Quilts, embroidery, travels, and more

It’s been a long break on this blog – in the meanwhile, it became 2016, and good golly it’s now March!

I’m sure it looks as though I’ve just gone off to a warm and beautiful place where I sit on the beach and soak up the sun. I sincerely wish but – no. There has been lots going on in the background. Some weeks I’m so busy I can barely finish anything in a near-timely fashion (ahem) and yet things never feel done. And then, too, I’ve been rethinking and re-envisioning a few things that are integral to my life, career, and business.

project bag

A few weeks ago was winter break in New York and we went on a family trip from Nashville to Ne Orleans. We left the morning of Saturday, Feb 13 and before our flight I’d just managed ship out a sample for a deadline. Whew. I think I need better time management skills. Or maybe just no illnesses and a husband who doesn’t travel so much. In what little I do on social media I try to pretend that that part of life doesn’t exist. So let’s stick to the fun stuff that Facebook and Instagram is made of, shall we? (Sticking to what reality is made of is markedly less pretty.)

So, back to our trip. We flew to Nashville and drove through Alabama, stopping in several places to see friends, all the way down to New Orleans. It was a great trip, in so many ways.

Before we left I was feeling rather burnt-out and ambivalent about a few things I’ve been doing. Indie pattern designers now cover nearly every sewing niche and to be honest, I’ve backed off from a couple of pattern releases during 2015 because I simply didn’t feel that with everything else out there, my patterns were unique and special enough to give you all something of real value. The upcoming girls’ Sage pattern is not one of these! Progress has been glacially slow but it really is coming, I promise. But I really worried that I don’t simply want to be repeating what someone else has done, and quite likely done better than me. It made me question what I was really about, and what creativity and making are really about for me.

As you probably know by now, I am obsessed with folk wear and folk art. One of the things I find so appealing is that at the core of folk art is the idea of using simple and easily available tools and materials to infuse beauty into the objects we use and touch every day of our lives.

But it’s also about connection and memory. When I embroider a garment, I remember the things I did, where I was in life while I was working on it. My hand’s memory, left on the fabric and in my muscles, becomes my mind’s memory, a little bit. Later, when I look at or touch or wear the finished piece, I remember the memories I stitched into it, anchoring my present in my past.

There’s also another kind of memory there. I use traditional motifs but usually add my own twist to them, which brings my larger past into the present. It gives new life to the culture and place that I came from in my changing and evolving life now. These motifs make me think of the women who used similar designs and techniques to embellish their clothes and homes in a different world and time.

Hand-embroidery on garments is also an especially poignant reminder that everything we wear was made by living, breathing humans, with the work of their own hands, maybe using not just needle, thread and fabric, but a needle attached to a sewing machine, and thread and fabric. Our t-shirts, our jeans, our shoes – all of it. More so than we ever stop to think about.


What I’ve been wondering is how to infuse more of this sense of folklore into my work, while ensuring that what I design is wearable and useful and works in our lives, today.

Our winter break trip was a much needed break from the rut I found myself in, and a welcome shake-up. It was truly wonderful to meet the people we met in Alabama, and encounter an entirely different way to be creative than what I had thought I ought to do. It’s pace is slower, more introspective, it’s much more of a practice, and much quieter, and for someone like me probably more sustainable.

leaf flower paper sailboat

First, I dropped by the Alabama Chanin Factory store in Florence, of course, and started on a kit I found in the samples bin. I’m hoping it’ll be done by summer. It’s something to stitch here and there for 15 minutes, to clear my head.

Alabama Chanin DIY Factory Dress kit

I don’t think this kit (the Factory Dress with in slate with a stencil that I can’t find anywhere on the internets) is available online but I guess that’s the point of the samples bin: something that didn’t make the cut to production. I love it anyway. The colors are not what I’d choose naturally for myself but so elegant, and the fit of this dress is so flattering (I tried on a finished sample to get the right sizing).

Then we went to Gee’s Bend with a friend who knows a lot of the people living there. My girls and I were in heaven chatting with some of these brilliant women, and looking through the quilts both mini and large that they had in the store room, choosing some to bring home. If you follow me on Instagram you’ve seen these perhaps We already had a couple of pieces from Gee’s Bend that my husband brought back when he went there last year in the course of a project he’s working on (you can see some of the first pictures from this project here).

Gee's Bend quilts

We also visited a wonderful lady who lives alone in an old heart pine house about 45 minutes south of Camden and is an embroiderer. She teaches at the local college and I was looking forward to meeting her because she made a couple of gorgeous embroideries for my daughters based on their favorite animals and creatures. We had so much fun! She let us help feed her hens and collect eggs (which for us city folks was a real treat), made us lunch, and made us feel so much at home.

We’re making plans to go back to visit her, and Gee’s Bend and the Alabama Chanin factory too.

There was a lot to think about, and it clarified to me what I should focus on. And suddenly I knew what’s been holding up my pattern releases, why I’ve been feeling so dissatisfied with them. Rather than merely producing sewing patterns, what I’m interested in is folk wear made modern. Clothing with embroidery on them, or clothing made of hand-printed material – in other words: fabric that’s given the indelible mark of handwork as it becomes what we make it into.

kekfesto blue-dye hand printed blouse and hen

To many, this is about hand-printing fabric. To me, this is more often than not about embroidery, which is usually (but not always) hand embroidery.

I finally know what I want for the Sage pattern that would focus it on this idea, and how I’ll finish the release. And I think I know what to do with the things I’ve been working on, moving forward. Now if we could just get a break from the illnesses the kids drag home…

UPDATE: for some reason, this post reverted to the draft version after I published it. All the photos and the revisions were saved elsewhere – I’m sure it was my hand that misfired except I can’t figure out how! Anyway, missing photos have been replaced and things should look the way I meant for them to… Please let me know if they don’t!

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5 Responses to Quilts, embroidery, travels, and more

  1. Annette says:

    Sounds busy! I hope you launch the Sage pattern soon. My daughter wears her test version often and I am planning a couple summer versions very soon.

  2. francesca says:

    I can’t see the pictures:(. And because of what you wrote, I’d love to. Great post. I look forward to see what you’re going to do with the Sage pattern – is it for kids?

    I think if more people had your attitude, there’d be a lot less patterns out there, and what there is would be better. I’m kind of fed up of fanfares for yet another raglan sleeve tshirt or jeans pattern. There doesn’t seem to be any originality. And some patterns – well, let’s just say that they look like the stuff I cooked up for myself before I started using patterns.

    However, I must point out that it is impossible to invent the wheel…. Heather of closetcasefiles had commented on Grainline after the release of their knit jacket pattern that her next pattern idea had to be dumped as it too was a knit jacket pattern. I told her that was crazy, as a) there are not enough nice knit jacket patterns around, and b) she and Grainline have such a different style that they’d have a different market. Because, regardless of the stampede that sometimes occurs when new patterns come out, I think most sewers eventually realise that not all indie patterns are their style and that they shouldn’t just make the newest pattern just because it’s there….
    that sounds a bit roundabout, I hope you got my point:)

    • Kati says:

      Thanks for pointing out the missing photos! I have no idea how they disappeared because they were right there in my media uploads and then missing from the post itself – which also reverted to a draft version… Fixed now!

      And thank you for all your kind words. I needed to hear this!

      The Sage is the children’s version of the Zsálya top/dress. But what I’m working on is an embroidery pattern for the Sage (with a fun folklore technique described in the instructions), that can also be purchased separately with the design sized for the Zsálya top. The samples take a bit of time though… 😉

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