A Stitch in Time Saves Art for Future Generations

Caught in a brief spell of February snow, Erin Castellan stays warm in meaningful textiles.
Portrait by Karin Strickland

Erin Castellan was exposed to the full spectrum of textile art by her mother, “who was involved in natural dyeing, spinning, knitting, quilting, [and later] weaving.”

Yet when Castellan went off to art school herself, “I tried just about every [other] medium,” she remembers, briefly settling on graphic design because she felt compelled to study something that might lead directly to a career. 

Left to right: Peggy, Spring, What What

“But I wanted something more hands on, and eventually chose textile design as a major,” says the Rhode Island School of Design graduate. Early on, Castellan began developing a dual path, creating painted fiber wall art as well as custom sweaters and other clothing. “My studio-art practice and knit business have grown in tandem over the years. One would not exist in its current state without the other,” she declares.

It’s an organic kind of intersection. “I’ve incorporated machine-knit fabrics into my art pieces, and recently I’ve been making one-of-a-kind, painted and embroidered [apparel].” She adds, “My two loves are colliding more than ever.”


Asked when she decided to assume the risk and become a full-time artist, she replies, “I’ve been a full-time artist my entire adult life — I’ve just always done it on top of other full-time jobs!” Seriously, though, “I suppose I took a bit of a leap in 2018, when I left my job as Art Department Coordinator at Warren Wilson [College].”

 Sweater (erineleanor)
Photo by Karin Strickland

With more time to devote to studio work and expanding her knit business (under the brand erineleanor), she considers deeper implications: “We are becoming increasingly divorced from the physical world by slick screens and quick images. I craft [works] that promote slow viewing experiences.” Castellan talks about “intimate  engagements” and notes that her imagery rises from personal narratives — the memories embedded in any repurposed piece of cloth. “At the same time, [the finished pieces] are firmly present with lives of their own,” says the artist. Her nonfunctional series emotes like abstract painting, with the added gestures of texture and tactility. 

Castellan and her husband, Bill Coates, a wildland firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service, live in a home they built on two acres near Penrose, an unincorporated community in Transylvania County. She’s teaching painting and drawing this spring at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock, plus a class at Local Cloth in Asheville.

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She’ll share the slow-viewing aesthetic that begins, for her, in the studio. The artist says her compositions are never planned in advance, but develop over time. There’s a lot of arranging and rearranging, collaging and cutting apart in search of the emerging visual illusion. Recent works incorporate thread, yarn, and beads. 

“I’ve made pieces using curtains from my childhood home … and beads I inherited from my grandmother. I prefer materials that have a bit of history to them.”

Erin Castellan, Penrose, erinecastellan.com and @erinecastellan_studio on Instagram. Castellan will be part of a group textiles show, Warp and Weft, showing in the Lower Gallery at Blue Spiral 1 from Friday, March 6 through Friday, May 1 (38 Biltmore Ave., Asheville, bluespiral1.com). She will teach a one-day workshop, “Expressive Drawing With Thread: Moving Beyond Tradition” on Saturday, March 21, 10am-4pm, at Local Cloth (207 Coxe Ave., Asheville). See localcloth.wildapricot.org for pricing and more information.

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