Kathyanne White


AQATS19119-028 Kathyanne White.jpg


Kathyanne White




Kathyanne White


Elaine Johnson

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The Nat'l Quilting Assn


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Kim Greene


Note: There is a lot of background noise on the tape.

Elaine Johnson (EJ): Q.S.O.S. project. April the 8th, Saturday. This is Elaine Johnson and Heather Gibson interviewing Kathyanne White. We are going to talk about the quilt at Art Quilts at the Sedgwick. Could you tell me how you pronounce the name?

Kathyanne White (KW): Kauri. [pronounced cow-ree.] It is based on the trees in northern New Zealand.

EJ: Can you give us in your own words about the quilt?

KW: Sure. The Kauri Series was inspired on a trip I took to New Zealand. I taught at Quilt Symposium 2005 in Auckland, then traveled to the South Island, came back to Auckland to teach again, then I traveled to the Kauri Forest on the north Island and then down to Hamilton to teach one more workshop before heading home. I was in New Zealand for a month. When I returned to the states, I wanted to change my work and relate what I felt in the forests. Trees have long been my passion. I created what I called my "Limbs" series based on trees for several years. My limbs work was figurative and mostly depicted the shape of the branches of the trees from the Arizona desert. The textures in New Zealand made a big impact on changing my work. The Kauri's are just unbelievable, and the trees have the most beautiful bark, each tree's bark is different from the next, since the trees shed their bark, their surface changes. The Kauri's are amazing, majestic trees. Kauri trees are some of the largest on the planet. The only trees that are larger are the Redwoods in Kings Canyon National Park in Central California below Yosemite National Park. And so, when I came home, I thought, well this would be a whole different way to look at a tree. I am depicting my experience of the textures of the forest and the surrounding nature. So, I came up with dying canvas and burlap instead of dying cottons or silk or any of the materials that I usually worked with. These new materials have more texture and depth when dyed. I also use many of the raw edges in the composition to create a different surface then I usually created. After the first 2 Kauri pieces that I made, I decided to use hand stitching instead of machine stitching for the quilting. The machine stitching took a really long time since the thickness of the seams and material continually caused me to break needles and sew really slow. The hand stitching is done with 6 strands of embroidery thread in random patterns that I create as I go along. This textural surface gave the quilt the look that I wanted.

EJ: Are the use of the raw edges intermittent for the texture or--

KW: Yeah, it was for the texture, and the feeling of bark. Just something that I became fascinated by when the fabrics came out of the die bath. I was also interested in all the loose threads that unraveled from the edges in the washing machine. Sometimes I use some of that thread by sewing it between pieces of Solvy. I top stitch all over it and then place it in water, so the Solvy dissolves and leaves the threads all bound together by the top stitching. There are all sorts of different ways to do textures with the canvas and what it creates.

EJ: History of the Kauri tree itself, did that influence you?

KW: Well, actually not originally, no, I heard about the Kauri's from somebody who lived in New Zealand for many years. He told me I should go see the forests on the north island. When I went up there, I was just kind of blown away by the forest, it is impossible for me to explain how it felt to be in the company of the giant Kauri trees. The Kauri Forest is different from anything I had ever seen. There is a four-thousand-year-old tree there, massive. All sorts of great trees and foliage. I think it was just overwhelming to me once I was in the forest. I was 'Oh wow, look at these trees,' they are unbelievable.

EJ: How do you use this quilt when it is not, I mean, how do you first see it being used after it is not being shown?

KW: Well, this actually belongs to a collector, and she is going to hang it. She also said sometimes she may drape it. The collector told me she had several homes and moves her collection between residences. I would display any of my Kauri work by hanging it like this on the wall.

EJ: Do you have some, of the series that you have?

KW: Myself? No. No. Actually, I have very few of them, I have sold several pieces and I'm doing a solo exhibition, so really the only pieces that I have in my studio right now are the six big ones that are going to my solo exhibition in Colorado, in Denver. I try not to have anything in my studio because nobody can see them there, except me.

EJ: So, tell me about your, how you became interested in quilting originally.

KW: This is really funny. In, oh I don't know the mid-seventies, well actually my daughter Jennifer was born in '75, so I had a two-year-old in 1977. A friend of mine had the same age girl, and we decided we were going to do something out of the house, get a babysitter and go have some fun. So, we went to the Santa Monica Park District, and we learned how to quilt by hand. We would cut the little shapes, squares, triangles, and put them together by hand piecing. I love handwork, so I loved piecing that way. I love beading crocheting, knitting, embroidery, needlepoint, all that kind of hand work. Piecing by hand is a lot more time consuming, so it isn't very realistic when you want to make many quilts. I made all of these pillows [laughs.]. You know a lot of pillows. [laughs.] And I learned, I learned more about fabrics. I have been sewing since I was like seven years old, when I made my first skirt, so fabrics weren't new to me, but what was new to me is knowing what kind of fabrics are going to last, how the fabrics are going to be treated. If you make a pillow and it is less expensive fabric and you leave it on your couch, and two years later you can see that the color in the seams is way darker than the top, you know that the fabric you used is not top of the line since it faded. Then I started teaching classes and made quilt coats and jackets and sold them out of a store in Beverly Hills. That was my start into wearables.

EJ: So, your wearables line.

KW: Or quilts, or quilt jackets. Obviously, everything in the whole outfit couldn't be a quilt because you couldn't wear it. I showed my wearables in the AQS [American Quilters Society.] Paducah juried show. I never won any prizes, but I competed there several times. I got one of my daughters to be my model.

EJ: Did you do wearables and art, or traditional quilts at the same time, or did they?

KW: Yes, I did because I had stores in Sedona at one point and the stores that I had there were all my wearable line. So, I either painted or quilted or appliqu├ęd, something like that. At the same time, I was doing quilts where I did paint some of the squares. I painted some of the fabrics that went into the quilts, dyed fabric, used those types of fabric.

EJ: This particular quilt is a combination of machine and?

KW: I pieced the whole thing by machine, leaving some of the raw edges, using raw and seamed edges opposite to get the texture, and surface, then that assemblage is attached to the canvas. I never use batting, and I only use canvas as the backing layer. My work is done without batting, so it is ineligible in most quilt shows.

EJ: Right.

KW: And every once in a while, I want to try to get into a show and they require batting, I will put batting in it, and then I ask myself 'Why did I do that?'

EJ: Okay. So, you started quilting after you were an adult?

KW: Yeah, I was twenty-seven years old. That was pretty adult. I thought I was really an adult. Now, I look back and go, I don't think so.

EJ: [laughs.] What is your first memory of quilt?

KW: Well, that's a tough one, because we didn't have, I didn't have anyone around me that did quilting. My grandfather was a tailor, and he did suits and shirts and that kind of stuff, and my mother never did quilts. So, I would have to say Santa Monica Park District when I started by taking that first quilt class,

and started looking at who was doing quilts and what they were doing with the designs of quilts. I didn't have like a homey kind of, quilty kind of thing going on. I saw an art quilt show at UCLA and loved the different processes art quilters were experimenting with.

EJ: About how many hours a week do you quilt?

KW: [laughs.]

EJ: How many hours a week don't you quilt?

KW: It depends on if I'm getting ready for a show, or not. It depends on a lot of variables, but I would say that I work every day. It is very rare when I don't work. I might go to breakfast, I might go work out, I might come home at noon and work in my studio until six, but I work every day. So, I'm sure I work more than forty hours a week, and it depends on how short the day is from other activities.

EJ: Do you have any close friends or family that quilt?

KW: I don't have any family that quilt. None of my family quilts. I know many women that quilt, but not many close friends that quilt. I live in a very rural area and there are several quilt groups, but I am not involved in any of them. I work and don't take the time to go to a group thing.

EJ: Did you keep in touch with the person that you originally started quilting with?

KW: Oh, from the Santa Monica Park District [laughs.], no. [laughs.]

EJ: [laughs.]

KW: Her husband got a job in the north part of the state, and we lost touch after they moved.

EJ: Did you ever quilt; do you ever quilt to get you through a hard time or difficult time in your life?

KW: I could say yes, because I made a quilt when my mom was dying and it's in a museum collection now, but I didn't do that on purpose. I wasn't working on it to for consolation. It was actually harder to quilt at that time because I had to take a forty-five minute drive to see her when she was in the hospital, but I had some deadlines for shows and wanted to participate. So actually, I did name that quilt in reference to her, but it didn't come about from grief.

EJ: How has quilting impacted your family, your family life?

KW: [laughs.] Let me think. They all want my work for their walls. They all want quilts. My daughter has my first Log Cabin quilt I ever made; I have no idea how long ago that was. I think they like looking at them, they like having them, but a lot of my quilts are artwork for sale. I still do regular quilts, but not as many. I wrote an article for the American Quilters Society Magazine last year about my funky florals as I call them. The article was titled Coloring Outside the Lines. You cut 16 squares, stack them, cut curved pieces and mixed them up to make the squares many colors, piece the squares back together sew those squares together and you had a complete quilt in a day. I really enjoy quilting like that. Different from art quilts. Simply fun and decorative.

EJ: So, what part of quilting do you, what process on a quilt do you like the best?

KW: Hum, I really like the hand work. I love doing handwork. This kind of hand work is more difficult, it hurts my hands and have to use some pliers since the fabrics are so thick. The part that is really fun is thinking- 'Oh I can do this here and I can do that there' and enjoying the spontaneity of the hand work. Playing games in your head while you are sewing, instead of thinking 'Oh my gosh, this surface is so large, it will take me forever'. [laughs.]

EJ: Is there any part of quilting that you don't particularly look forward to?

KW: Well, I don't look forward to trying to make things fit. Working with a traditional measured pattern, making exact patterns, making corners fit. I will do tradition patterns, but the pieces are all free cut. So, if I make a Split Rail Fence or a Log Cabin, for gifts or just for fun, I use freehand piecing

EJ: What do you think makes a great quilt?

KW: Good composition, good color, something that kind of speaks to you rather than being a copy of something else or someone else's work I have seen. A piece that the artist has put themselves into. Work that speaks from the artist themselves.

EJ: What makes a great quilter?

KW: I think working at it. Creating a series of pieces. I think partially, that's what quilters don't usually do. And yes, a lot of them are working regular jobs, they are working full time and quilting sometimes. It is hard to do enough work when someone only has enough time to create a couple of pieces a year, but the more you work, the better you get. So, I think that working and creating over and over again, solving problems, honing skills and learning how to make great compositions helps make an artist a great quilter.

EJ: What do you think makes a quilt appropriate for a museum?

KW: Good question. The curator of a collection knows what they are looking for. An artist that has made a career and a name with some value to their work can be collectible. I am in a couple of museum collections and feel honored that those museums chose my work.

EJ: [laughs.] How do you think great quilters will learn how to become great quilters?

KW: I think taking workshops helps. Look at how other artists express themselves and look at other artist's work. Understand what speaks to you and why, then learn how to express your own ideas in a way no other artist does. Learn to do original work. This comes up in my workshops a lot. I teach workshops and the workshops that I teach encourage all the participants to express their own voice. When you participate in one of my workshops, your work will look like your work, as you participate in the various exercises. I think that learning to develop your own work, learning to stretch your boundaries, all those types of things. You know, now I forgot the whole question.

EJ: [laughs.]

KW: Did I answer that?

EJ: [laughs.]

KW: I get carried away. [laughs.]

EJ: [laughs.] How many workshops do you do?

KW: It depends. Last year I did a lot. For me it is a lot, 6 or 7, since I participate in shows, solo exhibitions and I have gallery representation that I continue to do artwork to sell. This year I'm not doing any. Teaching is something I do on a limited basis. I enjoy doing workshops because I learn whenever I teach. I have developed ideas in my workshops, that I will think of when people are asking me questions. I love to inspire other quilters to find their own voice and do their own work. Many of the quilt venues are looking for instructors to teach patterns or ideas they have created. My classes are different than that. My primary interest is to develop artwork and assist others to develop their own art with their quilts.

EJ: So, when you do your workshops, do you find yourself leaning towards machine quilting?

KW: I will teach how to freehand piece by machine, but they are encouraged to do anything style they want to do.

EJ: Anything?

KW: Yes, anyway they want to express their work. Everyone has a way they like to work and if they get enough time to get to the quilting part of a work, they pick how they want to develop the rest of the artwork they are creating. I encourage them to work anyway they are comfortable, so the participant can create the results they want. The exercises that I do in many of my workshops move them into experimentation, so they can do more work if they are working in a familiar way.

EJ: Why is quilting important in your life?

KW: Why is it? Well, it is how I express myself in art. I have never been turned on by painting, not that I don't like to look at paintings, but I am drawn to fabric.

EJ: In what ways, this particular one portrays a different region of the work.

KW: Correct.

EJ: In other works that you have done, has your work reflected your community?

KW: Yes.

EJ: And how?

KW: This is the first time that I have done something on the other side of the world.

EJ: [laughs.]

KW: When I, when I originally started the free style quilting when I wasn't doing the Log Cabins and whatever else I was doing, I started doing a series based on geometrics. I called them "Altered Images," and so I would make four geometric layers, in different shapes and colors, and then group them together in a composition, that reflected what I was interested in when I first started quilting. I was very geometric, and then as I worked through that series and got my techniques better and decided what I wanted to do, I went to a series that I called Limbs, and they were all based on dead trees in Arizona. These images were reflective of the southwest landscape. Now I am also working on reflections of Yosemite National Park. I am participating in an artist residency in Yosemite. I'm halfway through. The artist they pick each year are asked to come at 2 different times of the year to experience the park.

Now I will be working on the Kauri's and the Redwoods.

EJ: How do you feel quilts have influenced American life?

KW: Huh, American life. Well, I think that it has been some way for people to pass things down. My landlord at one point, had a trunk of all of these quilts that she had collected, she did not quilt. She had all the grandchildren that she was going to give them to. I think quilts are something tangible. I always wish that somebody would have left me quilts. There is something magic about those kinds of quilts. I used to go to antique stores and buy old quilts and cut them up and use them in my wearables. The Amish have always done a big job of quilts and are known for beautiful work in solid fabrics. It is a way for women to express themselves. Some men also.

EJ: How do you feel quilts can be preserved for the future?

KW: Well, I think, actually when Rebecca Stevens, one of the curators for this show, she wrote some information about this subject. I think it was the website for this Sedgewick show, because I'm in another show she was the curator for, but it told you exactly how you were supposed to take care of your textiles. Technology is better, there is more information on how to protect cloth and surfaces, and I think the museums do a really good job with that. I know that a lot of quilts that are in families, do disintegrate if you don't take care of them right. I have some baby clothes from my aunt, from the twenties, and I put them in a quilt, and some of them were just falling apart, from age. But I think the education and new technology, and I think they have seen what has happened to textiles in the past and have better knowledge of what it takes.

Heather Gibson (HG): Did you say that you used pliers with this quilt?

KW: Yeah. This one.

HG: I would like to hear more about that and how this evolved and how that all relates to the final result.

KW: With the canvas coming together with seam allowances and thickness, it is hard to get a needle through the surfaces, Then the needle is larger to allow the six strands of embroidery thread to pass through the eye of the needle.

HG: A needle selvage.

KW: Right exactly. All the selvages and stuff you have behind it. So, what happens is that you can't pull a needle through it. You know you can get it in, or you know I do this really stupid thing where you take your fingernail and you try to push, so you're continually ripping your nail way. Yeah, really smart. I have to use my hands. I can't wear gloves. I can't do any of those kind of things, because I have to be able to feel what I'm doing. So, I get those thimbles that are plastic on the inside, and they are just a piece of leather, so they can help me push it through, but I can't get it all the way through and back out unless I use pliers. So, in the beginning I just did it in the heavier parts, or tried to get them where I wanted the stitches to go, and now I just put the stitch through and always pull it out with the pliers. It saves my hands too, because you're not trying to yank it and you can't get the needle through. So, it is just survival.

EJ: Anything else?

HG: You said your daughter has a quilt that she has had forever.

KW: [laughs.] It is really horrible to; it was a kit. [laughs.]

HG: [laughs.]

KW: Don't tell anybody. [laughs.] It was a Log Cabin quilt from Women's Circle or one or those magazines. All the strips cut in exact measurements, try to get each square perfect with not-so-great results on your first try. Now I just cut the strips randomly and sew.

HG: Does she have any interest in quilting?

KW: Absolutely not. She is so unhandy. She got into scrape-booking at one point, and my younger daughter, she has done quilts where I helped her to do blocks in colors for quilts. She made a block quilt for her boyfriend when she was in college, she wanted to make him a Christmas gift. Nothing to fancy or very intricate at all. My younger daughter was the one they couldn't figure out what the different between the sleeve and the neck when she was trying to make some clothing. [laughs.] She would put mix them up and then have to take it all apart, it was bad. And my older daughter, she is, pretty literal she has her doctorate, and she is a professor at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. She brought her purse that the beads were falling off of when I saw here for three days and wanted me to fix it for her. I think threading a needle scares her.

EJ: Okay, is there anything else that you can think of that we haven't gone over, or anything about the quilt that you would like people to know about?

KW: I don't know. I can't think of anything. This piece is a classic in this series, because it really is a nice piece. I do a series with many pieces and some just become the best of the series.

EJ: [both KW and EJ speak at the same time.] You are working on eight?

KW: I'm working on twenty-three or twenty-four.

EJ: [laughs.]

KW: I try to get. Well now with this kind of work it is bigger, and it is a lot harder to do. So, if I can get two pieces done, that is good enough. And then I try to do smaller, maybe sometimes smaller. I like it bigger though. I'll be at twenty-seven or twenty eight by June. But now they are dyed burlap and there is digital work being added, and I'm using chemicals to burn out the canvass, Fiber Etch, I think it is called. You paint it on, and it eats the natural fibers. You paint it then press it, you throw it in the washing machine and wash it out, and then you have holes all over the place, so you can put digital prints and stuff behind it like in a jagged window. It is kind of cool. So, you just have a lot of ways to layer textures. Then sometimes I over dye or rewash to get the fabric distressed. I just cut sections out of it and throw it back into the washing machine. And behind that, the lighter colors are the digital print of the ferns from the forest.

HG: Thank you.

KW: But I'm going to continue working in textures. Definitely get them more textured.

EJ: [laughs.] I would like to thank you for doing this interview with us today.

KW: Thanks.

EJ: This ends our interview with Kathyanne White. This is Elaine Johnson and Heather Gibson. Thank you.

KW: Thanks.

HG: That was great.


“Kathyanne White,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1422.