Quilter, screen printer and fabric designer Karen Lewis is a woman of many talents. Following the release of her latest book, Wabi-Sabi Sewing, we caught her between tasks to talk sharing skills, simple pleasures and the strength in being imperfect
Quilter, screen printer and fabric designer Karen Lewis is a woman of many talents. Following the release of her latest book, we caught up with her to talk about sharing skills, simple pleasures and embracing imperfection
Tell us about how you first started Karen Lewis Textiles.
I was previously running an online business called Blueberry Park, where I was curating items for sale from artists all over the UK. During this time, I was doing more and more of my own work and it came to a point where I decided to stop representing other artists.
It was a scary decision but one I haven’t regretted. When I went solo I changed the name to be more recognisable as myself.
What inspired the name of your business and Robert Kaufman fabric ranges, Blueberry Park?
It came from my obsession and love for blueberries and living opposite a park… nothing complicated!
Where does your love for printing and textiles come from? I have always loved textiles and fabrics that had that extra tactile quality about them, like linens, hand dyed and hand printed fabrics. When I started working with fabric it was natural for me to want to incorporate those in my work. What are your top three screen printing tips?
Be prepared and make sure you have everything that you need around you. You don’t have time mid printing to go off and iron more fabric or mix more paint. Always trial a design out first on paper. What is in your head may not translate well when it’s printed, and paper is cheaper than fabric… we don’t want to spoil our stash! Simplicity is the key. If you aren’t sure what designs will work, and particularly while you are learning new skills, go simple. You can’t beat a basic repeated shape.
Between printing patterns by hand and designing fabrics for Robert Kaufman, do you ever run dry of ideas? How do you stay inspired?
I can’t even begin to tell you how many designs are in the sketch book that haven’t yet made it either to a screen or to Robert Kaufman! I am always doodling and always inspired by absolutely everything around me.
My mind doesn’t ever switch off, whether it’s on my daily dog walk or being somewhere new and inspiring. That’s not to say all the jotted down ideas are ever print-worthy, but
I am always doodling and inspired by everything around me. My mind doesn't ever switch off, whether it ' s on my daily dog walk or being somewhere new
I certainly don’t have a problem with running out of design ideas… more like the opposite!
What’s your studio like?
An organised mess! My studio is right off the kitchen which has its advantages and disadvantages. I can never close myself off and hide away as I am always part of the family when they are around. I have a futon in there which is always occupied by whoever is in the house. Everyone gets shooed out and the doors shut when it’s pattern writing time – they know not to utter a sound when I’m concentrating on that!
I’m lucky in that the room faces out over the trees and the edge of the field, so it feels very peaceful. I have a stack of shelving all across one wall which is full to the brim with fabric, books and supplies and then there are two work tables – one for my computer and admin stuff and the other with my sewing machine and whatever projects are currently on the go at that time.
How did the idea for your book,
Wabi-Sabi Sewing, come to you? My sewing style has always been fairly wabi-sabi – perfectly imperfect! I have always been drawn to the unplanned, using tactile, hand produced fabrics, the simplicity of design, the slowing down of time and hand stitching, so I worked with my publisher at FW Media to create a book set around this concept to embrace the ethos.
Do you think there are advantages to not always trying to be perfect? Absolutely! I am aware from teaching that people are afraid to get things wrong. A lot of the journey of what we do is about learning, trying and seeing where we get and what we produce. I try to encourage the
I have always been drawn to the unplanned, using tactile, hand produced fabrics, the simplicity of design and the slowing down of time
journey. I also like to see that something is handmade and has the artist’s hand in it.
How did you go about pulling colours for your Aurifil thread box? The Aurifil thread collection was designed in tandem with my book, Wabi-Sabi Sewing. The colour palette of the book has a subdued natural vibe and I wanted to create a thread collection that echoed that. I love that Aurifil allowed me to incorporate different weights of thread, from machine piecing to hand quilting, just as I used in the book.
What do you enjoy about passing your skills on through workshops? I am a teacher by profession (maths and PE!) and have always loved seeing people get enthused about something. I love that with printing and sewing workshops, especially if people are hesitant to begin with. I enjoy seeing them come alive and delight in learning something new. If you weren't a fabric/quilt designer, what would you be? That’s a really tough one! Academically-wise, I would have loved to have been an architect. I wasn’t aware of it at the time of studying, and by the time I was it was too late to go back to education for all those years. Alongside that I have always wanted a coffee shop with a bookshop attached – one of those places with squishy sofas and low tables dotted about and bookshelves all around the walls.
Describe your perfect day. Besides the above, my perfect day would include going for a walk with whichever of the family members were around and our gorgeous cockapoo Scout, followed by a stop at a pub or coffee shop on the way back. Once returned I would sneak off to my studio for a bit of sewing and fabric stroking therapy, and finish the day all snuggled in the living room watching the latest
box set, accompanied by a bottle of red… simple pleasures!
What inspired your Courthouse Steps Block of the Month?
I am a big fan of Courthouse Steps and oversized blocks. These two things inspired me to incorporate different blocks into an enlarged Courthouse Steps design. I like the fact that there is variety amongst the rows of unifying colours and I can’t wait to see all the different versions that the readers will make! What do you love about being a part of the quilt community?
The fact that even if in reality we aren’t surrounded by lots of people, we know the wider community is always there. It is so generous and supportive, and I love the connections and friends I have made close to home and all over the world.
Above: Karen's screen printing style of simple repeated shapes Right: Wabi-sabi style sewing
Above: A quilt using Karen's Blueberry Park fabric range Right: HST chevrons from issue 61 of LP&Q Below: Super speedy chain piecing blocks
Above: Karen's screen printing set-up in her cosy home studio
Above: Karen loves an oversized quilt block! Right and below: Simple patchwork projects using Karen's Blueberry Park fabric lines for Robert Kaufman
Above: Peach and Umber from issue 45 of LP&Q Right: Low volume Blueberry Park prints Far right: Colour Study from issue 47 of LP&Q Below: More upscaled quilt blocks in bold, contrasting fabrics