Hand Embroidery for Quilters: An Interview with Catherine Redford

A peek inside of Catherine’s home studio.

Earlier this month I had the good fortune of visiting one of my quilting heroines, Catherine Redford, at her home studio. After a show and tell of the hand sewing projects she is currently working on and what she brought home from Quilt Market, we sat down to have a coffee and a chat.

Surrounded by the cheery yellow walls of her studio, we talked about everything from how she got her start with hand sewing and quilting to how she designs her quilts and manages her time. I learned so much talking with Catherine including, but certainly not limited to, the merits of a cutting table that can be folded up and stashed in the corner as a way to reduce the surface area where those inevitable piles tend to collect.

Here is our discussion about how Catherine became a quilter and a well-traveled teacher, plus a sneak peek at the studio space where she creates her marvelous quilts.

Q: After reading the bio on your website, you’ve been knitting and sewing since you were young and your first published pattern was for cross-stitch. How did you make the transition to quilting?

A: I’ve always sewn and when we moved we were only here on a three year work permit. I saw all of these people quilting and I thought, ‘Well, let me learn something new so if I go back to England, at least I’ve learned something while I’ve been in the States.’ That’s why I decided I was going to learn to quilt and that’s why I decided to take lots of classes so that I could maybe teach when I went back.

Q: It sounds like you had the intention to teach right from the start, is there any reason for that?

A: I could see it was an expensive hobby. So with four children and everything else, I thought if I’m going to do it I ought to have an idea at least in the back of my mind of how I can justify spending all of the money. So if I were going to teach it or make it into some type of work, I could justify spending on everything I needed. And I’ve always loved teaching from when I was a teenager and taught Sunday school to the three year olds; I’ve always loved learning something so that I can pass it on.

Q: While learning to quilt, did you start by making traditional quilts and/or art quilts?

A: I started with a sampler of four different blocks where I learned my quarter inch seam and pressing to one side and using a rotary cutter. My next quilt was a Thimbleberries quilt because I wanted to learn how to make different blocks and use different techniques. Then, I made a string quilt because I wanted to use lots of fabrics. Because I’d done embroidery and I liked embellishments and beads I made art quilts.

Catherine’s works in progress. Embroideries inspired by copyright free images of Mayan hieroglyphics.

Q: When were you drawn to the modern quilting movement?

A: I have one quilt I made that I remember telling my friend ‘I just quilted it with a grid with straight lines. And it really works! I think I’ll be doing more of this.’ As soon as I saw what people were calling modern, I thought, ‘Ooh, I belong there!’

Q: You are on the road frequently teaching in shops, at guilt meetings, and for special events; how do you find the time to design quilt patterns and make your quilts?

A: Yes, I’m busy, but doing quilt patterns and making my quilts is still part of my work–it’s a very important part. So when I’m at home I can put the laundry in and I can sew. Because I do lots of different things, if I’m really tired I can still be working by sitting and doing embroidery because it needs doing. If I’m full of energy and ready to sit at the machine and take a risk with the rotary cutter, then I’ll do that, but I need to be wide awake to free-motion quilt. There is always something that I have in my mind that I want to do. And it’s work so it’s not like I’m taking a break to sew, I’m taking a break if I go shopping. To go to the grocery store might be the treat when I’ve achieved what I need to achieve for the day.

Q: Do you work on projects while you’re on the road? If so, what is your favorite technique/project to take with you?

A: When I’m on the road at the moment I’ll take my embroideries with me because that’s the important thing that needs doing. I sit in the airport with them and I sit on the plane with them. I’ll draw my designs out when I’m at home and then they’re ready to go when I go out. I use a lot of variegated thread so I can just cut quite a lot of pieces. Even if I’m in a small space I can just be working.

More of Catherine’s works in progress.

Q: Do you pack a certain number of drawings to embroider with you?

A: At the moment I’ve got several designs all drawn out on a half yard of fabric. So that’s coming out of my bag and I’m filling them in. I keep them on the same piece of fabric because they are going to in the same quilt and this way I can make sure I’m using enough different colors to make the whole finished piece interesting and yet keep some continuity between them.

Q: Any hand embroidery tips to share?

A: I’ve learned that when I’m tired it’s not worth doing something that’s only going to need pulling out. Chain stitch is great, but if I’m less tired I start adding some French knots or something fancy that’s a little bit more difficult.

If you want more inspiration from this expert quilter and embroiderer, there are so many ways to learn from Catherine. You can make one of her quilts from the pages of Modern Patchwork Magazine. Add machine quilting with a walking foot to your technique tool box with her expert instruction by watching Modern Machine Quilting: Straight Lines, Spirals, Serpentines, and More! Or, if your preference is free-motion quilting, check out her Modern Machine Quilting: Free Motion Stipples, Swirls, Feathers, and More DVD. With a teacher as well versed in quilting and hand work as Catherine you can’t go wrong!

Happy Stitching,

Brenna's Signature

P.S. To see what Catherine is up to, follower her on her blog: catherineredford.com


Other topics you may enjoy:


Quilting Daily Blog