My name is Catherine van Laake. I am passionate about textiles, threads and color. I began knitting and sewing when I was a young girl and later found spinning and weaving through my experience at Marygrove College in Detroit for Waldorf teacher education. Learning to spin, first on a drop spindle, then on a spinning wheel, made me feel as if I had done this in another lifetime. It seemed effortless. Since then, my passion for threads, yarns, color and weave effect, knitting and natural dyeing has led me into the rich world and cultures of textile design. Most of my life, I have studied hand weaving and have had the fortunate experience to belong to a handweaver’s guild in just about every city I’ve lived in. Via local hand weaver’s guilds I have taken many workshops and applied what I have learned through vigorous self-study. I have fond memories of my first weaving workshop through a San Diego weaver’s guild (some 30 years ago) with a Oaxacan tapestry weaver. It was a wonderful guild that offered great weekend workshops and I met several textile “buddies” there who became great friends and peer teachers. I focused my weaving on fabric for clothing and accessories and have specialized in silk weaving for about 20 years. Since I dyed all my own yarns for weaving, I was fascinated by the brilliance of color in dyed silks. When I did not have the time or space to weave, I was diving into the beautiful knitting books available during the late 80’s and 90’s.
In Portland, Oregon, I was a member of the Portland Handweavers Guild, and program chair for several years. The Portland Hand Weaver’s Guild was a source of great inspiration and friends as well. In Portland, I became very interested in natural dyeing after having dyed most of my yarns for weaving for 20-some years with chemical dyes. I was tired of the headaches that I got from dyeing, each time I dyed with synthetic dyes, and was becoming more concerned about the effects on my health. Being close to Earthues in Seattle which was an excellent source of natural dyes, I began my self-study into natural dyes. It was a slow beginning at first while I was developing my new appreciation of the colorways of natural dyes. After I got past my first failures, I began to appreciate the art of natural dyeing, much like the art of glazing a pot. There were many surprises, but after awhile, you begin to take pride in being able to repeat colors and get consistent results. When I wove with the new colors, they were beautiful. When I did shibori with natural dyes, the results were exquisite. For the past 6 years, I have naturally dyed hand knitting yarns and offered them for sale to both retail shops in the United Stattes and private customers in Europe.
I moved to Belgium in the summer of 2007, and have been adjusting to a new way of life, a new language and a life without a textile guild. I didn’t know how difficult it would be to live in a city without a weaver’s guild, something that I had always taken for granted. For the past several years, I have delved further into machine knitting, as I am familiar the loom and not at all intimidated by the knitting machine, even though I find it more challenging than weaving, at times. I have always loved making clothing and the knitted fabric affords the flexibility of shaping a garment while making the fabric that is not possible with weaving. Currently, I am combining the use of naturally dyed yarns with machine knitting.
Even though Flanders has a vivid and robust history of textiles, currently, the practice of textile handwork design (weaving, knitting, dyeing) is still on the wane (compared to England and other European countries). Textile mills are closing, textile programs are shutting down, funding is being reduced to a trickle, and we textile artisans are becoming a dying breed. New knitting groups seem to be cropping up around Flanders as of late. As far as I can see, Ravelry provides the main communication between the groups and a few other textile designers (weavers, knitters, natural dyers) and myself are trying to get the word out that sharing knitting and other textile arts are fun and enjoyable ways for people to enjoy spending time togeher. I am doing this by offering workshops in natural dyeing, shibori, hand knitting and felting. I am also beginning to offer natural dyes for sale, as well as supplies, yarn, and silk scarves for coloring and painting.
Through the study of weaving, knitting designs and natural dyes, I have learned the archetypal connection we as weavers, knitters and dyers have to each other around the world and the richness of our art as we express our cultures through our craft. Ultimately, my passion is to preserve these life-giving arts through the connections we make with each other and ourselves with our craft, the information we store in our minds and hearts, and the stories and techniques we pass on to the next generation.