brought each topic to life with examples and stories of the people he’s worked with in Japan. Many times we had hands-on experiences, like gently processing a silkworm cocoon into a silk “hanky” which would later be spun into fine silk thread.

We spent a few days getting our stitched shibori homework finished up, and then started dyeing in the two indigo vats that Bryan maintains at his home. It was magic, seeing the white fabric get dipped—when it first comes out of the vat, the fabric is greenish, then the color turns dark blue as the indigo oxidizes.

Halfway through our stay, we learned about katazome, or Japanese paste resist dyeing. This is how the cotton fabric for all the beautiful blue and white summer yukata kimonos was traditionally dyed.

Blue hands and some iffy weather days did not deter our intrepid dyers: we all enjoyed every minute of it, including beating the dyed fabric in a nearby stream to release any unattached indigo pigment.

Special thanks to Patricia Belyea of Okan Arts for inviting me to join other fabric-lovers for this special experience. I’ve been fascinated with Japan my whole life, so it was a special treat to actually be there. I can’t wait to return and enjoy all the rich art and culture that Japan has to offer!

David Owen Hastings is a designer and artist who lives in Seattle. To learn more about David +click here