I first learned about Kathy Doughty when I skimmed one of her books in a quilt store and ended up taking it home. Her books are among my absolute go-to sources when I want to feel inspired. Though American, Kathy has settled in Australia where she runs a successful quilt shop called Material Obsession.
So what makes Kathy’s quilts so special? I suggest you open one of her books up and take a look. Kathy has such a cool and irreverent sense of style. Not a modernist and not a traditionalist Kathy defines her own style by blending patterns and fabric families like few others dare to do. She thinks nothing of mixing large scale chintzy fabrics with civil war reproductions and polka dots or graphic modern fabrics. She seems to have no fear that the quilting police will come to her door. Pattern on pattern, colors that many of us have learned don’t go together… her quilts maintain a vibrant structure that just makes me sigh.
It was maybe fortunate that I was on my third glass of prosecco when I bumped into Kathy that night. Had I been introduced to her on the trade floor in a stage of sobriety I would have probably mumbled something about loving her books and then stood around feeling stupid and inadequate until she excused herself. As things turned out I had a rather lovely conversation with both Kathy and her photographer-husband John and the upshot of this is that Kathy is coming to Phoenix to teach this fall…at the Bernina Connection which is my FAVORITE quilt store in town. Score!
Gracious as she is, Kathy took time out of her busy schedule to do a little interview for me. All the pictures included in this post are courtesy of John Doughty who takes all the photos for Kathy’s books as well.
Why did you start quilting? What was your early quilting journey like?
I started quilting 21 years ago after receiving a gift of a quilt from a friend when my son Noah was born. I still remember standing with the quilt in my hands, looking at it and getting lost in the pattern. It was an emotional moment as the concept of the quilt being made by hand by my friend and her daughter dawned on me. I looked at her and said, “Teach me how to do this right now!” From that moment on I have had piles of fabric in my house and quilts on the go in various stages of design. In those days finding fabric was not easy in Australia. I had to scavenge around and make choices from limited collections in a few small shops but I did it and relished it. Trips home found me in Amish country in Ohio where fabric was abundant and my suitcases filled quickly. My quilts were impulsive collections of scraps, clothing and screen printed squares. Very scary to look at now as I was not a natural needle woman and had no experience at all.You have a unique sense of color and pattern combination in your quilts.
Have you always had this sense, or is it something that you have developed over time?
We are but the sum of our parts and I have had a life full of opportunities to work with design and color. Material Obsession has always been a place where fabric choices were diverse and contemporary so working in the shop means I am surrounded by fabric combinations all the time. I work with customers to help them make decisions regardless of what I like so combinations become somewhat objective. I don’t want to force my choices on people. Like bicep curls, this exercise gives me confidence to make more daring choices. I just believe that if I like it, it is ok. I can’t say that I have always made the right choices but I can say I have always made the choices myself!
When you are picking fabrics for a quilt, what are your guidelines? How do you start the process?
Picking fabrics is like breathing. I just do it. So some quilts start from one joyful selection full of color combinations that interest me in that moment. Some quilts start with a pattern and a drive to find “just the right” replacement fabric. I’d say one of my best skills is finding a fabric that does the same thing as the one I am looking at so I can recreate what I see in a different way.
What led you to want to open your own quilt shop?
Spots and stripes. I can remember being frustrated by limited options for my quilts. I was sure there were fabrics out there that I could use but I couldn’t find them. The “retro” look was in at the time and a serious need to find graphic prints to get the right look made me conscious of what was missing in the market. I met Sarah Fielke at my quilt group and we started teaching together at a small local shop. Eventually the owner asked if we wanted to buy the shop and the rest is history.
How do you think the Australian quilting world is different from the American? It seems to me that there is more handwork and appliqué (Lynnette Anderson, Kim McLean, etc) is that true?
The Australian quilters are equally inspired by English and American quilters which creates a hybrid situation. “We” (I am American!) blend the paper and hand piecing skills brought to Australia by the early settlers with the modern influences of American quilters into something uniquely Australian. There are some very talented quilters that have been generously teaching for many years in major cities. This is a small country so the effect has been great.
There is a theory that the light affects us and how could it not. The world here is full of contrast and color…the warm climate means everything flowers. Step outside of the city and the earth takes on a beautiful red glow that is different to the earth in other places. The earthy tones let the glorious colors stand out. There is certainly a lot to take the imagination on a wander…
Is there a quilting related skill that you wish you were better at, or knew how to do?
Ah, good question. One of the reasons I love quilting is that I can keep learning how to do new things forever. I started not knowing what a 1/4″ seam is so I have already learned an enormous amount. I would like to be better at machine quilting and have started taking classes in that area. Fine tuning my skills is always motivating. I get so excited by the color and the promise of the finished quilt that sometimes I just work too fast. However, I have learned that a quilt finished in haste is often not as pleasing as one I have taken my time with making. I am no longer in a rush to finish but am concentrating on savoring the process, whatever it is at the time from hand to machine.
Hmmm. Step outside the lines. Pretend you are in kindergarten. Don’t concern yourself with what anyone else thinks. If you like it, go with it. Make your own choices and in the words of Brandon Mably, don’t ask the person next to you as they may have very bad taste! More practically speaking…don’t try to match colors. Work the color scheme you choose with lots of different values and saturation levels. Mix it up!!!
If you are in the vincinity of the Bernina Connection in Phoenix, Arizona. Kathy will have a trunk-show and talk there on Friday evening November 7th, and she is teaching all day on Saturday November 8th. Call the Bernina Connection (602.553.8350) to inquire about class openings and reserve your spot.
Enjoy this lovely quilter-designer-author. Be inspired.