Interview with Kathy York: our most prolific QA cover artist!

2 Feb 2010

Kathy York’s work is like that of all the contributors to Quilting Arts Magazine – it never ceases to amaze and inspire me. I’ve been wanting to learn more about Kathy and her work, and with her quilt on the cover of the current issue, now seemed like the perfect time. In fact, it turns out that Kathy is our most prolific QA cover artist! Her work is featured on these covers:


                                February/March 2010                            February/March 2009                                April/May 2007

Here’s what I learned from Kathy.

Helen: To the best of my knowledge you are a full-time mom. How are you possibly so prolific? Do you set aside creative time every day? Please give us an idea of how you schedule your creative time.

Kathy: A number of years ago, I decided to think of quilting as my job. This attitude helped me justify (if only to myself) setting aside time on a daily basis for my art. I wrote down some goals and set to work. At that time both of my children were in public school and I had all day to work and late in the evenings. I also get part of the weekend to work when the kids are with their dad. My mantra is: never do chores if no one is there to see you! I try hard to NOT get caught up in errands and cleaning during the day because it chews up your time.

This year, things are different. I just started homeschooling my son. He has struggled for years in public school because he is autistic, and it was a bad fit for him. He has Asperger's, which is a high functioning form of autism. He is incredibly gifted but really difficult to work with. On his good days, he is engaged in learning and moves quickly through his required material. This gives him loads of time to “play” with the things he is interested in, like computer programming and building 3D models on the computer. On those days, I can actually work in the studio, on a much shortened time scale, maybe 2 hours a day instead of 4–6 hours. But it is amazing what you can accomplish in 2 hours a day, every day!

On his more difficult days, it takes every bit of energy I have to get him out of bed, moving, and trying to learn. It is emotionally exhausting for both of us. Every step is a struggle. Because we are self paced, we can take needed breaks. These days suck the creative energy right out of me and I have to let go of my expectations for the day. My new strategy is to keep a journal documenting my hours that I work. I am finding that if I write it down, it helps me utilize the small bits of time that used to get lost from constant distractions and interruptions. At some point, I will analyze the journal to see what's working, and what isn't, and then make a new plan.

Helen: Kathy, I have seen many of your quilts win prizes in national and international shows. How do you come up with your quilt designs? Do you design specifically with a show in mind?

Kathy: I must confess that I am usually surprised and always delighted to win a prize at a show. It's a really validating and confirming feeling! I usually get more ideas than I have time to make. It can be difficult to choose which one to make first. Some ideas come from life events, others start with the inspiration of something I have seen. Last year's quilt, “Building Up,” began with a found object—an irrigation stake shaped in a cross. I thought it would be perfect to make the inside of little windows with batik, and it worked! It just happened to coincide with my observations of new developments in Austin, Texas, where I live: lots of densely packed living spaces with contemporary colors and shapes. [“Building Up” won first place in the Art-Abstract, Small category in “Quilts: A World of Beauty,” the International Quilt Association’s annual fall judged show.]

I rarely design a quilt with a show in mind, though I am usually conscious of the size requirements. Some good advice I got once: make what you need to make, and a venue will appear. When I listen to my heart, I am happy making art.

Helen: Every time I look at one of your quilts (or even the tote bag you designed for Quilting Arts Gifts 2009/2010, I admire the fabrics. And then I read your comments and learn that you’ve designed the majority of the fabrics. So this leads me to wonder if you have a stash of fabrics you’ve painted, dyed, printed, or otherwise designed. Or do you design fabrics specifically as you work on a project – or is it a little of both?

Kathy: It can go either way. Sometimes, I get an idea for how something is supposed to look. I shop for fabric, but cannot find what I am looking for. Oh, yeah, and I tend to be a bit inflexible once I've decided how it “should” look. So I set out trying to determine how to make it look right. As in: I needed yellow scaly fabric for fish, but there wasn't any, so I had to make some. That time I put the scaly pattern with wax on a screen and printed with thickened dye. It worked! Other times, I use fusible and cut the shapes I need to create the picture. Yet other times I might batik a piece of fabric with an end goal in mind.

However, once I learned to batik, I sort of got....well, obsessed. I walk a lot and often find interestingly shaped objects. The first thing I think is “can I dip that in hot wax?” I have to laugh at myself, as my children already do! My curiosity gets the better of me, and I start to experiment. Then I do end up with a stash of fabrics as my brain races with ideas to use them for!

Helen: You have such a wonderful sense of color. And your palette is always so cheerful. Do you intentionally stick with a bright, cheerful palette?

Kathy: I have no idea where my sense of color came from or how I choose my color palette. I just know when it isn't right for me. I remember going to the International Quilt Festival in Houston for the first time and being completely drawn in to Laura Wasilowski's and Melody Johnson's quilts. Now when I enter Laura's booth, with Frieda Anderson, I feel right at home. It's the colors that create the mood I like.

I do know that using bright colors helps me create works that are sometimes darker in meaning for me. My quilt “Falling through the Cracks” [on the Quilting Arts February/March 2010 cover] started with jewel tones on a black background. It was hideous and sat on a shelf for a year. Then I switched color palettes and was able to jump into the project and get to work.

Helen: What are your favorite/least favorite aspects when making a quilt?

Kathy: My absolute favorite part is selecting the color palette! And fabrics! And then, sharing my inspiration with others. I love it when my work really connects with someone else and then they tell me about it. It is wonderful the way art starts communication.

The least favorite part is when my machine is acting up, or the day ends and I have to stop working.

The most difficult part is starting a new quilt and then letting it go when I have to ship it.


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