Friday, June 6, 2014

Interview with Kevin Kosbab

Say you have a question about applique. It could be, “What the heck is applique and why would I want to do it?” Or it could be more like, “How can I broderie-perse a flower with very skinny petals without fraying?

You can find the answers to these questions and many more in The Quilter’s Applique Workshop: Timeless Techniques for Modern Designs (Interweave, 2014), by Kevin Kosbab. It’s an impressive handbook of techniques and projects that cover everything you need to know about sewing one piece of fabric onto another.

The book opens by handily refuting the most common anti-applique sentiments (too fussy, too hard, requires hand sewing, etc.). It also does a great job at explaining the pros and cons of raw-edge, prepared-edge, and needle-turn applique. And the patterns are very modern and cool, and even include some improvisational techniques. Most inspiring, perhaps, is Kevin's attitude about quilting. The overall message is, Do whatever brings you joy, and don't worry too much about what other people think. 

We recently had the chance to ask Kevin some questions about The Quilter’s Applique Workshop.

The Counterbalance Quilt uses prepared-edge techniques and is machine-sewn.
In the introduction to the book, you mention that you started quilting on your own, without the assistance of a quilt guild or the Internet. What inspired you to start quilting?

My mom bought me a sewing machine so I could make curtains, and that quickly led to other home-dec sewing—namely a quilt for my bed. I’d been interested in both graphic and interior design for a long time, so quilting turned out to be the perfect combination of the two.

What was your first project? What do you like or dislike about it now?

My first quilt was a “Day at the Beach” from Denyse Schmidt's first book, adapted to bed size. It’s hard to believe that even back in those days (less than 10 years ago) solids were difficult to find—one of the things I'm not so fond of now is that a good part of the quilt is poly-cotton blend!

What was the biggest mistake you made in the early days?

Probably trying to run hand-quilting thread through my machine. It took some time for proper pressing to sink in, too.

This may be a dumb question, but with words like “applique” and “broderie-perse” … Did the French invent this technique? What’s the history here? And do you think the accent marks scare away some people?

Stitching one piece of cloth onto another for decorative or practical purposes is an ancient technique, if not prehistoric, so the French can only be credited with the term that’s currently in favor (“applied work” often appears in older books). You may well be right that the foreign names make people think appliqué’s more exotic than it is. I think it may also suggest fussy, frilly, nineteenth-century styles to some people—which is a shame, since one of the best things about appliqué is its versatility.

Fruit Market Quilt, an homage to mid-century designer Jean Ray Laury
In the book, you mention that you’re inspired by mid-century graphic design. Can you tell us more about the objects, designers, or styles that inspire you? Has this changed over the years, or have you always been a mid-century kind of guy?

Patterns from mid-century fabrics, wallpapers, and dishes are natural sources for quilt designs, but I get ideas from mid-century posters, book and record covers, architecture, furniture, and all sort of other things. There’s a visual exuberance of color and shape that really appeals to me, from “high” designers like Alexander Girard, Verner Panton, and Lucienne Day all the way through to unsigned household goods. I’ve always had an interest in the design of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, which only grows as I learn about new (to me) designers.

What’s you’re favorite part of the quiltmaking process, and why? What’s your least favorite part?

Designing is probably my favorite part, but not necessarily just the preliminary design processes—I often add and subtract fabrics as I go and keep adjusting the final project while I’m making it, and I really enjoy seeing the idea come to life. I love hand-sewing too, for its relaxing, meditative qualities. Basting before quilting is probably the worst—does anyone like doing that?—but it’s become much easier now that I’ve set up a semi-permanent basting table in my garage.

What do you do with your finished quilts—keep, give away, sell? What’s the most special gift quilt you’ve made?

I usually hold onto quilts to use as samples when I’m teaching, lecturing, or marketing patterns. Probably because my background is in publishing, it’s always made more sense to me to make a quilt once and sell multiple copies of patterns rather than try to sell the quilts themselves. One of my first appliqué quilts was a gift for my partner when we were living long distance, though now that we’re married its kind of back in my possession!

Reverse-appliqued Eccentric Concentrics Wall Quilt

I liked your sidebar encouraging us to ignore the “quilt police” and to use the techniques that seem best to us. You also mention that you choose to make quilts not for shows or posterity but in order to bring joy to your loved ones. Was this position hard to come by? Have the quilt police ever called you in for questioning?

That sidebar’s kind of my manifesto, albeit tongue in cheek. It’s really just an articulation of how I’ve felt about quilting since I started. I personally make quilts because I enjoy the process of making and designing them, but I know that many quilters are motivated by sharing their quilts as gifts or charity donations—and whatever the case, my feeling is that quilting should be something we do because we enjoy it. I know there are people who genuinely get their pleasure from doing things “the right way,” but everyone should be allowed to decide that “right way” for themselves.

I haven’t had to answer to the quilt police directly very often, but I’m sure they’re working up a file on me!

What’s next for you?

I’m developing a line of patterns that reinterpret classic mid-century modern design through piecing, appliqué, and quilting, which I’m very excited about. And right now I’m really intrigued by screen-printing, so I’m experimenting with hand-printed fabric for use in quilts. Of course, I’m also teaching classes related to the book, so I’ll continue spreading the appliqué love!

Thanks, Kevin! One lucky guild member will win a copy of The Quilter’s Applique Workshop at our meeting on June 19.

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