A Convo with Kelli Perkins and Fabric Cookie Giveaway

2 Nov 2009

No one knows more about pushing your artistic boundaries than Kelli Perkins, author of Stitch Alchemy: Combining Fabric & Paper for Mixed Media Art.


Not only does her book contain a wide variety of projects, from bookmarks to beads and paper quilts, but it’s full of inspiration for embarking on your own mixed-media projects. Fortunately, Kelli recently had the time to answer a few of my questions about her art, and her responses are loaded with even more words of encouragement (scroll down to see for yourself).

You can also find instructions for one of Kelli’s projects, “Frosted Holiday Treats,” on page 24 of the latest issue of Quilting Arts Gifts. These no-bake cookie pins, made from fabric, batting, cardstock, and plenty of embellishment, are an ideal little stocking stuffer to whip up this holiday season.


Lucky for you, we’re giving some of these delightful little treats away! All you have to do is answer the following question, in honor of Kelli’s adventurous approach to art: What was your most fortunate artistic ‘mistake’? Ever made a project that simply didn’t turn out the way you expected—and found yourself even more pleased with the results? Tell me about your experience and on Monday, November 9th, I’ll select six winners, each of whom will receive one of these adorable little cookie pins.

Until then, check out Kelli’s insights and be prepared to embrace the unruly in your future artistic endeavors.

I love your serendipitous approach to creating. And I definitely agree that the most rewarding art often comes from working without a plan, but that can also be challenging since you have to have the confidence to let go of the rules. Have you always taken such a free-wheeling approach to your work or did it take some time to get to that point?

If you knew me, you'd understand how humorous that question is! I am a serious control freak. I've spent most of my adult life trying to work around my natural inclinations toward order, so learning to embrace serendipity has been a journey for me. I wouldn't say it's over yet. Some days, serendipity is a dirty word, but I've learned to walk away from my work when I feel that way. When I return to it, there is a new perspective and I find that I see new avenues for creativity. I figure that the more "mistakes" I make, the sooner I'll get to a good place where I'm happy with my work. So I just barrel through the bad parts on my way to the other side. It's kind of like closing your eyes during a scary movie.

A lot of your work combines fabric and paper, as well as other materials. This isn’t always easy to do. What’s your number one bit of advice for beginners who are interested in entering the mixed-media realm?

The only rule is: there are no rules. Art rules are for sissies. Take whatever media you have (paint, ink, thread, crayons, etc.) and apply it to whatever substrate you have (paper, canvas, fabric, etc.). There is no point in spending time thinking about it. Just do it. Do it over and over and over, and then you'll have something!

I woke up Saturday and decided I needed to take a bunch of book pages and saturate them with colorful ink, so I did. They're sitting here at this moment and they look spectacular. At the time, I was worried because they were soggy and the colors were bleeding and then they curled up as they dried, and I thought to myself  "what hast thou wrought?" (Yes, I speak to myself in Old English when I am frustrated--it's an English major thing). But then later I ironed them and set them aside. Now they are beseeching me to do something wild.

You have to try, experiment, fail, succeed and keep making art. You don't even have to know what it's going to be when you're done. A dyed book page is not a project, but it's inspiring me. I think it wants to get together with something else and turn into art. If I hadn't acted on my impulse to apply ink to paper, I wouldn't be feeling as limitless as I do right now.

Do you have a favorite material to work with—or is that an unfair question!

Yes. My favorite material is the one someone else is using. I'm  always sure that it's better than what I have on hand! Beyond that, I need touchy-feely, so it doesn't matter to me what I'm using as long as I can hold the end result in my hand and "feel" it. That's why I love to add stitching to paper. I just finished a small series of acrylic paintings on watercolor paper and now I'm going to try stitching them because they just look so static and flat. It may not work, so I'll start with the one I love the least. But if it does work out, I'll be off and running. I'll be painting and stitching for weeks until I get it out of my system. Then I'll see what material someone else is working with and I'll use that!

Your create such a wide variety of projects, from dolls to bookmarks, beads, and even soap. How do you usually garner inspiration for your work, and what do you do if/when you’re feeling uninspired?

Uninspired? I'm not sure that's ever happened. I have so many ideas that most days I'm afraid my head will explode thus the little pieces of paper with cryptic messages floating about my studio. I try to write ideas down when I have them so that when I find time to create, I have a myriad of ideas before me.

If ideas are not popping for you, I'd recommend noodling about on Etsy or your favorite art/quilt/stitch website. I try to visit many of the artist and vendor sites in Quilting Arts and Cloth Paper Scissors. They lead me down rabbit trails that are always so interesting! When you see something that fascinates you, jot it down. When you have time to make art, try some of the ideas that resonated with you.

What project(s) are you currently working on, and how’s it going?

Let's not count the projects in my head because that would be astronomical. Let's not count the projects on my desk because, well, let's just not. My active projects include the acrylic paintings I mentioned and a bunch of stitchpaper (fabric-paper) I'm creating for a Yahoo book study group working through my book Stitch Alchemy.

When the stitchpaper is done, I'll move on to projects from the book. I plan to make some more dolls, pillows, purses, bookmarks etc. It's addictive. This week, however, I took time out to learn to crochet with my daughter. We made an amigurumi ghost for her best friend's birthday. I hope she likes it because it just about killed us!

Is there any medium, technique, etc. that you haven’t yet tried but are hoping to in the near future?

Well, everything I've not tried before, plus a hearty dose of practicing the things I've tried. I love encaustic painting and want to find more time for that. I've never wet-felted (shhhhh, don't tell anyone). I've never made a large quilt--that's gotta happen. My sewing skills need updating. Metalwork? Everything in the latest issue of QA and CPS. Why am I talking with you? I have to get busy!


Featured Product

Stitch Alchemy Combining Fabric and Paper for Mixed-Media Art

Availability: Out Of Stock
Price: $22.95


Stitch Alchemy teaches techniques for integrating paper and cloth to create quilted mixed media art.


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on 2 Nov 2009 2:55 PM

I just love these cookies, they are my next project to try from the Quilting Arts Gifts Magazine...I made the potholders on the front cover this past weekend and gave them away already to a bride to be for her new kitchen and everyone loved them.  I posted them on my blog if you would like to see...quiltcrazygaljennalouise.blogspot.com  Thanks for another excellent Gifts publication!

My mistake was really a silly one.  When I was just beginning to machine quilt and practice writing words, I made my nephew McKoy a quilt and instead of putting "Aunt Jenny", I put "Anut Jenny".  I was so proud of the quilting and I took it into work and sure enough the gals loved it that I sitiched "Anut" instead of "Aunt":)  It was really a funny mistake because I like to be "a nut" sometimes:)  Thanks again for all your wonderful publications and inspiration.  Jennifer Morlock

jojo wrote
on 2 Nov 2009 7:09 PM

Oh Pokey - I make mistakes on every project I do - seriously!  Should I start the tennis outfit I sewed the zipper in the armhole?  But wait - that didn't turn it into a thing of beauty.  Hmmm - a mistake that turned out fortunate.  I'm not a very precise piecer so I've had to applique something cute over many a hole. . .

Love Kelli's work.  I'm planning a batch of cookies myself but would LOVE an original.

Thanks for the opportunity:)


dipart57 wrote
on 2 Nov 2009 10:26 PM

I ordered Kelli's book from Amazon as soon as it was available and I just love it and now it is my first reference to look for new ways to use some of the art supplies I have accumulated since I first started art quilting. Thankyou for sharing your thoughts on this site Kelli, you are an ispiration as far away as New Zealand.

Quilnan wrote
on 3 Nov 2009 7:03 AM

Yummy loooking cookies! One of my "error-turned-success" episodes was when I cut out applique shapes for needleturn without leaving a turn-under allowance. So the shapes did not match the original plan or placement. Happily skinny and small actually looked good in the end result.

I'm taking the Stitch Alchemy book study online with the group Kelli mentioned. At this point, a couple of the fabric papers I made look like mistakes... but I am confident that with added color, stitchery, and embellishment they will go from ugly duckling to swan soon. Nancy

on 3 Nov 2009 11:20 AM

Well, I guess I need to get this book!  I always say I'm a traditional quilter, but it turns out that the "art" quilts I make for various fund raisers get the most attention.  One of my really small (16x16) quilts just sold for $81 on an E-Bay fundraiser.  I've sold baby quilts for less than that!  Anyway, I have bought a lot of neat stuff this past year (foils, angelina, paints, beads, etc), but pretty much the only thing I do is experiment to see how they work.  By the way, you gotta check out a new product called Texture Magic, put out by Superior Threads.  Now THAT is a fun product and I've acually finished a few projects after my initial experimentation.  Needless to say, I'm glad you mentioned this book because I think it'll be really helpful as I try to find my niche in the quilt world.  For now I'm bouncing around from style to style.

And as far as a mistate turning out goes, the first one that comes to mind is when I printed out several photos on a fabric sheet (commercial, so it wasn't cheap).  I accidentally had my printer set to draft mode and the pictures showed up really light.  I used them anyway because it was another experimental art quilt idea that I wasn't sure about to begin with.  Turns out that my embellishing worked really well and made the pictures stand out better than if they'd have been brighter.

SandraB. wrote
on 3 Nov 2009 12:44 PM

The mistake that stands out in my mind is the shawl that was lace...by accident from dropping stitches and not noticing until too late. Now I check my work more carefully; as to that shawl...I added a lot of ribbons, different yarns and made the dropped stitches "just another design element".

Those no-bake cookie pins are among my favorite projects in this issue of Gifts; but I'd probably say that about all the projects. Another stellar edition!

on 3 Nov 2009 7:48 PM

This post was mentioned on Twitter by PokeyBolton: Like free stuff? Quilting Arts assistant editor Pippa is giving away Kelli Perkins fabric cookies ! http://bit.ly/1TnEkm

dragonfly12 wrote
on 3 Nov 2009 7:49 PM

We were having  "Art Day"- gelatin printing on fabric. I got way too much green paint on  my gelatin plate, smeared it around and laid a paper towel on it to soak  up the excess.  I put some leaves down and pulled the first print and the paper towel texture showed. Beautiful swirls and dots! It was the best print of the day- it looks like a handmade batik! It was a great "accident"

pinkgypsy wrote
on 3 Nov 2009 8:37 PM

My biggest creative mistake is never giving myself permission to experiment outside of a design.  I met Kelli at Chicago and learned of her book being published and preordered and waited.  When it arrived I loved it.  I have read and re-read her book and loved her cookies in Q.A. gifts.  If  I had a cookie pin perhaps I would finally step out of my box.  Indy-pink gypsy.

leissinclair wrote
on 4 Nov 2009 8:08 AM

I have a cookie exchange each year.  I think I might make these for a gift for all my freinds.  Thanks for a great project.

My mistake was just recently, I was making pumpkin pin cushions and it was late.  I ended up with the wrong side of the fabric on the outside.  It looked teriffic.  Nobody ever knew.  What happens in the sewing room stays in the sewing room.

lemonjello wrote
on 4 Nov 2009 7:48 PM

My favorite mistake happened when I was teaching an art class and forgot the canvas for a painting project-I improvised with gessoed paper and found it worked great and we were able to paint,sew and stuff it as thought it were canvas-I still use it in my own projects.  This book sounds wonderful-I have to get a copy.

on 6 Nov 2009 6:59 AM

I was fusing plastic bags for the first time to make 'fabric' for a purse, and I cut the several layers I'd fused into one large piece too narrow.  Rather than toss the whole thing into the recuycle bin,  I decided to cut the  large fused piece into several strips and weave them.  I then re-fused the woven strips together and created a neat basketweave piece of plasti-fabric. The ink designs on the bags were even more random with the weaving!  I get compliments on that purse everywhere I go - even from men who don't usually comment on purses - LOL   It's a real conversation starter and proof that if you just keep going with a mistake, it usually turns out better than the original 'plan'.

on 9 Nov 2009 1:23 PM

I love Kelli's art and love the most recent Quilting Arts "Gifts" magazine.  There are so MANY great projects in it. I finally had my sewing machine fixed last week and found all of the "accessories" that came with it on Saturday. I want to make handmade Christmas presents this year, rather than buy other's art for presents (not that there's anything wrong with buying other's art!).

It's been a long time since I did art, but after I found Kelli on Facebook she mentioned that the Mixed Media Art Friends group was going to do a study of her book, "Stitch Alchemy." I immediately joined the group.

My first mistake (and last, since I put the bookstudy on hold while I "dug out" from under all of the junk I had acquired that was taking over my small house)... As I was saying, my first/last mistake in the study happened after I printed an old bird print on tissue paper. I had used freezer paper as a backing to the tissue paper while printing. I had read that one must heat set ink jet prints before using them in projects, so I used my iron in an attempt to set the ink. Afterwards, I realized that I had left the freezer paper on the tissue paper, and that the two papers had become one! The result is a stiff paper, but I like the texture and "feel" of it. I haven't used it yet, but I plan to use it in a project in the future. I still like coming upon it (I'm not completely dug out) and feeling it, again. I notice that the colors are not what I would like, so next time I print something for art, I will manipulate the colors a bit.

This experience helped me to feel more free about experimentation. I quit being an artist a long time ago because my art was always so painstakingly done. And yet, after taking days to draw a realistic looking duck from a photograph, a friend who is a biologist and duck expert made the comment that he did not know what kind of duck it was! Yikes! I quit drawing right there. (Like Kelli, I am a control freak, but unlike her, I haven't been able to just let go and do art, regardless.)

In the past year, I discovered Quilting Arts and CPS as well as many lovely blogs and books, and I now feel inspired to do art from a different direction, with less concern about perfection.

While digging out, I have purchased some art supplies, tried drawing very freely and quickly (still not so satisfied, but I feel more relaxed about it), and finally feel like I have some space to make and hang, say... wet paper cloth, in my house! The digging out process has been quite freeing as well.