Holly Knott




Holly Knott




Holly Knott


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Marcellus, New York


Karen Musgrave


Note from Karen Musgrave: It was important to me to have Holly Knot included in Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Since we live so far apart and could not find a time to be together, it was decided to do the interview via e-mail over a couple of days.

Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave, and I am conducting an interview with Holly Knot for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. It was important to me that Holly to be included in this project, so we are conducting this interview by e-mail. We are beginning this interview on May 16, 2006. Thanks, Holly, for agreeing to this interview. Please tell me about the quilt that you chose for the interview.

Holly Knott (HK): This quilt is called "The Lafayette Sycamore," and it's based on some photographs I took of my absolute favorite, massive Sycamore tree. The tree lives on the grounds of the Brandywine Battlefield in Chadds Ford, PA, a Revolutionary War battlefield. It's almost 400 years old and was about 150 years old at the time of the war! I just adore Sycamore trees – something about their massiveness and the dappled bark that peels off in shades of brown and olive, leaving almost pure white branches exposed. They're just gorgeous. I love all trees, and everything related to nature, but the Sycamores just speak to me. I hug them sometimes!

My husband, Paul, and my parents and I visited this tree a few days after 9/11 on a gorgeous, breezy, late summer day with a deep blue, cloudless sky. It was quite moving to be standing on the grounds where a battle was fought for our nation's independence during those intensely stressful days following 9/11. During that time period, there weren't any flights allowed in the air, so the park was eerily quiet, and it also seemed "wrong" to have such wonderful weather following the attacks, for so many days. In this quilt, I tried to capture that deep blue sky, the breeze, the light, and the enormity of the tree - the quilt is actually just one branch. I do a lot of photography, and after I got into art quilting, I just knew I'd have to use my photos as reference one day and turn this tree into a quilt.

KM: Is this quilt typical of your work? Do you generally work from photographs?

HK: It's very typical of my work! I am definitely not one of those artists who can invent scenes in their head. I take tons of photographs, not necessarily because I think I'll use the image as reference for a future quilt or painting, but because I also just love photography. And with digital cameras, you can now take so many pictures for free - no cost to develop film. It's also typical of my work in that I tend to create based on inspirations from nature, and architecture. I make landscape art quilts, florals, quilts with leaves as a theme. The fabrics available today are, to me, just so conducive to recreating the look of a painting with fabric.

KM: When did you begin making quilts? You also mentioned painting and I love you have other talents as well. Tell me about your background.

HK: I've always considered myself to be an artist, but only started making quilts in 2002. I don't have much patience for making large, traditional quilts, so I really appreciate people who DO make them and all the time that goes into them. I was in a fabric store looking for an apron pattern to make for my husband for Christmas, as he's our chef, and I spotted some books on watercolor quilting by Donna Ingram Slusser and Patricia Maixner Magaret. I loved the look, and figured even I could put together little squares. So, I think I just started researching watercolor quilts online, and one thing led to another, and I slowly learned about the world of art quilting and how freeing it is. I hadn't even heard of raw edge appliqué before then, for example, and I remember feeling frustrated thinking that if I wanted to make a quilt with curved pieces it would all have to be done as hand-turned appliqué - not so! And then I discovered the Quilt Art list, which has been a great resource.

My background, though, is pretty varied in the art field. I actually went to college for graphic art because it seemed more practical to me than majoring in fine art, but I do paint, mainly watercolors and acrylics, and painted furniture, and as I mentioned before I love photography. I worked for 17 years at a major testing organization designing computer software interfaces, a form of graphic art, and I still keep my hands in that field by creating websites and other graphic design items for artists. I've also always sewn, but art quilting is so much more appropriate for me than traditional sewing, because when I try to sew other types of things like curtains or simple items, they always come out a little wonky.

KM: What is your first memory of a quilt?

HK: That would have to be a small crazy quilt that my mother made when I was little. She used a lot of scraps of our clothing in it, and did a ton of hand embroidery on it, including little things like an image of my favorite stuffed cat, Maxie, that I carried around. I remember sleeping under this as a young child.

KM: Do you still have it?

HK: I think my mother still has it. At least I hope so!

KM: How does your quilting impact your family?

HK: My art quilting has a huge impact on my family now, since I no longer work fulltime outside of the house since we moved to upstate New York in 2004. I'm trying to use my quilting as a means of supplemental income by entering shows and exhibiting my work in galleries and shops.

KM: Tell me about your decision to move. As I recall you moved from Pennsylvania to upstate New York.

HK: You have a good memory! It was a joint decision for my husband and me, and we both knew we'd each benefit from the move, even though it was a little harder for me to move away from my roots and the wealth of culture in that area. I really wanted to work on my quilts fulltime and leave my corporate job behind, but where we lived in the Bucks County, Pennsylvania, area, and central New Jersey prior to that, one can't really live off of one income in those areas. We also wanted to move further north, where summers would be cooler and less humid, as we are both gardening fans and I get so much of my inspiration from being outside in good weather! So, after much searching, Paul found a job in the Syracuse, New York area where, although the cost of living seems to be about the same, the cost of homes is much less and so here we are, and we love it. Already the Finger Lakes scenery has found its way into my artwork with a few landscape and cow quilts that I created. And I'm still within a short drive of about 5 really great fabric stores. Also, there's a small but great art quilt community in the general Syracuse-Rochester-Ithaca area, too, and so I've met some wonderful fellow quilters already.

KM: Well, I'm so glad I remembered correctly because my memory isn't as good as it once was. You said that you have met some "wonderful fellow quilters." Do you belong to a guild or other quilt group?

HK: I actually don't belong to a guild because most in this area are traditional-oriented, but I am a member of SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates), and we recently had our first upstate NY regional meeting right next door in Skaneateles. When we first moved here, I put out a "call for fiber artists" in the area on the Quilt Art list and several quilters in the Rochester - Syracuse area responded. We met a few times, but given everyone's busy schedules and our geographic locations, we unfortunately decided not to meet regularly again because it just wasn't working. From that group though, I've made a few quilty friends locally and we get together informally, and I've also had the opportunity to meet many of the Binghamton and Ithaca area quilters, whom I had previously only known online, at various shows. Having an art quilt group who meets regularly can be an incredible resource, as well as a huge source of inspiration. Seeing other's work in different styles and techniques is always eye-opening and inspiring! And you probably hear this often, but it is so true - quilters, both traditional and art, are a very generous, sharing and kind group of people.

KM: I do wholeheartedly agree with you about quiltmakers being a generous, caring and resourceful group of people. Now I'd like to talk about the aesthetics, craftsmanship and design aspects of quilts in general. What makes a quilt artistically powerful? Whose works are you drawn to and why?

HK: Art is so subjective to me, so let me preface what I'm about to say with "Keep in mind that what I'm about to say is just how I feel about powerful quilts, and certain quilter's work, and it isn't meant to generalize by any means how anyone else may feel about certain pieces."

For me, an artistically powerful quilt is one that draws me into it, makes me say, 'Wow!', makes me want to look at it up close and see more quilts by the same artist. It might be one that doesn't look a quilt - that is, doesn't look like fabric, but looks more like a painting. It could also be a quilt that obviously uses fabric, like Ruth McDowell's work, but in which the quilter, like Ruth, has used it so cleverly to create a representational piece without being overly realistic. I would be drawn to using subtly gradated hand-dyed fabrics, not Ruth's plaids! A powerful quilt could be a stunning landscape that makes me feel as if I'm there, one that doesn't look cutesy. It could be a black and white quilt or another with strong contrasting colors and geometric shapes, like Andi Perejda's optical illusion pieces. If a quilt was created to vent intense emotions, like a political quilt, for example, that can also be strong, but I'm not usually drawn to those. I like beauty in my art, but that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with art that that is a release or a statement. A powerful quilt could be a traditional quilt like Sandra Leichner's, with millions of little hand stitches and absolutely perfect symmetry - something I'll never even try to attempt.

I like good craftsmanship, but I am not hung up on stitches per inch, what the backs look like, etc. I think an art quilter should be as neat as possible, and I'm not a huge fan of raw edge quilts with a lot of frayed edges, but if you stop thinking of them as quilts and think of them, instead, as art, or "paintings with fabric", then you can be a little loose with the craftsmanship.

As far as whose work I'm drawn to in particular, it is such a wide range, as there are so many talented quilters out there, all with such unique styles. I almost hesitate to mention anyone at all for fear of neglecting all the others whose work I like. And with the internet, we are so fortunate to see so many people's work in the convenience of our homes courtesy of their websites, or gallery or show websites that feature it.

But let's start with Ruth McDowell - I'm a huge fan of her work. Who else can create florals, cow quilts, etc., using every fabric under the sun including plaids?! I admire her ability to pull it all together in a way that resembles the object she's trying to portray, and yet doesn't look like a photo of it. It's easy for me to "cheat" (in my mind) and paint an area of fabric that isn't exactly what I need, but by using only commercial fabrics as she does, she's really working the medium to its fullest. And let's not even touch on the fact that she pieces all those intricate shapes right-sides together! She wins the patience award just for her piecing techniques alone.

Joan Colvin is another quilter whose work I admire. Her dreamy landscapes with Victorian-looking women with long hair that flows and blends into the backgrounds, as well as her trees, are just amazing to me. There's something about them that is like a cross between fairy tale and realism.

Michele Hardy's geology and nature-inspired abstracts with wonderful hand-dyed fabrics and brilliant, glowing metallic threads are another favorite. You have to see them in person as photos don't do the colors justice. They are like little gems.

Emily Richardson's watercolor-y painted sheer fabric collages also speak to me. They look painterly and not very quilt-like at all.

Linda Levin has a great way of creating abstracts. I particularly like the way she simulates trees. Shibori dyeing is a favorite of mine, though I'm not sure if she uses it for the trees. I'm particularly drawn to abstracts that still resemble what it is they're based on, and in Linda's work I can "see" the Central Park scene at night, for example, in one of her pieces that has a similar title.

As far as figure quilts go, Michelle Verbeeck's almost monochrome nudes, and Lauren Camp's Fabric of Jazz portrait quilts are amazing to me that they were created with fabric. I like how each of those artists chose their colors - definitely not realistic, and very moody and appropriate.

There's also an art quilter in England whose tiny landscapes I admire. Margaret Roberts is her name. She uses wonderful, dyed fabrics for skies and hillsides, and all kinds of textural threads and scraps for the trees and fields. Speaking of landscapes, I am also drawn to Jo Diggs' work, again with wonderful, dyed fabrics. They look very painterly and intense and realistic to me.

KM: Excellent! You even asked my next question was what makes a great quiltmaker so now I'd like to move to asking questions that have to do with function and meaning. Why is quilt making important to your life?

HK: That's a question I don't really have a good concrete answer for. I guess in a way I like documenting the things I see, and sometimes just taking a photograph of the object or scene isn't enough. There's a challenge in quilt making, or painting, to recreate it, and to be able to say, 'I made that!'

KM: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

HK: Traditional quiltmakers, art quilters, or both?

KM: Both or whatever you feel comfortable addressing.

HK: That's a tough question to generalize an answer for, because every quilter's "path" is so different. Some make traditional quilts for household use, some make them as wall quilts (also traditional), others aspire to make art quilts to enter in shows or galleries, or to sell. I think for art quilters, from what I hear often, is knowing which path is right for you, if there even is just one path. Should an art quilter enter their work in guild shows, or juried quilt shows around the country, or mixed media art shows, try to get into galleries if they want to sell their work, do arts/crafts fairs, etc. There is no one correct path, even if you know what you want ultimately to want to do, like teach or just make more quilts. We're fortunate in that we have a lot of venues where our work can be seen, but sometimes it almost seems like we have too many to choose from.

KM: I'd like to switch gears and talk about your website design services since this is not something that most quiltmakers typically do. Please share what you do, why and how these impacts on your artwork.

HK: Last fall I decided to offer my website design skills to fellow artists (and of course I include quilters in that category). It's become a part-time freelance job for me, so it definitely takes time away from my own quilting work, but I really enjoy working with other artists, seeing their work up close, and helping them come up with a web presence which seems to be so essential these days. Many artists are computer literate but draw the line at wanting to create their own websites, so I'm happy to be able to understand their field and help them out!

KM: Who are some of the people you have designed for because as I recall they are not just quiltmakers? Tell me more about the process.

HK: Aside from quiltmakers, I've designed websites for a photographer, an editor, my mother, Diane Knott, who is a watercolor artist, and I'm working on one with an author right now.

The process - most of my customers don't live nearby - they're scattered across the U.S., so there's a lot of email contact, and some phone contact. Typically, I ask them to try to specify for me what they want their website to contain. Is it something that they'll be selling their artwork from, or maybe just using the site as an online portfolio to share their work with family, friends and possible contacts? Then we talk about the pages it could contain, like their artist's biography or resume, statement, gallery pages and type of work they do, etc., and what type of look and feel they're after. If their quilts or artwork have a strong theme or style, sometimes that alone can help dictate the look. I'll send them a cost estimate, and if they approve, I'll mail out a contract and they'll send me a CD of their artwork and text files, or else they'll email them to me whichever works best for both of us. And then the fun begins - I will mockup a couple homepage designs and send them to my customers via email, and then we'll start tweaking them and making changes. It usually takes at least a few weeks or longer with all of the back and forth, and then their artwork is out there for the world to see!

KM: This sounds like gratifying work, and I would think you would bring a much-appreciated perspective. I'd like to return to your quilt making and specifically your writing. I know you were featured in the Summer 2005 issue of Quilting Arts magazine. Tell me about it.

HK: Oh! That was such an excitement for me, and still is! I decided to submit my idea for an article on using Caran D'Ache Neocolor II water-soluble pastels to them, as I didn't think they had published one on that topic before. Pokey Bolton called me a few days after they received my proposal, and told me they wanted me to write it, and that they wanted to feature 2 of my quilts with the article that I used that technique on. I had included images of them with my proposal. So, I shipped the quilts to them for photographing and started to write the article. I had to make what they call "step outs" - little step-by-step samples that they could also photograph. I consider myself an artist first over being a writer, but I do think I'm able to write clearly and concisely, which helped for this how-to article. Working for the testing organization and writing software interfaces for users, and then getting feedback from the users on things that may have been unclear to them, was something I learned a lot from. So, I spent a lot of time on the wording making sure I didn't leave anything out and trying to read it from the viewpoint of someone who really needed a lot of detail. But the most exciting part aside from seeing my name in print in their wonderful magazine, and my artwork next to the article, was getting my sample copy in the mail and seeing one of the quilts on the cover! I had NO idea they were going to do that, and I think I jumped up and down for days!

KM: You are certainly a multi-talented person. Another great service you provide on your website that I know has been getting a lot of buzz and appreciation is "Shoot That Quilt." Tell me about this.

HK: Thanks, Karen! I like to have my hands in a lot of creative activities because like a lot of other artists, I get bored easily!

"Shoot That Quilt" came about after reading countless messages from quilters on the Quilt Art list who posted questions about their frustrations with not being able to take good pictures of their quilts. Some people use the wrong lighting, and sometimes it's just as simple as using a tripod to get a sharp image or remembering not to include your hands and cat in the shot. When I still worked for the testing company, my officemate and friend, Andy Baird, whom I wrote the Shoot That Quilt pages with, was a great resource to me. He knows so much about photography, and he taught me a lot. At first, we wanted to write a book on the subject, but neither of our schedules was free enough to do an entire book yet we spent a lot of time taking the photographs for it last summer, and he did all the illustrations for it, so we decided to put a condensed version out on the web for people for free. It was so frustrating to me to hear that people felt they had to hire a pro, and not everyone has the funds for that, when all they might have needed was a little guidance. Andy and I are both so thrilled to hear that people are finding the site helpful!

KM: Is there anything that I haven't touched on that you want to include? You are one amazing woman!

HK: Thank you, again!! Actually, one thing does come to mind. I'd like to credit every fabric designer out there for being the reason I got involved with art quilting. When I was at that fabric store a few years ago looking for an apron pattern, I still thought that quilting fabrics were all little calico prints. But the more quilt shops I explored, the more I realized how wrong I was! All of the wonderful hand-dyes and hand-dyed look-alikes, batiks, marbled/mottled fabrics, ones like Lonni Rossi's that are stamped, stenciled and silkscreened, the great florals - having all of those available is what enables me to do what I do. Since I like to think that I paint with fabric, those fabrics are like painted surfaces with light and variation in tone and I use them as my palette. So, kudos to all those wonderful artists who keep those fabric stores well-stocked!

KM: Holly, I want to thank you for taking your time to do this wonderful interview with me. I'm already feeling the loss of waiting anxiously by my computer for your next answer. Thanks again. This interview concluded on May 18, 2006.

HK: Thank you, Karen, for seeking me out and asking to interview me. I'm really honored to be part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project!

KM: You are more than welcome.



“Holly Knott,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1887.