Welcome to the first StitchBlog Q&A! We hope to make this a monthly blog feature, with interviews from interesting people from around the sewing world.
When we were thinking about whom we should feature in our first Q&A, one designer immediately came to mind—Kevin Kosbab. Kevin has designed projects for Stitch since our second issue, and his bold and inventive ideas always bring a smile to our faces. From quilts to placemats and beyond, Kevin combines a midcentury modern aesthetic with creative piecing and appliqué techniques to create modern, graphic projects that we really love. You can find out more about Kevin and his designs on his website, feeddog.net, or on his blog, feeddog.blogspot.com. So without further ado, here’s Kevin!
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. A friend from work at about the same time had taught me to knit, but it just didn’t catch—scarves and sweaters didn’t have the same appeal for me as stuff I could use around the apartment. So I’m a needle, thread, and fabric guy.
S: How does sewing fit into your life?
K: I’ve always had creative impulses and an interest in graphic design, and quilting gave me a medium for that. I do at least a little sewing most days, whether by hand or machine (it drives me crazy to watch TV without handwork, so like an uncultured Neanderthal I veto anything with subtitles). I wish I had more time to sew just for fun, but I try to design projects for work that I’ll have fun sewing. I work as a full-time freelancer, and sewing has crept into every facet of that: I edit craft books, write for quilting magazines, design for magazines like Stitch, and sell patterns under my Feed Dog Designs label. So insofar as I make a living, it’s coming from sewing!
S: Walk me through the steps when you’re making a project. Where does your inspiration come from, and how do you translate that into a finished piece?
K: Great fabrics inspire lots of my projects (the Hilltop Drive quilt in Stitch Spring 2010 was all about the fabric), but I’m also 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: The items you’ve made for Stitch have mainly been home décor projects—quilts, placemats, pillows, etc. Do you mostly stick to these types of projects? Do you have a favorite project?
K: I think of myself mainly as a quilter, so that’s what I work on most often. As for clothing, I’ve only gotten as far as printing some patterns. I’d love to try, but it’s a little more involved to tailor a pair of men’s trousers than to whip up a circle skirt—what’s the beginner menswear garment? I tried making a pair of underpants, which were a little too daring to ever see the light of day! My favorite project is usually the one I’m working on currently, but that’s a cheater’s answer… my flamingo bed quilt will always be up there because it was my first appliqué work and I made it for my partner when we were doing the long-distance thing.
S: I noticed that your blog includes a link to a Quilt Blogs by Men blogring. 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!
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 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.
As a special treat for our blog readers, we’re offering Kevin’s Felt Sweets pattern as a free download in our pattern gallery. Feeling British? Stitch up a mini jam sponge with felted jam and cream. Staying Stateside? Make a Swiss roll cake. Can’t decide? Make both!
Many thanks to Kevin for being our first Q&A subject! Stay tuned to future issues of Stitch to see more projects from Kevin, and check out his website at feeddog.net.