We’ve loved Kathy for many years now. Both of us are followers of her books and she’s provided us with so much inspiration. When we saw the wonderful Horizons collection we jumped at the chance to stock it. Amanda caught up with Kathy to ask her about her inspiration, quilting and fabric.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am an obsessive quilter. Not a day goes by that I don’t sketch or stitch a project. My life revolves around the process of making quilts including working with customers daily, writing patterns and books about quilting or teaching, organising events or traveling to teach. Other than that I have three sons that are in their 20’s that aren’t one bit interested in quilts but we find ways to communicate…generally about music. My husband has been a professional photographer all his life and as a result he has given Material Obsession a beautiful presentation. About two years ago he moved into the business full time as it had grown too big for me!
You are an American who has been living in Australia for several years – how does that influence your quilt designs?
I grew up on Ohio playing in fields and forests that surrounded our home. I then went to college in West Virginia which was also a great place for outdoor activities but then, after college I moved to NYC and discovered a new world of color and deisgn. I worked in advertising, fashion and then was involved with SWATCH Watch USA as a start up company. I remember being surrounded by creative people and wondering what it was that my hands were supposed to be doing. I had a sense there was something but didn’t know what. Then when I moved to Sydney and started a family the idea of sewing took over my life. It filled the lonely places that were once filled with my family and friends in the USA. It gave me a path to creative expression but just as importantly, it gave me a community to belong to. I am dedicated to the community of quilting and to encouraging people to be creative.
My designs are reflective of the colourful environment here as well as the many artists that surround me daily. The teachers and staff at Material Obsession are all amazingly creative and have shared ideas and techniques with me for the last 15 years. I owe a lot of quilters for sharing their skills so that I can grow my own!
You have a shop in Sydney, Material Obsession. How did that come about?
Surprisingly, Material Obsession was born more out of need than skill. I couldn’t find a shop that had what I wanted. I had never worked in retail before and did not know as much about quilting as I probably should have. I knew from the moment we opened the door on the first day that my customers would know more about techniques than I did. However, what I had was a fearlessness to use color and design as I saw it and that was attractive to customers that had been told what to do and exactly how to do it. Big blocks, scrappy style and so much more was very new 15 years ago and we grew quickly. Originally it was a partnership but in 2008 I became the sole owner. I surrounded myself with very talented women that have become my best friends and co-workers. We work, play and travel together. It is a tight team that values honesty, friendship and creative endeavours. The spirit of Material Obsession is something that I am very proud of today. I think of it as a place where people can come to be creative and feel comfortable trying new things.
Has your style of quilting evolved over the years?
Absolutely! I think I worked with squares for 8 years. Then I discovered triangles and did that for a few more years. I have mastered a lot of different techniques over the years and that means that I can work out how to do almost anything. I am surrounded by fabric and that is generally what inspires me.
In the beginning I wanted to do everything fast. I think now that I have pieced enough quilts and am now drawn to slower processes. I am also more interested in self expression than technique so applique is very interesting as it allows for my own shapes. I like doing projects that have a bit of a story line in my head and applique allows me to play around a lot more than piecing.
I am also interested in art quilts now more than ever. In some ways it seems to be the evolution of committed quilters. Once we have experimented with a variety of techniques the story takes over.
Your style is both patchwork (piecing) and appliqué, which both compliment each other beautifully. Do you have a preference for either technique?
I think I just like the mix. There are days when I just want to piece and see what happens but at night I like to sit and sew quietly…so I guess it is all about managing time. I talk all day long in the shop so it is nice to have a quiet activity for the evening.
Your handquilting is beautiful! Is this something you prefer to do as opposed to machine quilting?
I would prefer to hand quilt all my quilts but have not got enough time for that anymore. I just bought a Simply Sixteen so that I can get some of my shop quilts done on time. With that I want to develop my own style as well. I like that it is like drawing with stitch. I don’t like that I need lots more practice!!!
Patchwork and quilting and indeed, crafting in general, has made a resurgence over the last few years. Why do you think that is?
Crafting speaks from and to the heart. In a world where things seem to go haywire with hate I think that falling into a community of craft reminds us that we are human. We have common bonds with other crafters that make conversation easy….sharing rewarding. Communities all over the world break down due to technology and general business but when we make time to make we recreate a world where small things matter and time is measured with reward.
Moving on to your fabric designs, what do you enjoy about being a designer for Free Spirit?
I made my business using FreeSpirit designer fabrics so it is an honour to be part of the designer team. It is as the name implies…a place to be an individual. I love color and lots of it is a natural fit.
What is the starting point for designing a collection of fabrics? Is there a particular part of the process you enjoy?
I start by drawing with a pencil in my sketch book. I have a big look around and see what is interesting. One idea leads to another until the story develops. I think I like that part the best but then when the next part starts, the adding color and working out the details of the collection I like that…and then when the sampling arrives…well I like that the best. With Horizons the best part was how much every body loves it!!!
We are very excited to stock your new collection Horizons, due in February 2018. How do you go about promoting a collection – does it always include a quilt design?
I just do what I do. Make quilts and talk about it. I also have given sampling to my favourite designers like Wendy Williams, Marg George and Rachael Daisy. Knowing they want to make samples with my fabric is always a thrill.
Finally, many people in the UK (not least us!) would love to see you – do you have any plans to visit here one day, maybe at the Festival of Quilts?
Thinking about it…seriously thinking about it. Just need the first invite and when that happens we work out a tour….hint hint.
Here more from Kathy herself in this short video…