Open to adventure, and willing to persevere through the details of her life journey from Copenhagen to Brooklyn, it is no surprise that Kirsten Fisher creates fiber art bowls that are both fanciful and meticulous. Her work is graphic and full of color, sometimes echoing traditional quilt blocks, but, more often, celebrating original design possibilities.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I have always considered myself more of a craft person than an artist. Craft has been part of my life since I was seven years old, when my grandmother taught me how to knit and do embroidery. It was not until I took a class with Nancy Crow, a few years ago, that I started to look at my work as art instead of craft. I still love the fact that the work that I create can also be used.
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What brought you to Brooklyn? Was it a big adjustment from life in Copenhagen?
In the summer of 1975, one night I took a break from my studies in biology at the University of Copenhagen and went with a friend to a jazz club. There I ran into a guy from Brooklyn. Two days later he proposed, and I said yes. It took a couple of trips to New York over two years before all the paperwork was completed.
I arrived in New York two weeks before the 1977 blackout, which lasted two days. It was quite an adjustment to move from Copenhagen to New York. I had never lived in a multi-cultural society before, and I learned really fast that there are other ways at doing things than the Danish ways. For example, jaywalking was a revelation for me.
How did you get started with quilt making?
In 1991, by coincidence I stumbled upon the Brooklyn Quilters Guild quilt show and fell in love with quilting. I love math so the many geometric shapes and their endless possibilities appealed to me. Quilting gave me the opportunity to be so much more creative than just sewing clothes and knitting. I was very lucky that I could take quilting lessons and meet other quilters and join the Brooklyn Guild, where I have been co-president and am still is a very active member.
What inspired you to transform flat quilt blocks into three-dimensional bowls?
Once, when I was visiting my mother in Denmark, she told me she had trouble remembering where she left her housekeys. She had seen some of my quilts and loved the Ohio Star block, so I decided to make her a bowl for her keys based on the Ohio Star pattern. I have always loved a good challenge like that. The design solution was to change the shape of the four corner squares and make the bowl consist of three layers like a quilt.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your new book, Modern Fabric Art Bowls?
Over the last 15 years, I have experimented with the many possibilities of bowl making with the technique I developed. I hope the readers will find that in less than a day, they can make something special and express themselves artistically by using either a quilt block, appliqué or embroidery.
To make the pattern and design easier, I have developed a template to go with the book. The template makes it possible to make bowls as small as 3″ x 3″ and as large as 17″ x 17″.
You are known for your artful fabric bowls; do you still make quilts as well?
I am primarily a bowl maker, but that does not mean I have given up on quilting. I still make the occasional quilt for a show, but mostly I make charity quilts for one of the many causes the Brooklyn Quilters Guild supports. And, of course, I also make the occasional baby quilt for close relatives.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I rarely plan out my bowls in advance. Each one starts with an idea. I will then try to think the process through, to see where the challenges lay. For example, for the very large bowls, the question is always how many layers of interfacing will be needed to construct the bowl. Another challenge can be how to actually sew the seams together. After that first stage, I let my creativity loose.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
My work space is a very nice, large, and well-lit room on the top floor of our house. Two of the walls are lined with bookcases with my fabrics, so I can pretty much see all of them. One wall has one of my sewing machines, my ironing station, templates and a small design wall. The last wall has another sewing machine plus a great window with the view of 150-year-old wooden houses with wonderful old backyards. In the middle of the room I have my drafting and cutting table. I used to call it my sewing room. Now I call it my studio.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Like many other quilters, I have a small collection of sewing machines. My Singer Featherweight, which left the assembly line the month I was born, is just for decoration. With all the decorative gold intact and still sewing the perfect stitch, it reminds me that age is just a number.
My computerized Bernina, with its many optional feet, makes it possible to sew any stitch I want. Another favorite machine of mine is my 1980 iron-cast Singer Kenmore that my mother-in-law gave me, so I didn’t have to borrow her machine every time I wanted to sew something. That machine will sew through anything, which is very useful when you have to sew through four or five layers of heavy interfacing.
There are many brands of fusible interfacing on the market. My absolute favorite is Fast2Fuse Heavy. I use it in all my bowls except when I make silk bowls. Fast 2Fuse Heavy just has a stronger bond with the fabric and is by far the sturdiest heavy double-sided interfacing.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
Because a bowl is a three-dimensional shape, most of the time I will sketch my design idea directly on the interfacing, before I cut out the pieces. That way I can make sure the design does not become part of the seams and works when viewed from all four sides of the bowl.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I prefer to work in silence. In bowl making I spend most of the time drawing the pattern, cutting out the pieces and selecting the fabric. While doing that, I just find it easier not to have any background distractions.
If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?
If I could pick a creative person to meet, it would be the Danish writer, Karen Blixen. Her ability to draw pictures with words makes me love her books. Whether it is her description in Out of Africa of her 17 years in Africa as a single woman owning a coffee plantation or her incredible storytelling in Babette’s Feast.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people? Or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
Some people are just born incredibly creative, but I think most people have some kind of creativity within them. Not everyone is lucky enough to find it. But when you find it, you have to work with it to keep on growing as a creative person.
What is the biggest challenge to being successful in a creative field? Any advice to offer?
Like many other creative people, I am somewhat of an introvert. It is a real challenge to go and “sell” myself. I am lucky to have friends who push me, too, so my advice is to find good friends who will push you and help you tackle the practical obstacles.
How do you get unstuck creatively?
When I get stuck creatively, I try to work through it. I might make a bowl based on a quilt block, and just play around with the fabrics. I know it will not be my greatest work but most of the time, I will have learned something.
If we asked a good friend of yours to describe your work, what would they say?
Beautiful, and how did you do that?
Tell us about a challenging piece. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?
It is a real challenge to make very large bowls using interfacing. My bowls all have an inside and an outside layer, which I fuse together. In my largest bowl, the inside layer has at least 30 seams on each side. Every time you add a seam, you add measurements, so when I tried to put the inside layer and outside layer together, the inside layer was too large. I solved the problem by making another outside layer. Now I don’t make the outside layer until I have the correct measurements of the inside layer. Then I know they will fit together.
Updates from Kirsten
The primary technique is the same in both books. The bowls consist of two layers, an inside layer and an outside layer, both made with heavy double fusible interfacing fused to fabric. The two layers are made separately and then fused together to make one very sturdy bowl, with different designs on the inside and outside of the bowl.
Round Fabric Art Bowls has, as the title says, patterns for round bowls. There are 6 projects in the book, each with a different inside design. In addition there is a chapter with suggestions on how best to select a fabric to make your own interesting design. Round Fabric Art Bowls also has instructions on how to sew curved seams when using heavy fusible interfacing, which is pretty simple once you see the technique.
How do you manage your creative time?
Like many other artists, I have a hard time managing my time.
I have a timesheet on the door to my studio. It has the date, name of project, time in and time out on it. However, I am not a very disciplined worker and will often be distracted by an idea while I am working on something else.
So my time sheet will tell me how much time I have spent in the studio but not how much time I have worked on one project or even worked concentrated. The most important thing is to finish something, even if I have to come back to it a couple of times.
How often do you start a new project?
In order to stay organized and focused I try not to work on more than two projects at a time and not to start a new project until I have finished one of the ones I am working on. I have a tendency to start a project and then jump to another when I get an idea that inspires me more.
Once I was working on a bowl with an inside design of a star, and while working on it wanted to see if I could get the points of the star to hang out over the edge of the bowl. Now that became a whole new project and I had to force myself not to lose interest in the original one, while I experimented with the second project.
Which part of the bowl design process is your favorite, and which part is a challenge for you?
It is often a fabric that is my inspiration for the inside design of a bowl. I love selecting fabrics to work with and that I think will work together and I enjoy experimenting with which part of the fabric will work best. It can be time consuming to pull out many fabrics from my stash and audition them until I think I have the right combination. Sometimes I have an idea in mind and the fabrics fill it out. Other times I just pull out all my scraps and they tell me how they want to fit together.
Because fabric fused to interfacing does not give and can’t be bent, the order in which the pieces are sewn together becomes very important. That can be a challenge, especially with a star design.
The technique is easy to learn. It’s great when someone posts or emails me that they just finished their first bowl and can’t wait to start their second!
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
To let my bowls be the focus, I have tried to keep my website as simple as possible. I hope visitors to my website will see how versatile my bowls are. I want them to be inspired to make bowls themselves, whether they do patchwork, appliqué or embroidery.
Visit Kirsten’s website.
Interview posted February 2021, updated July 2023
Check out How to Make a Fabric Bowl where Lynn takes you through the steps to make one of Kirsten’s bowls.
Browse through more inspiring home dec projects on Create Whimsy.