Karen Witt 5 Questions
1. When you get an hour to yourself, what do you do?
I study and I stitch! Isn’t it crazy that no matter how many hours I work in the quilting industry, I still turn to needlework for relaxation! And many times what I’m working on for fun becomes part of my business as I find I want to share everything I am learning with others. For example, when Reproduction Quilts began in 2005, we concentrated on reproducing cotton quilts from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Then I discovered wool applique and for a while that was my “hobby.” When I realized that late 19th century women loved to make quilts and small items of wool and embellish them with decorative stitches, we incorporated some wonderful reproduction quilts and mats of wool into our business. Next, I became fascinated with the embroidery on these items so I enrolled in classes with the Royal School of Needlework in England and began to improve my crewel, gold and counted work techniques. Now, as a result, I am frequently teaching needlework techniques to quilters as most of us want to learn all types of needlework, just as the women in the earlier centuries. I am constantly studying the history of all types of needlework and working to improve my skills and techniques so that I can teach all this to quilters everywhere!
2. What does your family think about your quilting business?
I wouldn’t be in the quilting business if I hadn’t had the upmost support and encouragement from my husband. In 2005 he went with me as I took my first 12 original patterns to Houston Quilt Market and as they say “the rest is history.” The patterns were purchased by United Notions, Checker, E. E. Schenck and Keepsake Quilting and soon I was scrambling to fill orders, design more patterns and design and make new quilts for fabric manufacturers and magazine publishers. My daughter was finishing her Masters in Textiles at the University of Kentucky and started helping as the business grew rapidly. She then formed her own business and began to design youthful and contemporary quilts as well as working with me and the reproduction fabrics and patterns. We have traveled all over the country (and even in Europe!) teaching and working with textile manufacturers, quilt festivals, and quilt guilds. And we even were asked to write a book which was published by Kansas City Star titled, Like Mother Like Daughter!
3. What big design are you working on now or next, and do you have pictures?
When you’re in business, you always have to be working on something new. Plus, it’s just my nature to be exploring new ideas and trying new techniques. Right now my passion is exploring all the new threads and fabrics that are on the market and studying how they can be used in quilt making. When I started quilting, we were so limited in fabric and notion availability that today’s options have made me feel like a kid in a candy shop! I want them all! Currently, I am incorporating some velvets and homespun fabrics into my wool designs and really like the result. As I study antique quilts, I see that frequently they used a variety of fabrics and that just makes sense – whereas we often limit ourselves and stress ourselves with selection, they freely utilized all the fabrics in the scrap basket and were less encumbered with rules and the thought of “quilt police.” That’s the style I’m trying to reproduce currently.
4. What is on your “bucket list?” What do you want to be known for?
I really hope to travel to England, Scotland and Ireland in the not-too-distant future. I’d like to spend many long, relaxed hours at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. And, I want to see (should I admit, purchase?) some woolen fabrics in Scotland. In Ireland, I want to see the coastline and just enjoy the ambience of the island. I am currently fulfilling part of my bucket list by traveling for needlework classes and enrolling in online courses. These opportunities have given me a wonderful opportunity to study needlework with world renowned teachers and every course has helped me improve my technique. For example, I’ve recently been studying the construction of caskets with Thistle Threads in an 18 month course. These are not the funeral type of caskets but are the wonderfully designed and stitched small boxes with secret compartments made in England in the late 1600’s. As I travel, I’d like to see some of them “in person.” And, who knows, maybe someday I’ll reproduce one of these intricate masterpieces for myself!
In business, I’d like to be known as an enthusiastic involved teacher, one who really cares about her students’ experience and success. I really try to help each quilter improve and become the best needlewoman she can be. I attempt to provide extensive one-on-one quality instruction with each person in my classes. Then, after we all return to our homes, I am always available for further assistance. I give each student my phone number and email address and I do answer questions, send pictures, and give references many months and even years after we meet in the classroom. My goal is that students are able to incorporate all that they learn in my classes into their future needlework.
5. Where do you get your quilting/needlework inspiration?
My head is constantly spinning with ideas for new quilts and needlework. I will need to live until at least 110 in order to bring them all into being! In terms of inspiration, I always say that our creativity is the sum of all of our experiences in life. I am always visiting museum exhibitions of antique quilts and other needlework, researching American life in previous centuries and studying how the events of those decades influenced quilt making. These experiences and more form my creativity and provide inspiration for quilting and needlework designing. I am always so excited to see the new fabric lines from our wonderful manufacturers. My study of antique fabrics has enabled me to be able to recognize which reproductions are the most accurate and I can often locate a picture of an original quilt using the actual fabric! Quilts are like clothing and home decorating – the styles change but they also repeat themselves. For example, I thought it was interesting when I learned that in the 1840’s cheddar and indigo (yes, used together!) was the current trend! I was able to use this information and designed a wall hanging using blocks from the 1840’s and reproduction cheddar and indigo fabrics. When I placed the quilt with a crock of sunflowers, I realized that the vignette looked quite contemporary as well as quite historically accurate. As I am “maturing,” I am finding that my designs express my experiences. For example, I frequently now find myself adding more purple to my designs and that my projects are more challenging as I continue to push myself to learn. These current projects reflect my past experiences and all the inspiration I have accumulated in years of quilt making and needlework.