Long Thread Podcast: Catharine Ellis

Season 5, Episode 7: Inspired by a class in traditional stitched shibori, Catharine Ellis put her own spin on the ancient resist-dye technique: using a loom to create a pattern for gathering, dyeing, and revealing a design on handwoven cloth.

Anne Merrow Sep 10, 2022 - 3 min read

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Catharine Ellis loved planning weaving projects, but once the warp was on the loom and the design decisions made, much of the discovery was over: with decades of experience, she knew pretty well what the finished project would be. She wasn't bored, exactly, but ready for a new direction in her weaving.

Taking a class with shibori master Yoshiko Wada, she was intrigued by the way carefully placed stitches could be drawn up into pleats that became a dye resist. The traditional method does require a lot of stitching, though. Was there a way to combine the techniques and tools of handweaving with the concepts of shibori?

That question became the basis for decades of sampling, exploration, and collaboration. Exactly what a woven shibori project will look like is only revealed when the gathering threads are removed, so there is an element of suspense until the entire process of weaving, crimping, and dyeing are complete.

With a retirement from her longtime teaching position pending, Catharine began to consider her dye practice. The school's dye facilities—and waste water infrastructure—would be inaccessible, so her dye process would need to take a rural water supply and septic tank system into account. In classes with natural dye master Michel Garcia and collaborations with Joy Boutrup, she honed her skills in creating a range of natural colors on cellulose fabrics, especially cotton, which are considered especially difficult to dye. Her second book, The Art and Sciece of Natural Dyes with Joy Boutrup, has become the essential resource for predictable, safe, colorfast natural dyeing.

Catharine Ellis's artistic practice and teaching link traditional textile practices with contemporary innovation.

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Handweaving.net is the comprehensive weaving website with more than 75,000 historic and modern weaving drafts, documents, and powerful digital tools that put creativity in your hands. Now it's simple to design, color, update, and save your drafts. Our mission is to preserve the rich heritage of hand weaving and pass it down to you. Visit Handweaving.net and sign up for a subscription today!

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The Art and Sciece of Natural Dyes
Woven Shibori. The Studio Formulas Set for The Art and Science of Natural Dyes : 84 Cards with Recipes and Color Swatches (publishing in 2023) Catharine Ellis website
The Dyer's Handbook: Memoirs of an 18th-Century Master Colourist Yoshiko Wada