Friday Favorites: Completely Cauchy
I am inspired by so many things, I decided that on Fridays, I will highlight a favorite person, thing, or idea. Maybe you will be inspired too! See all past Friday Favorites here.
I’ve very excited to share a little bit about Chawne Kimber of Completely Cauchy today!
One of my quilting heroes, Chawne is a mathematician and professor by day, and creative extraordinaire by night. She has a magic way of playing with patchwork that I find so compelling, and I often stalk Chawne’s Instragram feed to see what tiny little pieces she’s currently sewing together. She is also known to push the boundaries of quilt making to express her personal views of the world and what it all means for her. If anyone ever wonders if quilt making is art, look no further. This is it folks. As an example, her Self Study #4 quilt, explored what the symbol of the hood had become in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s shooting in February 2012 and was shown at Quiltcon Feb. 2015.
I could go on, but I’ll get to the interview (and more pictures of her beautiful work!). Thank you Chawne! Enjoy everyone!
Blair: Hi Chawne! I’m so excited to share your work with my readers! First though, I’m curious where the name of your blog, Completely Cauchy, originates from?
Chawne:Thanks for inviting me to your space! Lots of folks ask about the name: it’s actually a mathematical term named for Augustin-Louis Cauchy, my favorite math guy. And, well, I’m a mathematician, so it’s not so weird that I have a favorite math dude, I hope.
Read more about this quilt here.
Blair: I think you are a Southern girl, like myself (I’m from North Carolina), is that right?
Chawne: Absolutely, through-and-through. My parents are from Alabama and South Carolina, and I grew up in north Florida right on the Georgia border. It’s a culture unlike where I currently live in the Northeast, so I feel the difference in big and small ways every day. And now I kind of miss it…though mainly I miss the food.
Blair: Did you grow up amongst quilt makers? If yes, or no, how did this influence your view of quilt making? If you found it as an adult, what lead you to it?
Chawne: I didn’t, though I grew up amongst quilts. My great-grandmother quilted and hers, mainly improvisational utility quilts made from old clothes, were on our beds. My father told us stories about the bees he snuck into (hiding under the quilt frame) to hear gossip and so the quilts came alive as communal objects and strong ties to family for me. They definitely are the reason I quilt, though I didn’t make my first quilt until I was over 30 years old.
Blair: I looked back through some of the earlier days of your blog (I promise I’m not stalking you) and you have quite a talent for knitting and crochet! (I’m thinking Chawne’s That 70’s Blanket tutorial could be my perfect evening tv watching winter project.) There are some lovely blankets, full of color. Do you still regularly crochet or knit? When did your focus start to focus on quilting?
Chawne: Aw, thanks! I do still knit and crochet, when the inspiration strikes. Mainly I make blankets, so it is a design process similar to quilting. The shift to quilting came at a time when I needed to find a meditative task and it helped somehow to have something very fussy to control. It really was just a whim when my sister sent me a (very basic) sewing machine for my birthday; then worked my way through the book Quilting for Dummies and never looked back.
Blair: Back in the archives of your blog you talk about fabric stashes, the concept of making a quilt just to “bust a stash”. This is a subject I am interested in as a quiltmaker who finds vintage and upcycled materials (most/all of which I have a limited amount of) to be inspiring, as well as a fun creative challenge, because everything isn’t color matched for me. What is your approach to keeping, using, and obtaining fabric for your quilts. And do you have any good organizing tips for small bits of fabric, like those you plan to use but not today?
Chawne: Well, I was writing about “stashbusters” in a negative way. It was a transitional time when I was still sewing with prints yet starting to deeply question my stashing habits within the screwy marketing practices in the industry. It was important to stop and wonder why I make quilts and adjust my habits to better fit with my intentions.
I’ve long since moved away from using lots of prints. Instead, I use a wide variety of solids and semisolids–both commercial and my own handdyed–and various substrates (quilting cottons, denim, silk, etc). So I love to see how they play together, by combining small bits in riots of colors. So there isn’t really necessarily a palette per quilt every time, but rather one communal pile to draw from. Just buying a few fat quarters or half-yards in a spectrum of colors replenishes the coffers from time to time. And I can’t resist sweet small-scale prints and splashy large-scale ones too, to just use them sparingly, for contrast fun.
I store smaller bits of fabric tossed together in a large clear plastic mixing bowl. Larger pieces are folded and stored visibly in a small bin. (Of course, all the “smaller” and “larger” terms here are relative. I usually save very small pieces…like 5/8” is a soft lower limit around here.)
Blair: At some point, your patchwork began to play with size, shape, and perspective. Your Instagram feed is such a visual treat. Seeing a beautiful sewn block, but looking at the coin in the photo, added for scale, realizing that block is minuscule! (example above) Can you give us a little peek into your process for making these? Do you sketch (hand or computer)? Do you paper piece?
Chawne: Oh, small piecing is super fun! And it’s nice to hear that folks like to see it. The quick and cheeky answer is to suggest taking a class with me to learn the tips and tricks.
Most of my work is improvisational. However, for my more intricate projects, computers help quite a bit, but also I sometimes sketch by hand just depending on the stage of completeness of an idea and the complexity of the design. And, yes, I paper piece. Any and all techniques that could help execute an idea are great!
Blair: You did a Crafty Planner Podcast back in April and talked a lot about your more controversial quilts, what they mean to you, and what they mean in the broader context of “Modern Quilting”. (I will link to the interview here, as well as some posts in your blog.) You seem willing to face adversity from the internet head on and articulate yourself beautifully. Quilt making is your means of artistic expression, and I know it can make some viewers uncomfortable. How do you best deal with negativity towards the strong messages your quilts convey?
Chawne: Thanks, I try to be careful even though it isn’t always effective. I’m not happy to deal with the adversity, but have accepted that it’s just a part of the social fabric online. My approach is two-fold: (1) listen and try to understand the source of the negativity (which often underlies the response, rather than being on the surface), and (2) be direct, open, and honest with everyone. This has led to some very valuable exchanges with both supporters and detractors. And then you always have to just accept that you can’t please nor can you reach everyone. It’s exhausting, but rewarding.
Bobby Dole Sings The Blues by Chawne Kimber
Blair: You also are willing to throw caution to the wind and experiment with your work (I cite Bobby Dole Sings The Blues, above). I can relate, it feels like there are times I need to really jump in head first to fully see where little experiments can really go, I rarely go the route of test swatches first EVER (lack of patience). How do you approach experimentation? Can you tell us about one experimentation that went completely and utterly wrong?
Chawne: Gosh, sometimes I can be very methodical: using swatches, timers, and detailed notes (for replication). On the other hand, sometimes I just wake up with a need to try something new. It’s fun just to dive in and test the possibilities and limitations of a technique. There is an unlimited amount of learning to do by “failing” and recovering. For this reason, it’s hard to pinpoint an utter failure (other than every single sweater I’ve ever tried to knit for myself; they are all utter disasters).
Blair: How has your workspace evolved over the years? Do you have a dedicated quilting space?
Chawne: Oh, like many other lucky quilters, I’ve moved from a corner of the dining table to a dedicated sewing room. It’s a nice luxury to have a room to call a studio.
Blair: Describe a perfect work day. One that feels like you gave the “have-to’s” and the “want to’s” adequate attention.
Chawne: Work day for quilting? Well, every day is a work day for my day-job and quilting is what fills in the found moments. A perfect day is when I find a few consecutive hours to sew and get engrossed in a project.
Blair: How do you envision your work evolving?
Chawne: No idea. I have lots of ideas but can never be sure which will take hold. It’s all a great adventure!