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Portland Japanese Garden Textile Workshop Attendees Use Learned Skills to Craft Gift for Volunteers

A woman holds a denim apron that she has embroidered designs on.
Monica, a student at Portland Japanese Garden’s textile workshops, holds up an apron she embroidered for the horticultural support volunteers of Portland Japanese Garden. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.

In addition to its beautiful and authentically designed grounds that introduce Japanese landscape architecture to hundreds of thousands of guests every year, Portland Japanese Garden is a cultural institution that offers a variety of different programming so that people can learn more about the gifts of Japan through design, art, cuisine, and more. Among these programs has been a series of textile workshops led by artisan, U.S. Navy veteran, and former Oregon College of Art and Craft instructor Judilee Fitzhugh.

A woman embroiders a denim apron.
Judilee Fitzhugh, textile artisan and instructor, concentrates on stitching a pattern onto an apron that will be used by a Portland Japanese Garden horticultural support volunteer. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.

For several years now, Fitzhugh has introduced a variety of Japanese crafting, dyeing, mending, and stitching methods to her students including the loose and playful chikuchiku and the formal and precise sashiko, as well as sewing techniques to fashion bags, stitched postcards, and happi (loose-fitting casual cotton jackets). Sue Reynolds, a member of Portland Japanese Garden’s Board of Trustees since 2021, has been a workshop attendee for two years running, describing Fitzhugh as a “rock star instructor.” Simultaneous to the most recent series of workshops in early 2024, Reynolds also attended a book club organized by the Garden’s volunteers. “During the meeting, one of the horticultural support volunteers told me that her group was hopeful that they could get uniforms like many of the other volunteers have,” Reynolds notes. “This got me thinking!”

A group of women stitch patterns into denim aprons.
Students of the 2024 textile workshop with Judilee Fitzhugh work on stitching patterns into aprons that will be worn by the horticultural support volunteers of Portland Japanese Garden. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.

Horticultural support volunteers, commonly known as “hort volunteers” within the organization, generously donate their time to help the Garden Department with a multitude of tasks, including weeding, raking, sweeping, and clean-up. “After getting approval from Garden leaders, including [Garden Curator Hugo Torii], I passed along the idea of crafting something for the hort volunteers to the ‘circle of stitchers,’” Reynolds notes, referring to her classmates. “I immediately heard back from ten people who said they would be happy to help stitch something. Can you believe it? Ten out of 15! The only ones who couldn’t participate had day jobs or lived outside of Portland.”

  • A woman stitches into a denim apron.
  • A woman stitches a pattern into a denim apron.

“I found denim aprons, which seemed to be the most practical item, since they’re durable, washable, and have lots of pockets for their tools,” Reynolds continues. “Amazingly, Judilee volunteered her time for this project! She even provided needles and a special thread used specifically for sashiko stitching. All of us together stitched patterns on the aprons and then dropped them off at the Volunteer office.”

Related: Learn more about Portland Japanese Garden’s volunteer program

The group effort of the “circle of stitchers” was greatly appreciated. “It was inspiring to see a group of embroiderers come together and use their creativity and skill to create such a special gift for Portland Japanese Garden’s horticulture volunteers,” shares Sarah Lynch, Volunteer Programs Manager. “Hort volunteers do so much to care for and improve our garden spaces and it’s wonderful to have their hard work acknowledged by members of our community. I’m grateful to Sue for spearheading this project and providing these one-of-a-kind aprons that make our volunteers feel appreciated.”

Sue Reynolds, Board Trustee for Portland Japanese Garden, looks on at an apron her fellow classmate embroidered for the horticultural support volunteers. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.

“The group had a great time together,” Reynolds concludes. “We are reconvening this fall to stitch some more for the Garden—we’re interested in adding a lantern patch to the aprons, one that will replicate the Peace Lantern. We’re also planning out something for the gardeners with a mending project using boro [a Japanese approach to extending the lifespan of textiles]. So, the fun continues! It has been great: Our friendships are deepening and it’s exciting to help strengthen the connection between Portland Japanese Garden and the art forms it teaches our community.”

Textile workshop students, back at Portland Japanese Garden to embroider aprons that will be used by the organization’s horticultural support volunteers. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.

To learn more about the recent textile workshops hosted at Portland Japanese Garden, click here. If you would like to attend the next workshops and be kept up-to-date on all of our exciting programming, make sure you subscribe to our weekly e-newsletter, where details will be shared when they become available: