An Interview with Modern Quilt Man Kevin Kosbab

5 Feb 2014

Kevin Kosbab, of Feed Dog Designs, is one of a small but extremely talented group of male quilters in the female-dominated world of fiber art. Kevin has designed projects for our sister publication Stitch since the second issue and more recently his designs have been featured in Modern Patchwork magazine.

modern quilt design paper shredder kevin kosbab
Kevin Kosbab's "Paper Shredder" quilt shows
off his modern quilt aesthetic.

From modern quilts to placemats and beyond, Kevin combines a midcentury modern aesthetic with creative piecing and appliqué techniques to create contemporary, graphic projects that readers love.

So today I'm putting him in the spotlight with excerpts from an interview he did with former Stitch assistant editor Stefanie Berganini in 2010, when modern quilting was first hitting the quilt scene.

Stefanie: How and when did you learn to sew, and what is the first thing you ever made?

Kevin:
I learned to sew about four years ago in the course of decorating my first apartment. My mom balked at my Stitch Witchery window treatments, bought me a sewing machine, and off I went. I think the first real project I sewed was a quilt adapted out of Denyse Schmidt's book, a really simple quilt but enough to give me the bug.

S: Where does your inspiration come from, and how do you translate that into a finished piece?

K:
I'm hugely influenced by mid-century modern graphic and textile design, and generally all the cool stuff going on visually from the 1950s through the ‘70s. My basic ideas usually get sketched out on paper, kind of as a placeholder, and then I do more detailed design drawings on the computer to play with colors, fabrics, proportions, etc. I usually mess around with the actual fabrics again on the design wall, then I figure out the logistics while I'm sewing. For a quilt with lots of different appliqués, I'll sometimes start sewing a few blocks before I've got the whole thing designed.

S: Is there an automatic sense of community among men who sew? Have you had to overcome any prejudice from people who assume that you can't quilt well because you're a man?

K:
Yeah, there's a sense of camaraderie among guys who quilt--even if it's because we share the experience of searching out the elusive men's bathroom at a quilt show. I bring a different perspective to my quilts partly because I'm a man, but we male quilters all have our different styles, too. Maybe as men we don't feel that we have to make our quilts within the traditional categories, but who says a woman has to make a quilt a certain way either?

Occasionally I'll run into some prejudice--one cutting-counter attendant seemed to think I didn't know what a seam allowance was--but more often women will express that they're excited to see a man quilting. There does seem to be an undercurrent, though, of the idea that men have an easier time achieving success in quilting, however that's defined. It's probably true that being a novelty helps, but when I first started publishing designs, I also heard things like, "Oh, yes, men usually do better with that because they have more confidence." I don't think I'm a hyper-confident macho man, (and I know a lot of women quilters who certainly aren't shrinking violets), and I'd like to think my designs have more to do with it than that. But I don't mind being a novelty if that's what it takes!

modern quilt design with applique hilltop drive by kevin kosbab
"Hilltop Drive" baby quilt by Kevin Kosbab,
featuring fused applique.

S: When you say "quilt" to the average person, they tend to summon up an image of something very traditional, yet there is an emergence of quilters making very fresh and modern projects. How did that revitalization come about, and where do you think it's headed?

K:
I think people in general are more attuned to graphic design than we used to be, and lots of us are looking to quilting through those eyes rather than (or in addition to) the lens of tradition. The explosion of bright, fresh fabrics is a big factor (though that's probably a two-way street), but quilting's also an easy way to get started sewing. Sure, there are a lot of steps to learn, but you can start with simple designs (which look the most modern), and you're only really working in two dimensions-no scary darts or complex seam finishes.

On the other hand, the range of what you can do with quilting allows for limitless possibilities, with plenty of room for skills to grow. In the future, I hope we'll see as much innovation in appliqué as we have in modern patchwork, and especially new ways of combining the two. Eventually I can see "modern" quilting becoming a sort of third way: not traditional quilting, not art quilting, but its own broad style allied with both. And as novice modern quilters get more experienced, I think we'll start seeing more ambitious designs that aren't necessarily aimed at beginners.

Kevin brings his modern quilting aesthetic to applique in his new book, The Quilter's Appliqué Workshop, that features easy appliqué techniques and 12 beautiful home décor projects. It's a beautiful book full of inspiration and techniques for today's quilter.



P.S. Do you think male quilters bring a different energy or aesthetic to quilting? Leave your comments below.

 


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Comments

kathy mck wrote
on 6 Feb 2014 2:20 PM

i love, love, love this quilt!

lauraflora wrote
on 6 Feb 2014 6:36 PM

Yes, I think they have a different esthetic sense.  Different design choices, different colour choices.  It is logical; if you look at mens' clothing vs womens' clothing you see those differences.  Also decorating, particularily their own space, not for someone else.

I think this is good.  When I taught sewing at Jo Ann Fabrics, I had a few men come in who wanted to learn how to use a sewing machine.  They often returned to classes (quilting usually.  There were no mens' clothing classes offered), and then took off on their own.  They sometimes brought in quilts they had made themselves - wall or ones to be put on the couch.  Their choices were distinctively male.  They enjoyed quilting, and I enjoyed having them in the classes.  I was glad that they enjoyed creating their quilts.  And in their own design and colour choices.

floozette wrote
on 6 Feb 2014 10:39 PM

Personally I don't care whether a person is male or female, black white or brindle as long as their work can stand up to scrutiny.  But I understand very well Kevin's experience with the shop assistant who assumed he didn't know what a seam allowance was:  I have a physical disability so my husband does all my shopping and the number of times he has experienced this type of prejudice is beyond counting.  I don't know how we can counteract this but I guess as more and more men become involved things may change.  We can but hope.