Catharine Ellis
Natural Dye: A Focus on Protein Fibers and Printing

Session One - June 10-16, 2018


Course Description
This class is intended to focus on the best practices for mordanting and dyeing protein fabrics and fibers, including both wool and silk. Bulk dyestuffs and extracts will be used as well as some local plants. There will be discussion of dye selection and methods of testing dyes for longevity.

We will work with both mordant dyes and natural dyestuffs that can be treated as acid dyes without mordants. There will also be experiments with middle mordanting on silk, color mixing, and color gradations. An organic indigo vat will be used to complete the palette of color.

Emphasis will be placed on experimentation, process, and accurate record keeping. Each participant will build a reference notebook of samples and processes for future reference and use. Small individual projects may be dyed at the end of the week as time permits.

This class will stand on its own or can be combined with Natural Dye: A Focus on Cellulose Fibers and Printing in the ensuing week at Shakerag for a more comprehensive overview of natural dye practice.

Artist's Biography
Catharine Ellis has been making textiles for over 40 years. Her work most often combines both weaving and dyeing. For the last 10 years her focus has been primarily on natural dyeing, and she continues to research and develop new applications for the use of natural colorants in her own textiles and for her teaching. Catharine is the author of Woven Shibori, (Interweave Press, 2005). An extensively updated version, released in 2016, focuses on natural dyes. She is currently collaborating with Joy Boutrup on a new book: The Art and the Science of Natural Dye (Schiffer Press). Her work has been exhibited in venues worldwide and she teaches internationally.

Artist's Statement
My mom taught me how to bake. We made cakes from scratch and I learned why the butter and sugar were creamed and how the eggs helped with the leavening. There was “science” in our kitchen, though I’m sure that my Mom never saw it that way. She just knew how and why things were done and the correct sequence. I credit my love of the natural dye process to those first kitchen experiences. I’ve learned how to apply a mordant, when to use a tannin, and the importance of using the very best ingredients. Each process or dyebath has its own distinct smell. Each plant requires its own treatment, and I’ve even begun to grow some of my dye plants.

My dye studio is a place where experiments happen every day. The cycle of experiencing, learning, and teaching causes my work to grow and evolve in ways that I am never able to predict.

Website: Catharine Ellis

Supply List:

  • A couple of old towels for cleaning up
  • A protective apron or smock
  • Scissors (for both paper and fabric)
  • A loose-leaf binder
  • A roll (or two) of double stick tape
  • Fine point black sharpie marker
  • Protein textiles for class experiments will be provided for the entire class but you many want to bring some of your own raw materials (fibers, yarns, or fabrics) that are typical of your own studio work for experimenting. Be sure that they are clean and that raw fiber has been scoured if necessary. If bringing raw, unspun fiber, please include a net bag. Protein includes silk, wool, alpaca or other hair fibers.
  • Dried dye plants that you might have gathered (or grown) and may want to experiment with.
  • Rubber gloves (long enough to come up well over the wrist)






Catharine Ellis

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