Karen Stevens is an artist, sewer, quilter, and educator. Driven by process, she works slowly through her creations.
Karen learned to knit at a young age, drawn to the feeling and motion of fiber running through her fingers—a soothing, methodical sequence of events to slowly create something much larger. She sees her hand stitched works as an extension of this, reveling in the feeling of moving thread through fabric and creating something that is useful. Her stitches are sensitive and purposeful. Her works are not only created for their final aesthetic outcome, but are made to be used, to be touched.
Karen’s mending work grew out of necessity. An avid denim wearer, she turned to mending as a method to extend the life of her well-loved jeans. Her pieces hold a reverence for moment and memory. Her mended garments become joyfully decorated, some jeans appearing more patch than denim. Her stitches are lively, bright threads weaving through the denim fibers. Some areas are covered in vibrant patches, while others are more subtle, patched from the inside to be slowly revealed as the threads continue to wear. The wear of our garments tells our story–how we move, how we spend our time. It distinguishes a favorite pair of jeans from all the rest. Just as these traces of moments are concretized through visible change and wear, the mending process is another layer of our garments’ history, and ours along with it.
The holes and tears present openings—opportunities for sharing, storytelling, and connection.
Each piece of cloth brings its story into her works, be it as part of a quilt or a knee patch on a pair of pants. Karen is sensitive to where the fabric she uses comes from, collecting her fabrics thoughtfully over time. Through her work she is able to put together pieces of the precious and meaningful materials she encounters, whether they were older and found, gifted, silk screened by a friend, or remnants from other dyeing and sewing projects. She enjoys the combination of older cloth with new, each holding memories known or imagined. Each piece of cloth, each thread, and how she chooses to stitch them contribute to the story, highlighting the possibilities of storytelling beyond the verbal.
When asked about her teaching, Karen remarks on the satisfaction she feels through helping others learn skills, empowering them to do something they might have thought they couldn’t do. She strays from notions of perfection or any “right” way to stitch or mend, opening the process to be more freeing and explorative. Imperfection and variation remind us there is no singular way to do anything, it is all personalized to the maker.
In her quilting work, Karen is drawn to the slowness of the construction. It is the making of the thing that draws her in, not solely the outcome. She doesn’t plan them out extensively, instead arranging them on any large surface to visualize and create her compositions. The colors she chooses glow amid soft neutrals. She is drawn to natural fibers, blues, grays, and naturally dyed hues. Though she often pieces her quilts by machine, hand quilting them later on is her favorite part of the process. Small, maybe previously unrelated pieces of cloth come together to create something new, something larger.
Her works remind us of the beauty of slowness and all that can be learned through repetitive, intentional action, all the while maintaining a deep sense of curiosity, playfulness, and functionality. They remind us of the value in taking our time, in expanding our relationship to the act of making and to each object we create.
Karen is teaching three upcoming classes at Tatter: on narrative mending, wearable tie-on pockets, and hand stitched zipper pouches. Join us in practicing hand stitching techniques and slow, mindful making.
LEARN WITH KAREN STEVENS
For the last 25 years, Karen has been a freelance CAD instructor, training textile and fashion designers to create knits, prints and wovens for the garment industry. But these days you are more likely to find her in her creatively cluttered studio than on her computer, adding one more vintage patch to a favorite pair of jeans or double gauze shirt. Her love of visible mending, natural fibers, hand dyed fabrics and slow stitching has recently turned into a small side business, creating one of a kind stitched curiosities.
Karen lives in rural Northwest CT with her family, a menagerie of pets wearing party hats, and an indigo dipped laundry line.
“You repair the thing until you make it completely.” – Louise Bourgeois