Dyeing to Weave: Catharine Ellis + Woven Shibori
Although I don’t like to do it often, sometimes falling down the internet rabbit hole for hours on end can be a rewarding experience. When I last fell into the digital abyss, I came up for air only to realize I had been on the computer for two and a half hours. Shameful. Thankfully, my watering, computer-damaged eyes were not in vain, for I had discovered something wonderful: Catharine Ellis and her shibori weavings.
Catharine Ellis, a fiber artist and teacher, revolutionized the textile world by popularizing woven shibori. For those of you unfamiliar with shibori, it is a fascinating dyeing technique similar to tie dye. In order to achieve a pattern through shibori dyeing, one must shape and secure cloth tightly prior to submerging it in dye. Shibori patterns rely on tension, which creates a resist so that some fabric is exposed to dye while other parts of the fabric are protected. Here’s an example of cotton that was shibori dyed with natural indigo. This piece was made with the classic process of binding and dyeing pre-woven fabric. It’s beautiful, but in my opinion it’s not nearly as exciting as Ellis’s woven shibori.
Catharine Ellis modified the concept of shibori by weaving the strings used for shaping and securing into the actual fabric, creating a uniformity in the final design that would be difficult to execute by hand. As Ellis weaves her fabric, she embeds a different, thicker strand into the piece that she later pulls to create tension in the fabric (the green threads in the photos below). From there, Ellis ties the strings to maintain tension and submerges the entire piece in a dye bath. Her entire process can be viewed in the following video:
Here are some still shots (from ellistextiles.com) of her process from the initial woven piece to the final dyed piece:
Seeing the beautiful final products of woven shibori has inspired me to be more adventurous and creative with combining my own technical skills. Ellis seems to be equally inspired by her own results as I am! She states, “Woven shibori has challenged all that I know about weaving and has led me to investigate new materials, resists, dyes and finishing processes. The fabrics I have produced include combinations of dyed cellulose fibers, wool felting and resist, permanent shaping with thermoplastics, and woven steel with heat treatment. Continued exploration of woven shibori and its applications will define and my guide my work for many years to come.” – Catharine Ellis, for Center for Craft, Creativity & Design