The following is from the Designer Spotlight feature with quilt designer, Karen Ackva, from the Quiltmaker January/February 2019 issue.
An American in Germany
Growing up, math and art were Karen Ackva’s favorite subjects in school, but she decided to get a more practical degree in International Business instead of pursuing her first love of creative arts. Luckily for us, she found the love of quilting when her nephew was born and she decided to make a quilt. She bought an inexpensive sewing machine, taught herself how to sew from reading books, and made her very first “Krabbeldecke” as quilts are known in Germany.
Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up? Where do you live now?
I am an American patchworker living my dreams with my binational family in southern Germany. I have lived in Germany for more than 18 years first studying in Heidelberg and Freiburg and living in Trier, Augsburg and Ulm – just a little bit longer than I have been quilting. I am happily married with two school-aged children.
I was born and raised in Michigan. Life was pretty adventurous for me as a youngster – my parents were always moving around to find good stable jobs. We ended up in North Carolina where I went to upper-grade school. After I finished high school, I started trade school to become a photographer. Unfortunately, I partied too much and had to find a real job to support myself. I got a night job in a factory but also went to college part-time during the mornings. After a couple of years, my sister encouraged me to go to the same evening program at High Point University as she was attending. I graduated with a degree in International Business of which I took one year off from work (full-time employment of nine years) to participate in my junior year abroad in Heidelberg and Freiburg, Germany.
What do you do for a living? Is quilting your main job?
What can I say, I fell in love with Germany! I returned to Germany one year after I graduated college and found a job as a Materials Analyst/Production Controller and ISO 9001 Specialist for a Fuel Cell company in Bavaria. A couple of years later, I got married to my German Ritter, and we started a family. I became a full-time mom. Our two kids are in middle school, so I have a little more time for myself. When they were in state-funded daycare and grade school, I had very little time, because “school” is limited to mornings until noon. Hot lunches and full day care were simply not available. I am not complaining, it was a blessing in disguise. I pursued my creative interests and enjoyed being a mom. I am now a part-time quilter as well as a full-time mom. School still gets out at 1 p.m. most days so we enjoy a big warm lunch together just about every day.
Easypatchwork was a name I decided on for a blog in 2012. I personally think patchwork and quilting should be easy. I try to make it easier by finding shortcuts and methods that reduce the work but not the effect. My mother always told me to “work smarter and not harder.” That’s what I try to do.
Is there anything that our readers would enjoy learning about you?
I kind of have a reputation as a mini quilter. I love to sew small! It is just a quick gratification that I love to explore. I have designed several mini quilts for swaps and the German magazine, Patchwork Professional. I also teach quilting, EQ8 and have my own pattern company where I publish patterns in English as well as German.
Tell us a little about when you started quilting?
I started quilting when my German nephew was about to be born. I still wasn’t married at the time, but I wanted to give a little bit of American tradition to my soon-to-be sister-in-law and her new family. I asked my sister to send me some fabric from the United States because I had no clue where to buy it from here. I received the brightest package of primary Winnie the Pooh fabric and designed my first baby quilt. I bought an inexpensive sewing machine from a local discounter and taught myself how to sew.
What inspired me to want to make a quilt for my nephew? My mother was a quilter and even taught classes at our local community college in the evenings. At the time, it didn’t really interest me, but as an adult, I totally admired her for doing so. I was very fortunate to receive several quilts from my mother and her grandmother.
How has your quilting style evolved over the years?
When I first started quilting, 17 years ago, it was hard to find fabrics that spoke to me. There wasn’t a lot of variety on the fabric market other than drab muted colors and novelty prints. Neither of these really spoke to me. I was drawn to the bright colors, but only found I could use them in baby quilts as well as the novelties. I was happy to see more and more modern, geometric designs with a variety of color schemes emerging on the market six years after I started patchwork. I love color, but am not automatically drawn to rainbows. I didn’t even know the rainbow color order until a couple of years ago. I do love to mix it up as well as taking a collection of fabric and add new colors to it to make it my own collection. I like to play with color contrast and value. I combine geometric shapes, foundation paper piecing and mixed techniques to achieve simple designs. In other words, I like to strip a design apart, analyze it and put it back together again using the fastest and easiest technique.
What is your favorite tip or best advice you ever received about quilting?
The best tip I ever received was to use an open-eyed needle to bury my thread. That was a real eye-opener. It has helped so much now that I need the “old-lady glasses!”