Artist Profile: Kathryn Simel

Quilting continues to enjoy a resurgence in the 21st century and Fiber College continues to be in the thick of it! The wide variety of modern colorful fabrics as well as reproductions of earlier traditional fabrics make for a thrilling time to come back to quilting or venture into quilting for the first time! Quilt designer Kathryn Simel joins our Fiber College community this year. Her beautiful work is inspired both by quilt traditions of the past and beautiful contemporary fabrics and she has won prizes both at Maine Quilts and Quiltcon. Her quilts are eye candy for those who enjoy clean, crisp designs that are often inspired by life on midcoast Maine. Kathryn will teach her delightful Quilted Lobster Buoy Pillow 9 AM to 1 PM, on Friday, September 8. Let’s meet Kathryn and then you can go sign up for her class here.

Fiber College chooses a new theme each year. For 2017, it’s Re-Use, Re-Design, Re-Create.  How do you incorporate any part of this theme into an important part of your life? 

As a quilt pattern designer, I am constantly reusing traditional quilt blocks in my original block designs. After moving to Maine in 2011, one of the first projects I tackled was an unfinished project from the 1990’s. This quilt top consisted of small traditional flying geese blocks. I redesigned the top by making smaller rows and surrounding these rows with modern pink solid and print fabrics. I love the look of the old and new in this redesign. It reminds me where I’ve been and where I am going, as my designs evolve. Quilters are so fortunate to have a long and vibrant visual history of our craft often tied into the social and political history of women. Re-using these themes in new designs is a foundation of our craft.

Kathryn will participate in this year’s Trunk Show at Fiber College!

Tell us how you entered into the world of fiber and the fiber arts?

I started my quilting journey back in 1989 with my Mom when I was home with my son on maternity leave. The history of the craft was very compelling to me.  I read all I could about the social and political forces that influenced the designs of quilters throughout the 1800 and 1900’s.  Back then I was a very traditional quilter but it didn’t take long before I was “changing” designs. Local quilting classes taught me the basics. After a long corporate career, my husband and I relocated to Midcoast Maine and I was able to devote more time to quilting.  A local shop owner noticed the quilts I was bringing in for long arm quilting and when she found out they were original, she encouraged and guided me through the process of pattern making. It was a steep learning curve; I am a one woman show from design to graphics, samples, and printing. The first pattern was published in 2013 and they are now sold through my website, my Etsy shop, and the Craftsy store. I have a couple of distributors that sell my patterns to independent quilt shops.

Kathryn’s Modern Churndash quilt

What’s the best piece of advice a mentor has ever given to you?

Enjoy the process! Stay in the moment and consider each step. Sometimes the creative process seems fast and easy – it just flows. Other times you may get stuck and it can be frustrating; either way, enjoy it. Each creation is unique and has its own story to tell.

Spout by Kathryn Simel

Tell us about a time that you developed an exciting idea for your fiber art; where did the idea come from? What inspired you? 

Living on the coast of Maine is an inspiration everyday. How to translate that into art can take many forms. My idea for the design Catching-Up came to me while standing in my yard enjoying a beautiful spring day. Canada Geese were flying back to Maine for the summer and a v-formation was flying overhead. All of the geese save one were in formation. I watched as this last goose tried to catch up to the rest.  Once the top was pieced I had a lot of negative space in the quilt that had to be quilted. I wanted to create the illusion of movement so I had the background quilted in a brick pattern as if the geese where flying against the backdrop of a building.  The rows of “geese” were quilted in a chevron pattern simulating their flying across the quilt top.

Catching Up by Kathryn Simel

If you could re-design your life as a fiber artist, what would that look like?

I really would not change a lot about my journey. My art developed as my life unfolded and career and responsibilities for others changed.  I’ve got a good flow and balance in my life at the moment. I do think that I have not had enough exposure to other artists and their processes. Every time I take a workshop, I learn something new or a different way to look at things. This is one reason that I am so looking forward to meeting the Gees Bend Quilters at Fiber College this year.

Simel’s Little Buoys–what a colorful way to celebrate life on midcoast Maine!

What or who has had the greatest impact on your work as an artist?

Definitely moving to Maine! We live in a beautiful little town called Cushing and my backyard is the head of a cove. On the mudflats the view is never the same. Changing the scenery and transitioning to a more rural way of life has slowed me down and allowed my creativity to come to the surface.  It is no wonder that a lot of my designs have coastal themes.

Kathryn is inspired by her surroundings on the coast of Maine.

How does your art recreate you? What does that feel like?

The best word I have to describe how I feel is freedom. Every morning when I go up to my studio, I feel free. Free to create, free to explore, free to invent. The possibilities are endless and the day is new. In my first career I worked in a cubicle for 27 years. In that job my days and time were anything but free!  I am very fortunate to be able to reinvent myself with my art.

If you could go back in time, what might you change about your fiber journey?

If I could go back in time, I would have paid more attention to my Grandmother and Mother, both accomplished crafters with excellent sewing skills. Acquiring these skills earlier in my life would have given me a stronger foundation for my journey. I also would have learned to knit earlier in my life. I love the endless possibilities of knitting and always have at least 5 projects on needles scattered around the house.

Kathryn is inspired by early quilts. Here is her prize-winning quilt, A Checkered Path.

What’s the most important thing that you want potential students to know about you?

When I started quilting back in the 1980’s there were a lot of rules and quilters were very concerned about making quilts the “right” way. I feel that the Modern Quilting Movement has freed us from a lot of those constraints. Students who take my workshops have heard me say “There are no rules!” I just love when someone takes a design of mine and morphs it into their own creation. Recently I have been combining different quilting techniques into one design. I am working on designs that are pieced and appliqued. One piece combines embroidery, and machine and hand quilting in the same design. I don’t like feeling constricted in any way and I encourage my students to do the same.

Hope you enjoyed meeting Kathryn Simel! Now you can go check out her class here.

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