Kathryn Pellman creates beautiful quilts using a mix of words, cartoons, fashion, and quilting! She weaves stories into her quilts using what she calls “Word Salad,” which are like magical poems made from found words. She’s currently working on three different series that are inspired by everyday things and the world around her.
Tell us more about Word Salad + Cartoon Stories + Fashion + Quilting. How do they all play together? How did you get into what you do creatively?
I think of Word Salad + Cartoon Stories + Fashion + Quilting as the components and the foundation of my quilts along with novelty print fabrics that allow me to tell my stories.
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I like my quilts to be self-explanatory and Word Salad, a found poem or literary collage, provides information about what I am thinking or magically supplies a random word or phrase that falls together to suggest a story waiting to be told.
I was working on The Wild Women Artists 1960’s Cocktail Club when Roe v. Wade was overturned. I saw the phrase “ejecting seeds” on my worktable and immediately thought of men ejecting seeds and the rest of the poem fell into place. I like to say the Fashionistas in this cartoon have guinea pigs because I had them in the sixties, but the truth is, I wanted a change from cats and dogs and had just purchased some Japanese fabric with guinea pig images. When I was designing Inspired Quilt Secrets, I really was listening to The Chicks when I wrote “listened to the Chicks.”
I’ve always liked single frame and four frame cartoons and they seemed like the perfect backdrop for my love of fashion design, fashion illustration and storytelling. I could design clothes and they didn’t have to fit. The wonkiness of my figures could be passed off as cartoons so I didn’t have to worry as much about anatomy. I could design, decorate and landscape spaces using novelty prints to draw my pictures.
Tell us more about how you work with detail.
I love playing and obsessing over all the small details in my quilts. In Food Is Life Food Is Love (currently traveling with the Studio Art Quilters Association (SAQA) exhibit, Gastronomy), I carefully placed the fruits and vegetables in baskets for Farmers Market Fashionista; for Soho Cupcakery, the words and images became a recipe; in We Love Sunday Suppers, the cookbook became part of the title, apple pie is perched on top of the word tradition, and we know what they are cooking because there is a can of tomato sauce on the stove along with a Dutch Oven, the boyfriend is holding a box of pasta, and the dog is sitting on a can of dog food.
The size of Fashionista Gardener, at 24” x 18”, allowed me to create a larger picture using the same scale and amount of detail.
It looks like you work in a series. Tell us more.
I am currently working on three series. Word Salad, Fashionistas and Girlfriends, Angry Women and Some Not So Angry Women, and Not So Mindless Scrap Quilts.
Word Salad, Fashionistas and Girlfriends is my primary series and is mostly small (8” x 8”) single frame cartoons that are often combined into four frame cartoons (24” x 24”). I want my Fashionistas to be a visually and verbally colorful and playful celebration of women, femininity, their lives, friendships and romantic relationships, real and imagined. They reflect my love of novelty fabric, storytelling and strong women.
I give my Fashionistas a voice as I play with words and images found in commercially printed fabric to create found poems to tell their stories. My interests (sewing, cooking and gardening, traveling and more), the world around me, current events and whatever singer songwriter I am listening to are reflected in their stories. I like to work with excessive detail and humor to create playfully whimsical pieces that entertain the viewer and me. I enjoy the freedom I have working with the smaller scale of this series.
My Angry Women and Some Not So Angry Women series explores my thoughts and feelings about female empowerment, feminism, and my concerns about current events and social issues. They are powerful and can be as tall as eight feet. Times Up Hands Off (7’ high) is my most personal piece. It is my response to Christine Blassy Ford’s testimony that was deemed not credible at the Brent Kavenaugh hearings and Connie Chung’s open letter in response to the hearings detailing an unreported sexual assault she experienced 50 years ago. I was struck by how clearly they both remembered the details of their assault, although not the exact date and year. I, too, clearly remember the details of being touched without my consent even though I don’t remember the exact date or year.
When I need to regroup or want a quilt I can sleep under, I like to play with a series I call Not So Mindless Scrap Quilts, which uses traditional quilt blocks and busy prints. The geometric blocks remind me of what first attracted me to quilts. Busy prints continue to interest me and I love to cut them up, piece them together and see what happens.
Occasionally, my series mingle. When I made Fashionista Quilter, I revisited this Not So Mindless Scrap Quilts for inspiration and used different quilt patterns to create her dress — an Ohio Star skirt, a Bowtie waistband, Sunflower breasts, and Spool arms. I then assembled the blocks using a glue stick instead of sewing them as I like their raw edges. I love housing and small cottages and A House On a Hill, a traditional quilt pattern was the perfect template for A Fashionista and Her Cottage, again mixing two series together.
How did you get into what you do creatively?
Although, my background is in fashion design, I am also a quilter and wanted to combine my love of fashion with traditional quilting elements. When I first saw art quilts in person at The Art Quilt exhibition in 1986 I was inspired to combine fashion design and quilting to tell stories.
Fashion design continues to influence my work as well as folk art, traditional quilting and the art of Sonia Delaunay and Maira Kalman. I always knew what I wanted my quilts to look like, even before I had the skills to execute them. As my technical and design skills improved, I worked to develop my own style. My work has evolved as I adopted the use of several techniques: raw-edge fusible appliqué; buttonhole stitching in place of traditional bindings; and the addition of extra layers and medium-weight stabilizer to provide body for free-form pieces. My fascination with printed fabric and traditional quilt blocks remains strong, and continues to influence everything I create. I often start a piece with a destination in mind, but I don’t always know where I am going until I get there. The entire story can change based on an image I find in fabric, a random phrase I hear, or how words I cut from fabric fall onto my work surface.
I love fabric, fashion, sewing, and storytelling, and am so happy when I get to spend days in my studio combining them and creating new pieces. It’s always a surprise and I never know what the finished piece is going to look like.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Anywhere and everywhere. When I made Singer Presents Mary Ellen Hopkins, I wanted to make a piece that spoke directly to quilters. I was introduced to strip piecing by Mary Ellen, who owned a quilt shop in Santa Monica, CA. She opened up a whole new world for me and my life was never the same. I liked the phrase Three Sixty Geometry that I found on a fabric selvedge and had compass fabric; Free Spirit Sewinista has an iron collection and I added a speech bubble; and for The Scoop, the phrase, ‘dangerous angles,’ fell together on my worktable, I had some measuring tape fabric and started thinking about quilting on a domestic sewing machine and long arm quilters.
Do you plan your work out ahead of time, or do you just dive in with your materials and start playing?
I don’t do a lot of formal planning or preparation. Most of my process happens in my head and is supported by rough sketches and not-so-legible notes in a journal or on post its. I sketch on pattern paper if I want to work out scale or need a rough pattern for larger pieces.
As for construction and design, I generally use a ‘plunge in and figure it out as you go’ approach. If I had to work out all the details before I started, I would be overwhelmed and never do anything.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
Interview posted October 2023
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