Spotlight: Kathy Seaman Shaw, Crazy Quilter
Give Kathy Seaman Shaw a plain seam, and she will transform it with fancy stitches and beads. Kathy is a prolific crazy quilter, constantly designing new embroidery combinations and sharing her knowledge through books and classes.
How long have you been crazy quilting? What draws you to crazy quilts? How did you get started?
My crazy journey began with swapping 6-inch Crazy Quilted (CQ) hearts among internet friends in 2007. Before that, I had done only traditional quilts for a couple of decades. My hand embroidery was stitched OVER machine embroidery for my hearts because my hand work was so wobbly. This fact pushed me to get better at hand embroidery work and I started a blog to document my progress. The blog led me to teaching online classes. Today I have a wide range of crazy quilt courses offered through the blog and have taught hundreds of folks across the globe over the last ten years.
What are your earliest memories involving your own creative expression?
I’ve always liked fabrics and wrapped cloth around my Barbie dolls, tied with a string or scrap of fabric to make them dresses when I was about five years old. In high school I did a little hand embroidery work but no sewing. Then, when my children were small I began making clothes for them, myself and my husband. Later, several members of my family had wedding dresses made, re-made, or adorned as my skills improved.
What kind of work did you do for the Army? What did you learn from living in so many different locations?
My jobs with the military were mostly analytical in nature, problem solving and identifying support needs. People are basically the same everywhere…we all want a good life for ourselves and our families.
When you are faced with a challenge, how do you summon your “inner steel magnolia”? Can you give us an example?
It usually begins with a good “talking to”…from me TO me. I remind myself of challenges in the past that I’ve overcome and use that confidence to fuel me to get moving towards finishing (or starting) a project.
How did you come up with your method of marking embroidery stitches on seam lines? Was it an epiphany, or did the idea develop over time through trial and error?
We learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. The wobbly stitching on my little swap hearts really bothered me. So I gave myself one of my “talks” and challenged myself to create embroidery seams using self-made templates to mark the needle up/down positions. The reasoning was that this graph paper template should ensure evenly spaced stitches of uniform height. Several embroidery stitches could be graphed this way, like Herringbone, Cretan, Straight, Chevron and Blanket Stitches. The graph paper drawings included little “dots” for the needle up/down positions. These dots were then punched out with a large needle, making room to insert a sharp lead pencil for marking purposes. Viola, my first set of templates was created!
Because I was working 60 hours weeks often at the time, I didn’t have a lot of free time for learning new embroidery stitches, but I decided rather to challenge myself to stitch 12 dozen crazy quilt seams in 12 months while using embroidery stitches I already knew. I documented the Twelve Dozen in Twelve Months (TDiTM) challenge on my blog. Afterwards, I included all of these seams in my first book, a black/white workbook of seam designs.
The blog drew a lot of interest and I begin teaching and ultimately writing. Since that first stitching, I now have a manufactured template set for retail and several downloadable files for “make your own” on my blog.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, especially your new title, Stunning Stitches for Crazy Quilts?
Anyone with the desire to create a crazy quilt CAN do it. Using templates helps make the embroidery work uniformly spaced and sized. Using simple silk ribbon embroidery stitches,\ with a few beads and sequins can turn a simple plain seam into a wonderfully embellished creation.
Why do you offer free tutorials and classes on your website? What else will visitors find there?
Crazy quilting does not usually attract huge crowds because it is a challenge for quilt shops. It has been thought of as “fancy fabrics” only. But, I promote the use of cotton quilting fabrics and simple techniques to produce modern crazy quilts. My goal is to interest more people into this artform and to encourage anyone who wants to try and create a crazy quilt project.
How do you make time for creating? Do you try to create daily?
Creating is my life. I think about what I want to design or stitch next all of the time. My day begins and ends at my laptop, checking on the various free online classes through my blog. In the middle of the day, I spend time working on current and future projects and promoting crazy quilting through Facebook, online groups, and scheduling in-person events.
Do you plan your work out all ahead of time, or do you just dive in with your materials and start playing?
Designing is fun for me, so usually I have at least a rough plan to begin. However, my final creation is often not as it was first envisioned as I change my mind throughout the process, letting the project “speak to me” as I work.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
Ha, my entire apartment is a “work zone” because it is so small. I have space around the laptop in my office for design work; space in the sewing room for piecing/cutting out fabrics; and space around my sitting area for hand embroidery with fibers and ribbons.
What is your favorite storage tip for your fabric and creative supplies?
Purchase little containers with screw on lids for beads!
Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
A sharp #2 pencil is my marking tool of choice for light fabrics and a white chalk pencil for dark fabrics. I use mostly chenille and milliner needles in various sizes. Other than these, I can adapt to any tool available.
Chenille needles are sharp with a large eye, perfect for any fiber and silk ribbon. Milliner needles have the same size eye as the shaft making them ideal for knots. So why use any other needle for embroidery?
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, movies? What kind?
Usually silence, probably from years of work being quiet with lots of thinking going on. That just seems ideal now for me. Even when driving, I usually don’t have any music playing. I am however always thinking of “my next project” or how to adapt a current project into a class.
When you travel to teach workshops, do you stitch on planes and in waiting areas? What is in your creative travel kit?
I’m usually driving, so don’t stitch on the road. I do “doodle” in a design book however. This allows me to create new seam ideas, which is why there are 480 of them in my latest book.
Are you a “finisher”? How many UFOs do you think you have?
Ha, sometimes I finish things that are intended for others before I finish things for myself. So, I always have UFO’s at any given time. I also find that my taste changes over time; some projects begun years ago are still unfinished as I have totally lost interest in them.
Crazy quilting is known for layers of embellishment. How do you know when a work is finished?
A piece will hang on my design wall for a time after it is “finished”. Sometimes I add more and sometimes I don’t. I find that the project will let me know after I have walked around it for a few days or even weeks.
Are you creative in more than one area? What else do you like to create?
I love to bake but don’t know how creative my creations are. I’m usually keen on trying new things rather than perfecting one specific technique. As far as needle arts, I enjoy crocheting, sewing and cross-stitch.
How can people contact you to teach workshops in their areas?
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