Experimental Archeology and Textile Design

The workshops are limited to a maximum of 12 persons each. We will try hybrid sessions and welcome both in-person and online participation.

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Between 2006 and 2011, 863 textile artifacts were recovered from excavations at Huaca Prieta in Peru. One fragment from this cache was dated to 6200 years and is now known as the earliest known use of indigo dye in the world. In January 2021, Karthika organized a lecture by Dr. Jeffrey Splitstoser, assistant research professor of Anthropology, GW University who studied and documented these textiles with an audience of approximately 400 people. He analyzed woven, twined, looped, and knotted structures with yarns made of cotton, cotton plied with milkweed, as well as cotton colored with yellow and red ochres and blue indigotin with multiple patterns and variations. The lecture led to the idea of experimental archeology to understand these textiles in depth. We are now ready to share our findings.

Each workshop is designed to stand alone. So you can either cherry pick the ones you are most interested in or pick all of them. Registration is on first come first served basis.

Note: Spinning is not as difficult as it may look. It is a wonderfully addictive skill like everything else in textile making.


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Some of the floral / botanical remains found at the site include Gossypium Barbadense (cotton), gourds of Lagenaria Siceraria and Cucurbita Moschata, Asclepias SP (milkweed), Equisetum and Juncus used for fuel and matting respectively. Several gourds of Lagenaria Siceraria were found with decorations and may have been used as containers and/or floats for fish nets. 80 kilometers away from the site, in the Jequetepeque Valley, iron-based earth pigments in red and yellow were probably sourced. Regarding the indigo, for lack of clear evidence of a plant yielding indigo dye we surmised that it could have been the naturally occurring Indigofera suffruticosa that grows wild in several parts of Latin America.

Catharine Ellis experimented staining yarn with ochres and Indigofera suffruticosa and has achieved results that are close to some of the colored yarns used in fragments from Huaca Prieta. She has devised a simple method that she believes may have been what she imagines could have been used. Karthika has been growing three plants (Gossypium Hirsutum in natural green and beige, Indigofera Suffruticosa and Asclepias Syriaca). Louise Wheatley, and Karthika have begun experiments in spinning cotton and milkweed. Karthika has begun twining on trial warps, and processing milkweed bast fiber. Dr. Splitstoser is closely involved and his availability for the project will depend on the next excavation at Huaca Prieta.

Goals of this project:

· Learn more about the processes and techniques that might have been used in pre-ceramic Huaca Prieta by replicating some of the fibers, yarns, dyes, techniques, and structures.

· Use this learning as inspiration for new textile design projects within the current needs of sustainability, environmental concerns, and the DIY movement. We will explore a range of fancy yarns. If there is interest, a few more sessions for design, warp and weave can be organized.

· This 4 day (+ 1 hour to touch base) trans-disciplinary workshop over the period of several months allows you to follow the rhythm of nature as our plants grow. It will also give you adequate time to familiarize yourselves with some of the techniques you will learn.

Catharine Ellis has been a weaver and a dyer for over 40 years. After three decades of teaching the Fiber Program at Haywood Community College in NC she is now dedicated to studio work, focusing on natural dye processes. She also does specialized, selected teaching, in the U.S. and internationally. Catharine co-authored the #1 book on natural dyes, The Art and Science of Natural Dyes with textile engineer and chemist, Joy Boutrup in 2018. She also wrote and published an instructional book, Woven Shibori in 2005.

Dr. Jeffrey Splitstoser is a researcher, professor and editor affiliated with the George Washington University. He has studied Andean textiles for over 20 years. His Ph.D. dissertation is a study of the Paracas textiles (ca. 850‒300 BCE) from Cerrillos, Ica Valley, Peru. An authority on khipus-colored-and-knotted-string devices that allowed Andean people to record information without writing, he co-curated the exhibition, "Written in Knots: Undeciphered Records of Andean Life" 2019, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.

Louise B. Wheatley is a textile conservator, spinner and weaver who started her career at the Textile Museum. Her tapestry weave textiles inspired by Coptic textiles from Egypt were displayed in the exhibition entitled, "Ancient Tapestries and The Art of Louise B. Wheatley", at the Baltimore Museum of Art in 2017. As a conservator, she has worked at Yale at Peabody in New Haven, the Walters Art Museum, the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood House and Evergreen House and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Read more about Karthika here.