Artist Profile: Katharine Cobey

As a sculptural knitter, Katharine brings fiber and other materials together to create exquisite works that challenge her and those who are witness to her art. Although soft-spoken, Katharine speaks with a clear, loud voice as she tells stories that resonate with those who listen. We are thrilled that Katharine will be with us at Fiber College this fall to teach “Going in Circles” — let’s meet Katharine. You can also learn more about Katharine at her website http://www.katharinecobey.com

What does this year’s Fiber College theme “Do It Your Way!” mean to you from your perspective as a fiber artist and teacher?

Katharine is a sculptural knitter

Katharine Cobey is a sculptural knitter

“Doing it my way” is at the heart of what I do both as an artist and as a teacher. I have spent the last forty years trying to use knitting as a sculptural tool, learning to speak my own mind and heart with it. As an artist this has meant experimenting and studying what knitting can and cannot do, and then digging into my own self for what I want to try and express. Doing it my way means not copying other people’s work, no matter how good it is.

As a teacher I can only pass on techniques and encourage. I hope that as my students learn to knit, they will begin to knit things their own way, not mine, and not in the way of other knitters or what they see in knitting magazines.

Katharine uses diagonal knitting in this creation

Katharine uses diagonal knitting in this creation

Finally I try to encourage self confidence. Women are great learners, good followers of directions, but even in our own times they have difficulty taking themselves seriously. Perhaps the greatest obstacle to great knitting, is that women restrict themselves to knitting copies of pretty clothes that other people have designed.

When I first got a studio at the Torpedo Art Center in Alexandria, I realized that the only thing that could keep me from making knitted art would be if I bought into my culture’s belittlement of women and knitting. Why would using yarn, instead of clay or wood or paint on canvas make the creating of art less possible?

 

How does one decide to become an artist?
To decide to become an artist means committing ourselves to trying to make significant, expressive things, and then to go on trying even when we fail.

Katharine encourages her students to do things their way

Katharine encourages her students to do things their way

What would a student be most surprised to know about you?
How funny I can be.

Tell us about a proud moment youve had as a result of your studentsefforts.
I love to see my students encourage each other. One year at Haystack, a class of 5th graders came thru. We were ready for them and instead of talking to them about our work, we taught them to finger knit.

Youve just run into an old friend from high school. How do you answer the question, What do YOU do?
When I tell someone “I am a sculptural knitter,” I expect that they will either keep a very straight face or laugh outright. My sister did the latter.

As an instructor, what would be the best advice you could give to a student?

Work and experiment steadily, in fact daily.

What project has given you the most satisfaction and why?

Katharine Cobey's  "Portrait of Alzheimers"

Katharine Cobey’s
“Portrait of Alzheimers”

I like how PORTRAIT OF ALZHEIMERS is technically simple. In this shawl I set up a stitch pattern and then model the stitch pattern degenerating, as the nerve connections do in the disease. Knitting is all about connections and disconnections, as is Alzheimers.
I like how the shawl implies both the absence and beauty of the persons that Alzheimers takes from us. Two very important people to me, my own mother and Elizabeth Zimmerman, died from this disease. This piece is dedicated to them both.

Who has had the greatest influence on your work as an artist?

Katharine sculpts wood for "Boat with Four Figures"

Katharine sculpts wood for “Boat with Four Figures”

My late husband David’s support and encouragement have been steadfast and crucial. Without his help and understanding, everything would have been different. He has been, from the very beginning, my work’s photographer, as well as doing the layout and all the technical drawing in my book DIAGONAL KNITTING – all of this without ever knitting a stitch himself. When I began carving the four six ft. wooden pieces for BOAT WITH FOUR FIGURES, he lent me tools and showed me how to hold them. And more importantly, then he left.

How do you ensure plenty of time to be an artist?

I think that there are several ways for today’s women to have enough time to be full time artists: we can win the lottery, inherit money, marry an understanding and wealthy partner, or teach. The latter is questionable, as it too, is a full time profession.

 

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