Thursday, February 12, 2009

Kathy McNeil: Each quilt has a story and what a story!

Kathy McNeil believes passionately in the healthy benefits of a creative life. What a life. This Washington state-based quilt artist, teacher, designer, and judge pays close attention to the nature around her and recreates it in fabric right down to the slightest detail. She also captures major moments of her life in her pictorial quilts. These very personal and beautifully crafted quilts can be found in museums, magazines, calendars and the American Quilt Society's website. She's held solo shows at the top quilt museums and many of her quilts reside in private collections. When asked, "Why fabric art?" She responds: "I get to combine the elements of painting with the tactile and emotional response we all have to fabric." Since her life is featured in her quilts, you might want to know that she's 55, was a nurse for 35 years, married her childhood sweetheart, and is the mother of four children, two adopted from Korea. Below are the stories behind two of her pictorial quilts -- in her own words.

45 x48
Road to California show 2003 - 2nd place Innovative Wall Quilts

My mother died. She had always refused to discuss any issue concerning her emotional life. At the age of fifty, my mother left my father and went to live with another woman. A year later she returned. Their angry tumultuous marriage survived till the end of her life.

After her death, at the bottom of an old drawer, my two sisters and I discovered an old college Anthropology paper she had written and saved titled- Deviance.

“Deviance I learned on the street, and the labeling process, I learned in that jungle called society. I am sorry but there was no way to separate myself from this paper. I was never put behind bars, but I built a wall around myself that no one could penetrate, a wall of hatred, distrust and bitterness…”

Sadly she didn't overcome her walls. The pain I felt upon hearing her story, finally in her own words, is reflected in this quilt. The Puffins (natures little clowns) are filled with questions wondering why the Mime wears a mask pretending to be happy. My mother was happiest in th e islands. Turquoise was her favorite stone and the box reflects the contents of her life.

Hand applique - puffins, rocks, water, face, and hands Strip pieced blocks- background Traditional Patterns- variations of Mariner’s Compass Machine Embroidery- firework extensions Machine appliqué- eyebrows, eyes, and mouth Paper Foundation String Piecing- mime costume and collar
Embellishment- hair and seams of the costume Machine quilted

45 x 45
2006 by Kathy McNeil

Dedicated to my youngest daughter Mei Li and her birth mother.
The courage to love takes many forms.
Hand Appliqué on Silk Dupioni background Machine Piecing Hand Embroidery Machine Quilted, Machine Sashiko over tracing paper Celtic and Asian designs

I wrote her letters every year until my daughter started school. I still find myself whispering the latest news, hoping that somehow it will find it’s way to her. She would be so proud of this little one we share. A University sophomore, now, 5 feet tall, smart, beautiful, stubborn, and one of the worlds greatest procrastinators.

Is it 50/50? Nature -versus nurture? If so, then we would have a lot to discuss. What came from where? The stubbornness is up for grabs. Her
beauty and charm, I definitely will have to concede.

I think about you a lot. Maybe more than our daughter does at this phase of her young exciting life. She is almost the same age as when you made this monumental decision. Would it have all been different if your circumstances at this age had been similar to hers?

The letters have never been read. When my daughter was twelve, we sent extra money to the agency asking that they try and find an updated address or contact. We were told that after that first year, they had not been able to locate any forwarding information. At this time, my
daughter says she is not interested in searching, but the connection between the three of us still exists.

A connection of courage and hope. That little one, wide eyed, trusting that love will help her become the best of whom God created her to be. Each mother filled with a different type of courage. Hoping that love would conquer many of the obstacles in her path. We share this amazing young woman. I wish there was a way to reassure you that she has thrived with our love. An image of that connection came to me in a way that words could not express. So I made a visual verse from hundreds of scraps of fabric. A quilt that holds the courage and love that all
three of us share.

Soon it will be my turn to let her go out in to the world. Her wings are strong, her character solid, her choices wise. I will borrow your courage. She will continue to thrive. The 50/50 we have given her will be enough.

Kathy is now available to teach classes in her new home studio, offering a diverse list of lectures, workshops and trunk shows. Her next class will be Landscapes to Love, March 20 and 21. Kathy also travels to many guilds and conferences around the U.S to teach and judge every year. E mail her for more information. In July 2010, she will offer classes on the Quilters Cruise to Alaska.


Barbara Strobel Lardon said...

Such amazing stories along with amazing quilts.

Rachel Biel said...

How fun! I just found you guys! And, I can see that we have a lot in common. Kathy McNeil is a member of our Fiber Focus Group ( and I had seen an image of the Mime quilt before but didn't know the story behind it. The one commemorating her daughter is beautiful (as is ALL of her work!).

Come visit and would love it if you also joined our group!