karen farmer: my quilting muse
By Patricia Belyea
LONDON, UK I saw Karen Farmer’s Jitterbug (below L) in a quilting magazine before I started on my commission Family Guy (below R). Once finished, I became so self-conscious about the similarity of our quilts that I emailed Karen in the UK to discuss my concern.
Karen replied, “I am so happy that my quilt inspired you to make another. I love your quilt! It is certainly your own, and a lovely development of an idea.” I really appreciated Karen’s encouraging response. When I knew I was coming to the UK, I made arrangements to visit Karen in her quilting studio just south of London. Karen met me at the Southfields subway station and drove me to her lovely home nearby. We started in the wet room on the first floor where Karen dyes her fabrics and preps her quilts for shipping. On the worktable lay a diptych, One Night in Santiago, being packed for the Zero3 gallery at the upcoming Knitting & Stitching Show in London. The two small quilts intrigued me with their graphic piecing, painted details and bold mark making. We turned a corner and headed up some stairs to Karen’s light-filled design and sewing studio. To learn her craft, Karen received her patchwork and quilting diploma from City & Guilds. She then connected with Claire Benn and Leslie Morgan of Committed to Cloth—a learning experience that pushed her forward with surface design and contemporary piecing.
Her first foray in this new direction spawned Roots, an art quilt inspired by Amish neighbors’ quilts in her native Pennslyvania. It won first prize in the Contemporary division at The Festival of Quilts in 2009. A constant seeker, Karen saw the work of minimalist quilter Yoshiko Jinzenji from Kyoto, Japan at The Festival of Quilts in 2009. That pushed her to create an elegant series of art quilts including Escape, below. A more recent quilt, First Frost, continues this low-key design approach but with subtle color variations and integrated details to give a sense of place. Now delving into Japanese shibori dyeing. Karen uses this ancient technique in her modern quilts. Blue Festival, shown below, was included the European Triennial last year that resulted in a commission by a London company. (That quilt, The View from Here, is shown in Lots To See At The Festival blog post. Before we concluded our time together with a delicious lunch, Karen’s husband John invited me into the sitting room to see his Ampico in action. This player piano completely reproduces the music of the performer. I was delighted to sit with John and hear a rousing piano selection together. There’s a chance that Karen and a friend will come to one of my Yukata Quilting Workshops in 2015 to learn about curved piecing. What a flip that would be—me teaching Karen!