Saturday, 30 December 2017

Japanese Textile Workshops in England

Spring and autumn are busy seasons here at the farmhouse. The actual workshops are the easy part. Work from morning until night making sure the guests are drenched in the history of Japanese textiles and techniques.  That is my life work. 

I spent my 30's and 40's learning how to grow and process Japanese indigo and become a solid indigo dyer using traditional Japanese techniques. I spend those years raising silkworms and reeling the cocoons using natural dyes and weaving cloth on Japanese looms. How much pleasure did I get from early mornings in the indigo and mulberry fields and late nights feeding silkworms and reeling and spinning silk? The years of study in the villages around here were magical and so have the years of teaching and sharing what I learned. Hopefully I will have a healthy longish life and can continue to share my knowledge and skills until the end. 

Projects and history and creating to use the time I have with the students effectively and efficiently. (Without exhausting them!) This is the life long challenge.

Keeping everyone wined and well fed is a logistical party. It is good fun to shop with the 'let's-play-textile-retreat-management-gang' knowing how appreciative people will be of the fresh fruit, snacks and beer. Much of the salad stuff is grown right outside the kitchen door. We smile as we plant and weed.

The house is huge and needs to be spotless and tidy. The gardens around the house need care and the wild parts of the mountains that border the land need some taming as well before the guests arrive.  The house needs to well stocked with materials for projects and more. The tea fields need tending and the indigo and mulberry fields need love. I try to do as much as possible by myself but need help from friends and staff.

I love bringing the guests up the steep driveway on the first Monday of the workshops knowing that all is in order, there is a welcome fire going. Lunch is waiting. Their rooms are in the freshest order. The pets are washed and fluffy. There are flowers in every room. 

Then it is time to enjoy the workshop  with a group of (most often!) creative and wonderful people.

After a few months of this in the springs and autumns a survival habit materialized of having a suitcase and tickets ready to go, to make my way out of Japan before the indigo vats stop spinning from their last stirring.

This November/ December the tickets were to Zurich and then up to London. Then the train up to Glasgow and then upwards to the Isle of Skye for some solitude. 

I was asked to lecture and teach at West Dean College in Chichester, West Sussex. They held a Japanese culture week where I taught katazome and shibori techniques while trying my best to bring in some kind of Japanese context to the very un-Japanese atmosphere.

West Dean College is situated in the 6,350-acre (25.7 km2) West Dean Estate, of West Dean near Chichester. The Estate was formerly the home of the poet and patron of the arts Edward James. He was an avid admirer of the Surrealist movement, and formed one of the largest collections of their works during his lifetime. He inherited West Dean House and the estate after the death of his father, William Dodge James.
In 1939 Edward wrote to Aldous Huxley, expressing his fear that after the war, certain arts, particularly the techniques of the craftsmen, would be lost. As a solution, James suggested that his Estate be set up as an educational community where the techniques of craftsmanship could be preserved and taught, whilst restoring old work and creating new art works. In 1964 James conveyed this Estate including West Dean House to the Edward James Foundation; in 1971 the Foundation established West Dean College as a centre for the study of conservation, arts, crafts, writing, gardening and music, providing both full-time and short courses. The Sussex Barn Gallery, Tapestry Studio and West Dean Gardens are also located on the Estate.

The facilities and the students were first class. Intelligent, witty, worldly and talented. Thank you ladies and Rob (Leafytails alumni)

The week long courses offered to the public are excellent. 

Managing to catch a nasty bad UK cold which put a damper on my adventures for a while. There were a few Leafytails alumni I was wanting to meet badly (Blandina and Carole and Annette). West Dean invited me back to teach and I will make sure to visit a few leafytails indigo otters around England in 2019. 

I squeezed in a few days in Liechtenstein to visit Barbara and Martin. ( The original Leafytails alumni from 20 years ago!) We had an impromptu tea ceremony with Barbara's students. They were special. It was a one time, at a special place, at a special time meeting that left a special imprint on our hearts. Tears in my eyes thinking of how well Barbara and I work together and we only manage to do so only a few times every three years. 

Mark was a special guy who brought his mother and father and best friend to the farmhouse three years ago to study. (Honour Leafytails Alumni)  He took the train all the way up from Italy to Liechtenstein for a visit in the snow. Thank you Mark.


New Years Eve almost here. Wishing everyone the best for 2018. 



  1. Happy New Year to you also, Bryan. You are always welcome to the San Francisco area. We could arrange a wonderful thing for you.

    1. Dear Tobie, Dreaming of some time in California. I was offered some work in LA. Maybe I can do some work in both. Best for the coming year. One down and hopefully only three left to go...

  2. Happy new year! Beautiful photos. I've really enjoyed the blog this year.

  3. Tears. Great post; good for the solitude jealous that you saw Blandina.will you have 10 minutes next year to see me?
    Much love for you and Hiro .great adventures for 018

  4. Hi Neki,
    I was sick as a dog for three days and didn't get a chance to see Blandina. My goal was to make it up to Sheffield and that just floundered as well as I shivered and sneezed. Ah...I'd like to spend a few months in the UK next time. Speak English for a change and visit friends. Best for the new year Neki,

  5. up, up to the Isle of Skye, it all sounds wonderful except for the nasty English cold. I always dreamt of going to West Dean, maybe in my next life! Happy, healthy, creative new year to you, Hiro and the critters.

    1. Skye is swamped wth tourists in the summer. No one there in the winter...rain and cold and desolation and beauty...a lot like the Pacific Northwest... I'm warping that alpaca today. Best for 2018. Sell the house and budget your money out for 30 years and go travelling. Love Bryan