It’s really hard to put Kathy Reeves in a box. She is so talented and distinguished in so many arts! I first discovered her through her blog, Sewing, Etc. and was blown away by her beautiful quilts. But she also sews garments, knits, cross stitches, and teaches piano. I’m so glad she consented to be interviewed for ARHtistic License, because I’m delighted to learn more about her.
ARHtistic License: What is your musical background? What do you do professionally?
Kathy Reeves: It’s a little complicated! Musically, I started piano lessons at age 5, and started teaching at 14, mentored by my teacher. Since 2017, I have been building my piano studio, where I teach a combination of Suzuki and traditional methods to students ranging from 4-67 years old. I also accompany, so usually do the school solo contests, recitals for the Black Hills Suzuki School, and 4-5 high school kids participating in the Concerto Competition. I have a BS in General Agriculture and an MA in Organizational Communications. I spent nearly 30 years as a Youth Development Specialist for the 4-H program.
ARHtistic License: Below is a collage of garments Kathy has sewn. (She’s got the modeling thing down, too!) Click on the smaller images to enlarge.
AL: I’m a little confused about the acronyms you use on your blog. What is SAL? What is HQAL?
KR: SAL stands for Stitch A Long, and HQAL is short for Hand Quilt A Long.
AL: I love your beautiful knitting. When did you learn to knit? I love your patterned sweaters and mittens. What do you most like to knit? It seems to me you look at patterns but freely adapt them to reflect your own creativity. Is that correct? Do you also crochet?
KR: I learned how to knit during my time as an IFYE (International 4-H Youth Exchange) in Norway. My favorite thing to knit is sweaters. I especially love the Norwegian traditional patterns, and putting a modern twist on them by changing up the colors. I am just getting to the point where I experiment with a little pattern adaptation, mostly out of necessity, but it is giving me the confidence to consider drafting my own “perfect cardigan” in the future. I can crochet marginally…I don’t enjoy it as much as knitting, but I try making a doily every 5 years or so!
AL: What are your favorite kinds of quilts to make?
KR: I prefer scrap quilts, probably because that’s all I knew growing up! Right now, sampler quilts seem to attract my attention, but there are a few patterns that I have on my someday list.
AL: What kind of sewing machine do you use for your quilts?
KR: All my sewing is done on my Necchi Omega, a Christmas gift for me about 15 years ago. It is one of the last machines to get a metal body, and it is purely functional. It has maybe 12 stitches on it, and cost about $300.
AL: Do you quilt on a sewing machine or by hand?
KR: I do both. I started Free Motion Quilting about three years ago, and have progressed to a pretty decent meander pattern. I have branched out a little, and now have a few patterns I feel pretty confident in executing. I started the HQAL to help me be accountable for working on hand quilting projects, and it has been wonderful to learn from others in the group.
AL: Do you design your own quilts or work from a pattern?
KR: I do both. If I have a specific project in mind, I will draft my own blocks. I have a variety of reference books I collected early on, filled with blocks, and of course anything traditional has been put out on the internet. Lately, I’ve been utilizing quilting projects offered by bloggers and fabric companies, just to speed the process.
AL: What is your fabric shopping strategy? Do you have a particular quilt in mind when you shop? Certain colors? Or do you just buy whatever strikes your fancy? What is your stash like?
KR: Currently, I only shop for fabric when I am working on a specific gift, such as a wedding quilt, where I am trying to choose something that will be meaningful to the couple. My mother in law brought me her stash when she realized she would not be sewing anymore, and I inherited most of my mom’s stash when she passed away. I have always saved the fabrics I sewed clothes with, as well as the scraps from past quilting projects too. My daughters often wrap up a few fat quarters at Christmas time too. Because of this, my stash is quite the mishmash of colors and eras. I am on a fabric fast until I have used up what is in my drawers, except for neutrals, which I seem to run out of regularly.
AL: Who are some designers you admire?
KR: Kim Diehl – the way she combines piecework and applique. Lisa Bonjean – her embellishing on wool. Lori Holt – I am in love with her Farm Girl Vintage stuff, though I’ve held fast and not bought anything yet. I do want that cow pattern, though.
I love old Vogue sewing patterns.
AL: You do a lot of handwork—embroidery, cross stitch, hardanger. Do you do needlepoint or crewel? If you had to pick a favorite, which would it be? Do you work from a pattern or kit or design your own?
KR: My preference in handwork is to work on evenweave fabric, so its counted cross stitch and Hardanger with an occasional embroidery project. Crewel work has never been my forte, but I did the crewel work on my bunad (the national costume of Norway) when I came back from Norway. I stitch exclusively from patterns, mostly from a cross stitching magazine I subscribed to that had amazingly intricate designs. Until I finish all the projects I want out of those, I will likely not look for any other patterns!
AL: With so many different types of crafts that you do, how do you decide what to work on?
KR: I generally have 4-5 projects going at a time: Piecing a quilt, stitching something, hand quilting, something to knit and periodically, a garment of some sort. Except for the crunch during Christmas, my goal is to keep up with whatever quilting project I am doing (usually an online block of the month or week), hand quilt one or two threads each morning, work on my stitching during a lunch break, and knit a few rows of whatever in the evenings. Being part of the SAL and HQAL groups helps keep me accountable, and has really increased my output!
AL: We creative types seem to hang around with other skilled artists. When we shop for supplies, we’re surrounded by people who love to make stuff. But the truth is, most people today don’t even know how to thread a needle. What advice would you give to parents who want to pass down a creative skill to their children?
KR: Kids are naturally curious, and when they see you doing stuff, they want to try as well. My girls “helped” me sew when they were toddlers. I put them on my lap to “sew”, and they stood on a chair watching me iron. Of course, it was more interesting if the project was for them! They both started sewing as 4-H Cloverbuds when they were 5 years old. The key was to select simple projects that were appropriate for them. The first sewing project we did was a nine patch pillow, followed by an elastic waist skirt. When they were about 8 we actually sewed a simple pattern. From there, they both experimented with cross stitch, and take on a project periodically. Having a mentor is the best thing, so whether that is you, a 4-H leader, or other trusted adult, that is the best way to pass along these skills.
AL: What is a project you’re looking forward to starting?
KR: I really want to knit the Orkney sweater designed by Marie Wallin, and I am working on how to incorporate Hardanger into my next MIWW (Make it With Wool) outfit. It may have to wait for a year or two, but I’m hoping to make it happen at some point.
AL: What else would you like readers to know about your creative work?
KR: If you want to do something, just try, and if you like it, find a mentor or a good reference book and keep at it. I had a fabulous sewing mentor for about a year, and a few wonderful hours learning how to knit, and the rest I have figured out myself. I’m no expert at any of these things, I just enjoy them.