Behind the Scenes with Chicago's Chelcie Wudtke of Elytra Textiles
Chelcie Wudtke of Elytra Textiles (pronounced el-uh-truh) is a Chicago-based textile designer specializing in small batch and custom hand-woven fabrics. I stumbled upon her work through Instagram and was immediately drawn to her color palette and unique designs. Fascinated by her process, I reached out to Chelcie to capture her in her element and to hear more about her story.
Where are you from, and where do you live?
I was born and raised in Woolsey, GA - a tiny town outside of Atlanta. At age 18, I moved to Chicagoland for college and never left! My husband and I currently reside in the North Center neighborhood of Chicago. I love this city, and ever since I visited as a kid it was always a dream of mine to live here.
What does ‘Elytra’ mean, and what is its significance to you?
The word Elytra (pronounced el-uh-truh) is a term that refers to the protective covering of certain insects' wings. Namely in beetles, the elytra is an important shield for the delicate wings when not in flight.
Insects have this complex beauty that I'm drawn to aesthetically, but beetles in particular hold a special significance to me.
I once read that ancient Egyptians used the scarab beetle symbol to represent the inevitable change and evolution we must all experience in order to grow emotionally and spiritually. It’s something I think about often, so I decided to name my business after it.
Tell us about your background in music and how you landed in textile design.
Growing up, music was my outlet and passion. I initially attended college for vocal jazz, but quickly realized the music industry was not a place I wanted to be a part of long-term. So, after two years of college, I dropped out, stayed in the city of Chicago, and took three years to figure out what I wanted to do. In this time, I began making things with my hands. I tried graphic design, letterpress printing, sewing, book binding, and really anything I could learn for free or figure out on my own. I decided to go to art school (SAIC), and was drawn to the energy and detailed processes of the textile department. I tried weaving, and that was it. I had found my thing, something my brain and hands not only understood, but were challenged by.
When did you start your own business, and how was it clear you should do so?
I started Elytra Textiles in 2013 during my final year at SAIC. Weaving had become so important to me, I knew it had to be be something to keep pursuing - whether it meant becoming a full time thing or just a side hobby. Creating cloth from a mere cone of yarn became an outlet that gave me so much satisfaction, so I just kept weaving.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
My aesthetic is nature-inspired minimalism. I aim to create timeless pieces that embody a calm and cozy lifestyle.
What are your favorite pieces to make?
I love weaving anything that has a repetitive pattern, but with an occasional disruption. It keeps me alert and interested.
How did you find your loom?
I began searching locally for looms on Craigslist and weavers guild websites. I found my girl Penelope (yes, it’s my loom’s name) from a wonderful woman in the suburbs who decided she had one too many looms in her home studio. I bought it with my tax return money and it’s still my favorite possession!
It sounds like you had a wonderful professor at SAIC who instilled in you a few foundational principals and guideposts for textile design. Would you share some with us?
I feel lucky to have taken beginners weaving from Jerry Bleem at SAIC. For a school that wasn’t so focused on perfecting a skill as much as having an artistic concept, he made sure we knew the technicalities of weaving. He instilled in me the importance of precise detail that’s required of planning a textile pattern and organizing threads to become cloth.
What inspires you?
Nature, minimalism, and anything that gives me a sense of calm.
What's been inspiring you, lately?
Monochromatic palettes and texture over contrast.
How would describe your creation process? What do you enjoy about it?
Every step in the weaving process is detailed and repetitive, and I happen to love that. From winding a warp, threading the loom, and finally to weaving, it’s a process that requires patience and skill.
I love the meditative quality of each step, but especially when the actual weaving begins. I get into a rhythm with the loom where I’m ‘in the zone’ and completely present. I struggle intensely with anxiety and dissociation, and the only activities I know without a doubt that will ground me are yoga and weaving.
What are you working on right now?
I’m in the process of creating home textiles instead of just scarves. I recently finished designing and weaving a blanket that looks like a blank sheet of notebook paper. The whimsy in such a minimal design is so up my alley. More of those to come, as well as hand/face towels. It’s much more my speed to design for the home since it’s my favorite place to be.
Is there a piece you'd like to make?
I’d love to collaborate with a leather worker to create bags or shoes out of hand woven fabric.
What are some of the most important lessons you've learned over the course of running your own creative business?
The number one lesson I’ve learned is to just keep going. Even when you feel no inspiration, keep showing up to your studio (or your dedicated corner or kitchen table turned into a workspace). When you don’t know exactly what you’re creating, keep your hands busy. Because something beautiful will be born out of that sheer desire to make.
Another hard lesson for me has been that although I make everything for my business myself, it does not mean I can do everything. I’m an introvert and have to be reminded of this constantly, but connections are key to professional and personal growth.