Kathy K Wylie has a background in computer science and a love for sewing. Creating has always been a part of her life. She now creates intricate, detail-rich and award-winning quilts that encourage the viewer to take a closer look.
How long have you been quilting and designing? How did you get started? Why textiles? Why appliqué?
My mom taught me to sew when I was ten years old and I was making my own clothes all through high school and university. My grandmother and aunt taught me how to embroider, knit and crochet. I literally grew up with a needle in my hand but it never occurred to me to pursue a creative career.
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I got a business degree, majoring in computer science, and worked for IBM after graduating. I made many of my business suits, and did a lot of home dec sewing after getting married and starting a family.
In the spring of 1994, I resigned from IBM to be a stay-at-home mom to my two little boys. A friend asked if I’d like to take a beginner quilting class with her. It was love at first sight and I have been passionate about quilting ever since! Over the past thirty or so years, quilting has grown from a hobby to a full-time creative career.
What inspires you to create? Where do you find your inspiration for your designs?
Crafting – or creating – has always been part of my life. I’m always making something or planning to making something. It’s like eating or sleeping – it’s not a case of inspiration, it’s just an everyday thing.
Designing is different and it came later. Up until 2002, almost all my creations were made from a pattern. But that year, I designed my first quilt, Lake Ontario Fan and entered my first quilt competition. That was a pivotal moment in my career, as I started learning more about design and creating from my own ideas.
Inspiration for my designs can come from anywhere: the name of a quilt block, like Card Trick resulted in King of Hearts; a theme, like color in Trinity; an inspirational passage, like the 23rd Psalm in The Lord is my Shepherd; or a piece of fabric, like the china teacups in the quilt Bridal Tea.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
The phrase “for such a time as this” got stuck in my head and became the inspiration for a quilt design. What would a quilt about time look like? I almost had too many ideas! I started with the idea of a clock and designed a medallion divided into twelve equal parts. There are also twelve months in a year, so I added birthstones and birth flowers on the medallion in their position on the clock: one o’clock equals January; two o’clock equals February, and so on.
We also mark time with the changing of the seasons. In the corners around the medallion, I designed a motif with overlapping branches and changed the colors of the leaves according to the season: top-right corner equals winter; bottom-right corner equals spring, and so on.
An appliqué border completed the quilt design “For Such a Time as This”.
Often – if not always – the idea for a new work comes about while working on something else. While working on “For Such a Time as This”, I got the idea to make a birth flower block-of-the month series of patterns!
Which part of the design process is your favorite? Which part is a challenge for you?
Drawing is the most challenging part of the design process for me. I need to accumulate a lot of inspirational photos and images and spend a lot of time tracing and erasing! Then I rely a lot on mirror-image and rotational symmetry to keep my shapes in balance.
My favorite part is choosing the fabrics. I often start with a focus fabric to help me select a palette of fabrics to work with. I cut out all my appliqué shapes and audition them on a design wall. Then my most favorite part is sewing them, but that’s not part of the design process!
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I think I’m becoming known for my attention to detail. I love taking a theme and running with it and delight in including tiny details for the viewer to find. (like quilting the numbers of the clock on the medallion.
I also favor swirls and classical ornamental shapes, which are becoming one of my signatures.
How has your work changed over time?
Over time, my work has become more detailed and more complex. I like to challenge myself with new ideas and techniques. Overcoming challenge A becomes part of quilt B. The appliqué shapes have become smaller and more intricate; the machine quilting has become denser and more varied.
What piece of work makes you most proud? Why?
Pride is a tricky word. I don’t want my quilts or their accomplishments to make me arrogant or conceited! For that reason, I’d like to talk about my most recent quilt “Beauty in the Broken”. The quilt was not made for competing or entering into shows; it was made for expressing an emotion and healing.
I was inspired by those precious moments that only occur because we’re going through a dark time – like the neighbor who drops off baking when your dad is in the hospital, for example. I set out to make an appliqué quilt with holes in it. The holes would represent the brokenness; the appliqué, the beauty.
Not only was this quilt ground-breaking in some of the techniques that were used, it was a piece that freed me from external expectations. I didn’t know if my ideas would work; I didn’t know if the quilt could even hang, let alone travel to a quilt exhibit! Then, when it did, and I started to see the reaction to it – I’ve been humbled to tears. That the emotion in this quilt would resonate with so many people is better than any ribbon it might earn.
How do you think one can expand one’s creative mind and abilities? Do you have great bursts of creativity or does your creativity flow continuously?
I often compare creativity to exercise. If you don’t use a muscle, it grows weak and atrophies. But if you use the muscle, it gets stronger and more powerful. I think creativity works the same way. Once you start using and training your creative muscles, they grow – as does your confidence in them.
I think creativity is flowing through us, waiting to be called into action. The more we call upon it, the more freely it flows. Once the subconscious gets involved, don’t be surprised by epiphanies at 2:00 in the morning!
Describe your creative space.
I have a dedicated creative space. It has been a spare bedroom and a room in the basement. In our current home, it’s a room attached to the garage with two walls of windows and a view of the lake!
It’s a space that can adapt to the task at hand. I have two free-standing tables in the middle of the room that can be used for cutting fabric, drafting a design, filling ecommerce orders or basting a quilt. I use bookshelves to hold my fabric yardage and baskets in a cabinet to hold fat quarters and scraps. There’s a sewing machine table at one end and an L-shape desk with my computer equipment, because the studio is also my office. This is the room where I spend most of my time!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
The joy is in the journey.
My quilts now take thousands of hours over several years to create. The reaction is that I must have a lot of patience, but I disagree. I make quilts because I love making them and because creating is who I am. Hand work is peaceful and meditative; healing and therapeutic. I’m in it for the journey – not the destination.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
Yes! I have travelled extensively across Canada teaching and lecturing and am available online for lectures and workshops outside of Canada.
Where can people see your work?
You can find me at https://kathykwylie.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/kathykwyliequilts
or sign up for my monthly email newsletter at https://subscribepage.io/sQLJb2.
Interview posted October 2023
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