Karen McTavish not your stereotypical quilter

Karen McTavish Quilting class, MQX West. machine quiting, McTavishing, asian art and quilts. Barbara Harms Fiber Art

I have a long list of amazing quilters who I would love to interview on my blog. Talented, interesting people, who I know other people would enjoy reading about as well.
But the obvious question is would they agree to be interviewed on my little blog?
Well there’s one thing for certain, I’ll never know if I don’t ask.

I began sending emails to some of my favorite quilters, requesting an online interview. One name at the top of that list was Karen McTavish. Karen has had a huge impact on my quilting, and judging from the many accolades and awards she’s accumulated, other’s too.

When I sent an email to her, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting a response.
So you can imagine my surprise to see the name Karen McTavish in my inbox. I thought, “That was so nice of her to write back personally to decline my interview”, but when I opened it -gasp- she had agreed to it! This was from THE Karen McTavish, not a sweet little 70-year-old lady who is a greeter at WalMart named Karyn McTavish.

Karen McTavish has rocked the quilting world with her traditional whole cloth machine quilting techniques .  And what quilter hasn’t heard of McTavishing?

Karen is an Award Winning Longarm Quilter, Author, Instructor, Speaker, Judge,  representative for APQS and APQS dealer. Her work on Wholecloth/Whitework quilts, Shadow and Color Trapunto, Scrollwork and Victorian Feathers is legendary.

She is best known for developing her signature technique McTavishing  and techniques which  replicate traditional hand-quilting using  a machine.

As an author she has written some of the best books on machine quilting out there, books that you must own; Whitework Quilting, The Secrets of Elemental Quilting, Quilting for Show, Mastering the Art of McTavishing, and coming in spring 2011 -A new pattern book  http://www.onwordboundbooks.com/products1.html

A friend and I attended her trunk show and demonstration a few years ago. We were already Karen McTavish “groupies”, well since technically a groupie follows her idol from show to show, we couldn’t afford to be official groupies, but we were groupies in our hearts, let me tell you that!

We expected an amazing & informative presentation and we weren’t disappointed..
But what I didn’t expect was Karen the person. This woman is interesting, witty, humorous, thoroughly entertaining. She has a big personality that matches her big ole talent! You can’t help but like Karen the person as much as the work and talent of Karen McTavish.

She’s not your stereotypical quilter. She seems to be full of contradictions, from her long dark dreadlocks to her tats of ornate heirloom Victorian feathers to being the lead singer in her own rock band. She’s young, exciting, interesting and refreshingly non-conventional. Her contradictions make her the talented artist that she is..

I don’t think Karen would be comfortable with all this gushing on. So. I’ll let you read on for a wee glimpse into Karen McTavish the person, and the quilter. Karen graciously sent some very personal photos as well. Enjoy!

You’ll want to check out her website for more.

1-What inspires you to create and how do you stay motivated?
Music. Music. Music.
Mouth of the Architect, Rage Against the Machine, Since the Flood, Silverchair, Russian Circles, Oh, Sleeper, Norma Jean, Nights Like These, Neurosis, Martyr A.D., The Mars Volta, Lamb of God, Korn, Every Time I Die, Ekotren, Seven Year Existence, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Dead to Fall, Converge, At the Drive-In, American Head Charge, Alcest, Maynard James Keenan, Patti Smith, Blue Water Dance, Tiger Blue Death Squad, Rodrigo y Gabriela, DevilDriver, 36 Crazyfists, Pantera, The Distillers, Deftones, Chevelle, Cult of Luna, A Perfect Circle, Atreyu, August Burns Red, Cowboy Junkies, The Cure, Eddie Vedder, Elliott Smith, Husker Du, In Flames, John Frusciante, Killswitch Engage, Muse, Apocalyptica, Queens Of The Stoneage, Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Serj Tankian, Static X, System of a Down, Tool, Slipknot, Straight Line Stitch

2- How do you keep your work fresh and interesting ?
I never copy quilting designs or get inspiration from the quilting industry. I draw everything from my mind. All my work is original work. My work is inspired by things outside the quilting world. I am greatly inspired by elements outside the genre of quilting. I will either be completely outside the box of tradition, or I can be completely comfortable inside that traditional box of quilting. I actually am more comfortable in the traditions of quilting. This is my comfort zone. Traditional quilting has clear and distinct rules and guidelines that I can follow. It feels very easy for me to be a traditional quilter and stay within those comfort zones. I would much rather quilt a traditional quilt, than quilt a non-traditional quilt.

3-Where do you get your ideas for designs?

I tend to lean on Traditional designs that have “feathers” then add a scroll or whip to the stem. Then go from there in the space that I am allowed to move. I usually draw the design on paper first, then light box the design directly on to the quilt top.

4–Who or what have had the most influence on your work?

I was so isolated when I started – I had only library books as my source of teaching. I would say my teachers were “dead hand-quilters”. No one told me that I couldn’t do what hand-quilters were doing on a longarm quilting machine. I just tried to do what the “dead hand-quilters” were telling me to do in the old decayed library books that I picked up in the library.

5-What do you do for fun [besides quilting]?

I sing vocals in a band locally. I work with other women in a sewing group of survivors of domestic abuse which meets weekly in my studio teaching them how to piece quilt tops. I raise my 5 year old son. I work in my studio as much as I can on my own projects which is nice.

6-Share with us something funny that has happened to you recently:

Good things happen to me. I get stuck in the bad things all day long. I focus on the bad things. I believe in Karma. I am not a big “God” girl. I believe in Spirituality. When I am working on a quilt – for example. I go into Karma mode. I am always worried that something “BAD” will go wrong on the quilt- so I go into Karma mode- big time. I start donating to NPR, I buy the dude behind me in the McDonalds drive-thru line a burger, and drive away. I do random acts of kindness all day while I am working on the quilt – trying to build up as much Quilt “Karma” as possible. Because nothing can go wrong while I am working on the quilt. If I am asked to change a tire, while I am working on an important quilt, I will do it, to build up the quilt “Karma”. I am doing crazy acts of kindness for weeks all because I believe it will help this quilt.
If I am not quilting something amazing or important ..I would say.”sorry buddy.You are on your own.do I look like I know how to change a tire?”. See? I really am not a nice person.

7-How have you handled the business side of your career?

I learned as an Quilting Instructor how to help other longarm machine quilters overcome the phrase: “But my customers won’t pay more”. This has been very rewarding. Helping other longarmers learn to charge more for their work – it’s very rewarding to help them learn the process.

8- What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

Practice Practice Practice, of course – I didn’t – I practiced on customer quilts. But the best advice is to do your own thing. Do what feels right. Overcome all the nightmares, you will screw up. I did. And get thru it. Get over the fear..we all have fear. Get to the other side. This is the best job in the world! It’s perfect for the single mother – this is why I started quilting in the first place. And believe me – I was NO Quilter when I started quilting.

9-How would you describe your style?

Ridiculous. I don’t even brush my hair. Are you talking about my hair?

10-Describe yourself in 5 words.

Loud, QuiltxCore, Hardcore, Protective, isolated

11-What has been your biggest obstacle in achieving your success?

 Too many Non-Smoking Hotel Rooms, Inability to hear very well due to many rock concerts, Not enough Starbucks on every street corner.

Mom, daughter Ally moving


Silver Threads



Published by Barbara Harms Fiber Art

About Myself & My Approach Art has always played a role in my life, in one form or another. by my teens I had narrowed my focus to painting. I decided I was going to become a serious painter. I joined the Las Vegas Artist's Guild at 15, the youngest member at that time. I was completely out of place, I tried to go unnoticed, a mute fly on the wall, with a big smile pasted on my face. I've continued to paint most of my life. After a move to Oregon years later, I was introduced to quilting and fell in love. I was introduced to quilting & fell in love. In time I missed the creative freedom painting made possible. Then I discovered mixed media fiber art, I was home. MY APPROACH TO ART It's the creative process that holds the greatest attraction for me. Starting with a tiny seed of an idea; vague and blurred around the edges, I follow where that leads. There are often many changes and adjustments along the way. The result can often be surprizing. My approach is an instinctual one. Generally, I do little pre-planning. I make creative decisions, choices, directions as they present themselves. This approach can lead to quite a few changes in the direction. I love that element of surprize! Sometimes I have one that I especially like, I can't wait to show someone. At that moment l feel like a six year old, running home from school, a drawing in hand, excited to show Mom. At those times. I'm smiling like the Cheshire cat. I’ve had some of my work published in several magazines. which is exciting. But the most gratifying thing is having clients be really happy with their purchased art quilt. Word press https://barbaraharmsfiberart.com Etsy shop-sales https://barbaraharms.com Contact: inquiry barbaraharmsfiberart@icloud.com.com Personal Links

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Barbara Harms Fiber Art

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