Catherine van Laake, Shibori using Lac, Pomegranate Rind, and Logwood Grey on handwoven silk

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.

Shibori using madder on my handwoven linen

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.

Handwoven and dyed with natural colors by Catherine van Laake

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.


5 Responses to Portfolio

  1. curlysheep says:

    Hi Just found you via link on Kathy`s Bot Colours site. I am trialing her wonderful colours just now. I live in Tasmania Australia and just wanted to say how much I have just enjoyed reading your blog. I am also a natural dyer spinner ,felter knitter and mess maker. did I add procrastinator.
    I live on a large sheep farm and my special sheep are english Leicesters both coloured and white. We have in my husbands terms loads of real sheep Merinos.
    I am waiting for next June/July when the Nat Dyeing Sympossium is in just across the water for me in Melbourne Australia.
    Cheers from Down Under Jen

    • naturalcolor says:

      Hello Jen,

      So nice to hear from you, half way from around the world. I remember how I waited for 6 weeks or more for my first fleece to arrive from New Zealand. It was beautiful Perendale white, grey and black fleeces all in fresh grease. I bought my first spinning wheel for the occasion, and the moment it arrived in the mail, I was hastily putting it together, even with a splitting headache, just so that I could spin my new fleeces. Now I spin luxurious blends of merino/silk, silk/alpaca rovings because I just don’t have time to card the wool myself anymore.

      Oh, I wish I could go all the way to Australia to the symposium!! Don’t miss it. You’ll love it. The symposium in France was the best I ever attended.

  2. curlysheep says:

    Yes I understand about the first spinning wheel I remember doing similar. I also rarely spin greasy wool anymore. I also breed cashmere goats only a few these days by I did have 600 and I exported a lot to the U.S.A. in the late `80`s mostly to WA state. I also used to have fibre dehaired and spin and I had my own yarn made and mail order sold it.
    Then I adopted 2 human kids and did`nt do much for awhile plus cut down on the number of goats as they are physically very hard work.
    I have the Eng Leciesters to help save them as they are endangered. I am currently working on a colour pallet to sell the locks . A fellow breeder has had a run of yarn made and I am helping her with some dye colours as she can barely knit just wanted to do something with her wool.
    It would be wonderful if you could make it to Australia. Though it will be Winter and Melb is a bit chilly.
    I need to get around to putting some pics up on my Blog. I am also at art school doing a Diploma and the work load is bit heavy just now. Especially as my two daughters are studying as well. It is also lambing and calving season for us and a very cold Winter.
    Cheers Jen

  3. jskunstweven says:

    hi Catherine,
    Ik ben zo blij dat ik deze blog gevonden heb.
    I am a hobby weaver , living in west-flanders near Tielt. I will keep an eye on your blog.

    • naturalcolor says:

      Hello Jeannine,

      There’s so few of us handweavers in Flanders anymore. It is so nice to meet you. We have a bi-weekly knit/textile forum/salon at my atelier the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of every month. You are welcome to join us. I am changing the time to the evening, beginning at 5:30 pm. I have not done any weaving in a few years, because I have to finish setting up my 24 shaft compudobby, and I was afraid of the voltage difference from the US-Europe 110-240, that might blow out my computer part of my loom. But I miss weaving a lot and am gaining the courage to plug it in (there’s a tricky switch on the back, that I’m not sure I’ve adjusted correctly). I also go really fascinated by the knitting machine technology, which is quite sophisticated and have been busy with that for several years. We would love to have you join us and you can see my atelier.

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