Featured Artist Interview

Katrin Reifeiss

What kind of art do you make?

I consider myself an enthusiastic dyer who makes hand-dyed clothing and accessories one-at-a-time and also Limited Edition pieces. For my line Katrin Reifeiss I specialize in made-to-order Japanese Shibori and my WEAR UPSTATE line is focused on Limited Edition numbered pieces, usually dyed a solid color, inspired by living in upstate New York. 


Can you tell us a little bit about Shibori?

Japanese Shibori is a way of manipulating cloth to create patterns. The technique came from Japan, but you can also find similar techniques and patterns in Africa and India for example and most likely a type of Shibori that the Japanese then created into their own unique style, originated in China in areas along the Silk Road. I recommend wholeheartedly the book titled Shibori: The Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing by Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada, who runs the World Shibori Network (shibori.org It covers a great amount of history on Shibori and features techniques too. So again, it's about manipulating cloth to create patterns-- whether you're folding and clamping, you're binding with thread, you're stitching through one or more layers of fabric or wrapping fabric around a pole (you can use PVC pipe or I have an old garbage can I use that's a perfect cylinder.) So that manipulation of the fabric then creates a resist so when you dye it, a pattern comes out because the thread or the binding or the folding or the wrapping around the pole compresses the cloth, and where the dye can't enter that's the pattern.


How long have you been practicing this art form?

Since I first learned about it. I was at Massachusetts College of Art in Boston (MASS ART)-- great school-- I loved it. I still have some of the handouts my textile teacher gave me, from 1995!


Can you give us a brief description of your process? 

The process really starts with the design. I went into MASS ART as a painting major and came out as a fashion designer. With manipulating and dyeing fabric it felt similar to painting my own canvas, so I was able to blend my love of creating fabric patterns, then make my own fashion silhouettes with it. So I start with the rectangle or square that I base most of my designs on -- I am influenced by the silhouette of the kimono.  And since I focus on those two shapes, it frees me up to do Shibori patterns as the rectangle shaped fabric is like a blank canvas.  I can go vertically or horizontally with the pattern, or I piece the rectangles together in an interesting way and because the rectangle is a simple silhouette it lets the hand-dyed pattern really shine. 


I’m a one-woman business so made-to-order really works for me. Once a customer places the order, I immediately start to manipulate the fabric with the Shibori technique required. Then I dye the fabric, cut out the pattern, sew the garment together, and then ship it. From start to finish this process can take a couple days to a week, depending on my schedule. With Shibori, the way the dye enters the fabric is different each time making each piece unique. I started WEAR UPSTATE last year and it’s based on living here in upstate NY, in Beacon. WEAR UPSTATE is a collection of limited edition numbered pieces-- so maybe 2-5 pieces per silhouette. I've been starting to hand paint just a little bit which has been really fun and have been trying out clay resist techniques too, techniques I’d like to incorporate into WEAR UPSTATE. 


When is a piece “done?” Do you ever revisit “finished” pieces later?

Oh my god, yes! I definitely revisit finished pieces. I try to keep one of everything I ever create as a reference for future purposes. It's fun to look back at them and rethink a design I might be currently working on. They influence what I’m working on now. And also, I can be my own worst enemy. For example, the Shibori designs that I’m doing right now are this dot pattern and it sells very well. I love it, but sometimes I get into a little funk because I feel like it's all I do but it sells well so I think maybe people only like this one pattern. So then when I look back at my older pieces where I was creating with a variety of different Shibori patterns I'm like, “oh, maybe someone will like this pattern.” But then I'm like “no one's going to like that." I recently posted a dress I did in 2006 on my Instagram and I thought no one would like it, but people do! And that's why it's so good to have these older pieces to refer back to. To remind me that there is other stuff that I can do and I can be creative and people will respond!


So every time you make a piece you make two of them?

Well usually I always make a sample, something that I can wear. Sometimes I make things and then I never keep one for myself and I’m like man, I gotta remember to make an item specifically for me so I can wear it!  When I do make a sample I try not to sell it because sometimes if I do a pop-up, I might have a sample sale and sell all my samples and then I’m like, I didn’t leave anything for myself, again! So yeah, I do try to keep at least one of a special piece that I really truly love. I started working last summer with a small factory in Wappingers Falls, and you definitely need a sample if you're gonna be working with a factory so that they have a reference to refer to, and this is the sample I then keep for myself. 


So how does that work? What kinds of things does the factory do?

The factory last worked on silk tops with a v-neck in the dot pattern I had dyed on silk crepe. For the silk tops I do piece dying, not yardage, and I would cut the pattern at home and then drop off the cut pieces at the factory. 


How does your process change when you are working with a factory versus just by yourself?

It frees up a lot of time, because I am a good sewer but I wouldn't say I'm the fastest sewer. I love dyeing fabric but I do not need to sew it. But they did not like working with the silk and I agree it is not the easiest of fabrics to sew but I was really happy with what they did and I was going to start working with them for a cotton gauze dress order, but then everything happened (COVID) and the order was postponed. 


Where do you get the fabrics you use your dye on? 

I go through a lot of silk crepe! I buy fabric online and from suppliers in the City. All silks come from Asia, and the silk linen blends as well. Cotton and hemp - especially for my WEAR UPSTATE line-- I try to source from the USA and sustainable sources whenever possible.


Can you tell me about an important mentor or teacher you’ve had?

There really isn't one person. I’ve been looking back at my life at this time in the world and thinking about that question. I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by people that have always been my champions-- especially my family, my husband, high school art teachers. My teachers at MASS ART, my fashion design teachers, my textile teacher. I went to Paris Fashion Institute for a summer and the teachers there as well were so encouraging. These were all people that were my champions and really believed in me but also challenged me. I think you need both in your life, people that challenge you and believe in you. Also, learning from fellow textile designers has been super rewarding. I have taught Shibori workshops at various art centers and have meet awesome designers and fellow teachers who are open to sharing information and answering questions and some have become mentors too. I’ve taught at the Textile Art Center in NYC, Garrison Art Center and of course Fall Kill Creative Works! Everyone at Fall Kill is super talented and have been great. And I love the Zoom Open Studios on offer as I get to meet via my computer screen talented people who do ceramics to natural dyes. I’m in awe of so much talent and creativity and I like stepping out of my comfort zone by seeing and learning from other artists creating in fields like ceramics that I know nothing about. 


What is it that you love most about Shibori dyeing?

I love it all! I really do. I love the designing part, the manipulating of fabric…everything! I get really excited every time I start with a blank piece of fabric. Executing the Shibori technique-- from folding and clamping the fabric--  it can take 2-3 hours, and I love every moment of it. After washing out the dye and getting to open up the fabric and see the pattern-- that is awesome because it is a surprise each time. And I love working with my hands, I don’t know what I would do if I couldn't with my hands. 


Can you tell me about one of your fondest experiences in your artistic career?

Well, I do love to teach. I think it's so awesome when a student unwraps their dyed piece and their eyes go wide with joy, and they say, “hey, it works!” I love that people get so excited. 

My business all started with a skirt; I had done this skirt in college and I was wearing it one day in New York and this girl stopped me and said, “I love your skirt,” and it was a Shibori dyed skirt that I had pole-wrapped, aka Arashi Shibori. I was like, “huh, wow, that was so cool that somebody responded to something that I created,” and I realized I might have something here. So I remember that moment. I have had a lot of jobs-- in Paris, I had a job for a designer, doing illustrations in watercolor of her designs. So living in Paris for a few months was great, moving to NYC and working at Issey Miyake and being around his clothing was insanely awesome. So a lot of great fun moments, I really can’t think of just one great memory. 


How has your work changed since moving out of NYC to Beacon?

I’m definitely more interested in natural dyes-- we have a yard now and a garden. I haven’t started a dye garden yet, but hopefully someday. Fashion is a lot more relaxed up here, so that's why I created the WEAR UPSTATE line to try and kind of reflect that. I do honestly miss the streets of New York City, especially people watching, but I absolutely adore living in Beacon.


Why do you make the art you make?

Because I love to. And dyeing fabric, I get to create my own patterns and now I'm starting to paint on fabric and I get to combine my love of painting and fashion together. I don't know what I would do otherwise. I love history, so maybe I would have been a historian, but I really don't know what I would do if I wasn’t able to work with my hands. It’s just a part of me. 


What advice do you have for artists learning to fabric dye?

Take classes. Learn from someone. You can watch all the youtube videos out there on dying, but there is nothing like learning from someone one on one—especially being able to ask questions. But I do recommend watching videos, reading books, and taking online classes if you can't go to one in person or join a facebook textile group. Also, dye, dye, dye. Experiment on your own take notes on your dye technique or recipe-- everything from the fabric to the water quality to the timing. The more information you gather and document the better for you to refer back to for future purposes or realize, oh, that didn’t work, so let me change that part of the recipe a little bit. So dye, dye, dye and experiment!


Are there any other art forms that you enjoy or work with?

I do love to paint. I used to do large scale canvases with oil paints which I haven’t done in a long time and I do miss it. My last series of paintings focused on the hexagon which I think is the most amazing shape. My love of shapes I think is also why I like Shibori so much because I am dyeing with techniques to create resist shapes on fabric. I do get out my watercolor sets every now and again just to have fun. I also keep a sketchbook always on hand just to jot down ideas and sketch.


Who is an artist you are especially enjoying right now?

There is a muralist I follow on Instagram, @holalou, who does these beautiful graphic pieces and I love the colors. And then there is a designer from Spain, Ulises Merida-- I love the colors they're doing right now. And I always have a soft spot for Oscar De Larenta-- I love the colors they are doing for fall and winter. I am madly in love with Iris van Herpen, she creates these beautiful designs that actually move as the person walks-- they are like architectural mobiles. I have always had a fondness for Sol Lewitt and I love his line paintings, Forms and Pyramid Series and his Wall Drawings. 


How has the quarantine affected your art making?

It's affected my thoughts about creating and what I'm designing. I've been making masks for local emergency workers but what's affected me most is my emotions about what I do. I have second guessed: what am I doing? What designs am I making? Am I making items because I think they will sell, or am I not exploring and expanding my horizons enough? Is this the time to realize I really gotta live life? And the biggest question I’ve been asking myself is do people need more clothing right now? And I do realize that creating brings me personal joy, and my studio is my happy place, but again it has made me thoughtful about what I create. I’ve always been made-to-order business and now in addition I sell small amounts of LE pieces so I never felt that I was wasting fabric or dye or water as I do not keep inventory as I am only make items that have been sold. But really this pandemic has made me think about the materials I use and if I actually need to offer 5 to 6 styles. 

I think fashion designers and brands should consider if they need to offer 30 pieces in each collection per season. It isn’t just about the number of garments made, it’s the farming practice to make that material. The material – cotton, flax….-- has to travel to a mill, then the fabric is shipped all over the world, then shipped to a factory to be made into clothing, then distributed to stores worldwide. Then what happens to that garment once the wearer is finished with it? What is the farming practice like for the raw material? Are workers paid a living wage? Is where they work safe for them? What is the carbon footprint of the number of miles the fabric and garments have to travel to finally arrive in the customers hands?

I think about what in life and of course what in fashion brings me personal joy, but want to make sure that what I am creating is moving forward in the right direction for the environment, that it is sustainable and if it is even necessary.


Where do you go to get inspired during this time? (Online websites or accounts? To books?)

Gosh it could be the color I see-- right now I am dyeing a shirt in madder and marigold that is inspired by the sunset over the Hudson River. Also through exploring and experimenting with Shibori and other resist techniques. Also the artists I mentioned prior inspire me-- it could be an Ellsworth Kelly black and white piece and if I love how his graphic piece tilts 30 degrees to the right, maybe that would be cool if a Shibori pattern went over the shoulder tilted that way.