A couple of Fridays ago I did something I do very rarely these days: I went out after work. No, I didn’t go to a happy hour or to a concert, but to something just as fun for a quilter. I went to a shop where Kathy Doughty of Material Obsession was holding a meet-and-greet. Because when Kathy Doughty is having an open event practically in your backyard, you go.
The reason you go is that Kathy lives in Australia, so even though she travels to the U.S. two or three times a year, opportunities to meet her and see her quilts in person don’t come around very often.
I first learned about Kathy and her work when I started working here for Quilters Newsletter. Hanging on the big wall outside our photography studio was her queen-size quilt Pheasantville, the pattern for which we published in the April/May 2011 issue. It’s a stunning (and challenging!) quilt, and was a fantastic introduction to her style.
The meet-and-greet was held at Denver quilt shop Treelotta the evening before the start of a two-day workshop Kathy was teaching there. Treelotta is not a typical quilt shop in terms of layout or hours, and there’s no sign on the facade. But when I drove down the block where it’s located, I knew I was in the right place from the quilt hanging by the open front door. (By the way, if you love fabrics geared toward modern quilting, you definitely want to visit Treelotta, whether online or the next time you’re in Denver.)
I walked into what was apparently a casual and impromptu trunk show Kathy was giving, spotlit by the late afternoon sunlight streaming through the front door. As people continued to arrive, they quickly found a spot around the perimeter and Kathy continued to talk and take questions about the quilts she’d brought with her.
And what quilts they are! Big and bold prints, textured shot cottons and ikats, all highlighted with big-stitch hand quilting and frequently backed with gauzy voiles—these are quilts that call out to be touched because they are just. so. soft. They were light and comforting at the same time, and the variety in textures created from her combination of fabrics and the stitching was irresistible.
Kathy was talking about batting when I arrived. She was saying she likes to use low-loft cotton battings, particularly for machine quilting, because they’re more comfortable in Australia’s hot climate, and makes sure to use a batting with no scrim in quilts she hand quilts with size 8 perle cotton thread. (Her preferred perle cotton is Sue Spargo’s Eleganza.)
If you are ever inclined to think that hand quilting is a dying art, you only have to see quilters’ eyes light up when they see it in person to know that, while quilting by machine is certainly the first choice for many, quilting by hand is a technique all its own that can’t be replicated mechanically and that isn’t going anywhere. Some people asked Kathy for her hand quilting tips and preferred tools, and she was more than happy to share. She uses a 14-inch hoop and makes sure the quilt sandwich has some give; if it’s stretched too tightly, the needle will pop up and will be hard to move the way you need to.
As for basting, she sometimes has a longarmer baste quilts for her though she’s recently started spray basting her quilts. She said the spray basting has caused no problems for hand quilting; she’s still typically able to finish a baby quilt in about 10 days.
She also talked a bit about how she got started and about her experiences over the past 25+ years as an American in Sydney. For her first eight years as a quilter, Kathy learned from books she borrowed from the library, often with her three sons in tow, before she met any other local quilters.
When she (with her husband, John, it should be noted) bought the Material Obsession shop, people weren’t using the big, bright prints by designers such as Amy Butler that she loved and started stocking the shelves with; more than a few said they thought the shop would never last. “We were totally breaking down all the rules,” Kathy said. “But I didn’t know there were rules.” Her husband added that part of the reason she started teaching was to help customers figure out how to use these bold prints people were starting to fall in love with.
Kathy also designs her own fabrics, and her latest collection is Horizons for FreeSpirit Fabrics. A yard or so of one of those prints may have come home with me that evening. I’m impressed with my self-restraint, actually.
Kathy is the first one to say that her quilts are not made to enter into quilt competitions, but to be used and loved: “I’m never going to put a quilt in Houston.” Trust me—with quilts this gorgeous, no one is complaining.