Forward Folding: An Interview with Kate Barber


Kate Barber, “Gather”, linen, pigment, 2016.

Interview with Kate Barber by Kaya Hill conducted via e-mail.

  1. On your website, woven shibori is described as: cloth that incorporates supplemental “gathering” threads used to pleat the cloth when it is off the loom. The Japanese verb root “shiboru” means to wring, squeeze, or press. Can you tell me about how you chose woven shibori as your medium for the pieces in this exhibit? Furthermore, how did you originally discover woven shibori, and what drew you to it?

In the last couple of years I have been experimenting with woven shibori, but without a concrete plan; I was weaving small samples and trying different weave structures, different fibers, dyes, and paints. So, when I found out last fall that I was slotted in to exhibit with AS220 in July, I had already started down the shibori path. However, before deciding what I would do for the show, I gave myself several weeks to just play with a few different ideas I’d been working on in my studio. The woven shibori kept calling to me, so I knew I was ready to create a body of work in this technique.

I took two workshops in woven shibori, first in 2001 and again in 2014. This technique is traditionally used in combination with dyeing to create colored patterns on fabric. It’s used less commonly to create texture. I’m a real texture lover, and I saw woven shibori as an innovative alternative to creating pleats, folds and bumps in fabic.


2 .In your artist statement, you write that you view these pieces as “metaphors for the human body.” Can you elaborate on why that is, and how you came to that conclusion? Did you have this view when you were coming up with the idea for the show, while you were making the pieces, once you had finished them, or any combination of the aforementioned? What attracts you to the idea or metaphor of the human body?

This idea occurred to me while I was making the pieces, and is tied in to my yoga practice. Forward folds in yoga compress and collect the body, and help quiet the mind. Actually, my creative process itself is like a forward fold: going inward, taking time to reflect and feel what is right as pieces evolve. So, I was holding this idea as I worked. Then, as I began to manipulate the pleated fabric – weaving, pleating, piecing, shaping and stitching – it came to me that the way the material behaved when compressed and released is not unlike the way the body compresses and releases in folding postures. What I especially love about the metaphor is that these pieces have a life of their own. Like the human body, they hold memories of their creation, and have a story to tell.


3. You also write that you work “experimentally and intuitively,” creating a “magical dialogue” with your work — tell me about your artistic process and the state of mind you are in when creating these pieces.

I try to keep the creative process as loose and playful as possible, especially in the early stages. Usually, I familiarize myself with materials and techniques by doing lots of little samples. Sampling always starts with the question: “what if…”? Anything goes during sampling. There is no finished product in mind, so there is no pressure, no judgment. I’m most excited by the little surprises that happen during sampling. These are often the things that I will develop further. I’ll take what I learn from sampling and begin to work in a more deliberate way, refining the samples, and doing some sketching and planning. This may ultimately evolve into a finished piece.

The word “spacious” might be a good way to describe my ideal state of mind while I’m working. I try to stay open-minded about where the work is going. And I try to be aware of how I’m responding – physically and emotionally — to each stage in the evolution of a piece. Of course, when I get really excited, spaciousness goes out the window. But that excitement is always a good thing.


Kate Barber, “Winged, 1-3” linen, polyester, pigment, 2016.


  1. Do you weave and dye the textiles yourself? How is it done?

I wove all of the textiles in “Forward Folding” myself, and dyed or painted some of the fibers. I weave on a floor loom, incorporating into the ground cloth supplemental “gathering” threads that are pulled and knotted once the cloth is off the loom. Pleats are set by steaming, and when dry the gathering threads are removed.



5. Tell me about your move from making scarves and shawls, to creating non-functional textile pieces.

At first the idea of making something to hang on a wall was really intimidating. After all, “art” is hung on the wall, and I wasn’t sure I could do that. But making something non-functional quickly became liberating. For example, I wasn’t restricted by the hand or the drape of the fabric, or how comfortable it would feel on the body. Ultimately, the shift wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. The skills and knowledge that I had developed over many years (at least 10,000 hours!) were simply put to use in a new way. Ideas came, sampling started, and all of the pieces started to come together. It just felt natural.


  1. Finally, you write about the “tension” and “energy” of the cloth, using that tension and energy to create texture and curves. Tell me more about that — about how the textile, in a way, guides you as an artist.

I’ll give you an example. I was sampling with a long, narrow pleated piece and I thought of cutting it up and stitching it back together in different ways. I wondered what would happen if I stitched once piece to another with the seam going along the fold on one piece, and against the fold on the other. When I did that, I was surprised to see how the tension in the pleated edge affected the straight edge: it pulled the straight edge down on either end, creating a curve. I hadn’t expected that, and I was delighted! Then I thought, what if I pieced several together in the same way? I did, and it got even more interesting. Pattern and movement emerged, and little sections of the fabric began to pop out gently at the junction of four seams, creating interesting surface texture. It really felt like a dialog, and the pleated textile was definitely leading the conversation.

Kate Barber’s exhibit Forward Folding is up through July 30th at the Reading Room at the AS220 Project Space, 93 Mathewson St. Providence RI. Gallery is open Wednesday – Friday 1-6 p.m. and Saturday noon-5 p.m. and by appointment.