Thursday 10 July 2014

Thursday Inspiration: Chawne from Completely Cauchy

Today I'm interviewing Chawne from Completely Cauchy.  Chawne is a textile artist of many talents - as well as making quilts which are both beautiful and full of meaning, she is an accomplished stitcher (both cross stitch and embroidery) and skilled knitter.  I like the level of thought that Chawne brings to her work - you know that every decision is carefully made, both from a design perspective and with an eye to the message the piece carries.

Boys don't make passes

I particularly enjoy Chawne's full use of the English language in her quilts.  On the basis that I censor my own sweary quilts for the blog, I haven't shown any of Chawne's here.  However, you can find them here, and if you can handle expletives and other words that may cause a strong reaction, I suggest you check them out (but don't say I didn't warn you!).  I find Chawne's work super inspiring - she makes me want to push the boundaries and make the quilts that I really want to make.

I did something a little bit different for this interview - I asked Chawne a bunch of initial questions and then I had a couple of follow-ups which she kindly answered for me.  My questions are in bold and Chawne's answers are in normal text - the follow up questions are in bold italics.

Does your family have a quilting, stitching and knitting history, or are you a first generation quilter, stitcher and knitter?
I come from a long line of quilters and seamstresses on both sides of my family, though I never quilted or sewed with them. Their amazing works were a part of my life though and heavily influenced my desire to learn. My godmother taught me to cross stitch when I was ten. That was my gateway drug into crafting overall.

How did you start quilting, and how long have you been quilting for?
Back in 2005, my sister sent me a simple sewing machine for my birthday. It was a particularly stressful year in my work life and getting to sew all night filled a meditative need. I read the book ‘Quilting for Dummies’ and made a bunch of precision patchwork quilts with Civil War fabrics to systematically build my piecing skillz. With a few year-long breaks in there, I’ve been quilting ever since.

How would you describe your quilting style?
Hmm…that’s difficult to say. I’ve changed from an extremely traditional reproduction quilter to a contemporary improvisational quilter to an art quilter. To be stuck in just one of those categories would feel terrible. Let’s just say I make lots of quilts in all of these genres.


Where do you find inspiration for your quilts? 
I study art history, quilt history and history-history. At base, my quilts are inspired by this foundational body of work by the many, many quilters of the past and present. Thematically, I am inspired by current issues of social justice, issues of identity and difference, and linguistic play.

Do you like to follow patterns or create your own designs (or a bit of both)? 
I haven’t used a pattern since my first few quilts. I prefer to try to make something new and different that best expresses what’s on my mind in the moment.

Do you think your professional background as an academic influences the way you quilt? 
Not directly? It’s more of an influence on the way my work has changed over time. I used to just make quilts for the sake of making quilts, with no other goals. Converting to a more intentional approach to forming thematic bodies of work has helped me improve my art skills in every possible way. The pursuit of abstraction, in particular, is exactly the same as in my academic life.


One of the strong themes in your work is using textiles as a means of self-expression and to make a statement. Which came first, the meaning or the materials? 
Not sure what you’re asking, but I’ll take a stab at an answer. I am philosophically an artisan. That is, I believe that an artist best expresses meaning if she knows the materials she may use and wields her materials well. So…when making a quilt, I almost always have an intended expression in mind and then seek the materials and methods that will best convey the expression. When I instead begin with a fabric I want to use, I tend to make more geometric designs rather than personal statements. I hope that makes sense.

In part, I guess I meant did you start using textiles, and then feel like you wanted to give your textile pieces more meaning, or did you start with the desire for self-expression and choose textiles as your medium? 
Oh! Yes, I just started with textiles because I love love love fabrics, especially cotton. Once I'd made 30 or 40 quilts just to be quilts, I felt like I was done, though I was sad to walk away from the process of quilting. On second thought, I decided to try instead to find and/or communicate meaning with them to refresh the experience for myself. It's worked out okay so far.

Is this love?

Do you quilt, stitch and/or knit for relaxation? 
Yep, that’s mostly the sole reason that I indulge in making things.

Are you a member of a local quilting guild? 
Nope. The waiting list to join the (traditional) local guild is decades long.

Have you ever met any of your online sewing friends in real life? 
Yes! Mainly I meet up with them at the New York Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, International Quilt Festival in Houston, or now at QuiltCon. Looking forward to meeting you next February in Austin! And I’m going to my first quilting retreat this winter…should be fun.

How did you decide to start your blog? 
I was a knit blogger back in the day when knitters were pretty much the only crafters online. As I started to learn how to quilt, I started writing more and more about the process of quilting instead. It is quite fulfilling to read and write about our creative pursuits in order to reflect on choices, learn and teach new techniques, and connect to like-minded folks.

Blankety blank

Confession time - how many quilts do you have in your house right now? 
Yikes. I have made more than 100 quilts. More than half are gifts that live with friends and family. And several are out on loan to galleries. About 30 are at home? Of those, six or seven are in constant rotation on the couch. Is that a lot of quilts?

Where do you see your quilting going - is it a career or a hobby for you and would you like to change that? 
Given my very demanding “day job” that I actually love, I don’t know how much of a career I could build by just stealing little moments here and there to make a stitch or two. But we’ll see. I’m open to possibilities and opportunities.

Do you have any tips or tricks or things that have changed your quilting life that you'd like to share? 
Three things: (1) Ignore rules. Now let me clarify that. I don’t believe in sloppiness. For instance, I believe in the quarter-inch seam for making durable patchwork. So I don’t mean to ignore centuries of knowledge gleaned by our predecessors. I do mean that most “rules” are indeed made to be broken in order to progress as an artist. I could speak for days about just this. (2) Step out of your comfort zone. Try new things often and don’t be afraid to fail. You’ll never learn unless you try; and failures are just times when you learn the most. (3) Stop comparing yourself to others. Quilting is not a competition. And neither is life. Doing these three things made me more comfortable expressing myself. It’s liberating.

Self study, #1.  It won first place for small appliqué quilts at QuiltCon 2013.

What is your favourite part of the quilting process (and what's your least favourite part)? 
I love the process of design, generating ideas, researching events and materials, gathering and choosing supplies, etc. So it makes sense that I least enjoy finishing: basting, binding, and sleeving are all snores for me.

Are there any quilting techniques you haven't tried yet but that you'd like to? 
Pretty much everything! I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of possibilities. I can do most piecework and appliqué, but I’d love to learn more about hand embroidery, surface design, dyeing, printing, painting, collage, and other embellishments.

What's something about you that people might be surprised to know?
Surprisingly, it once was a big issue in the online quilting world that people didn’t know that I am not white. That’s less of a surprise now, maybe, though it’s still an issue.

I'm interested - do you think that people still assume you are white? It seems like the majority of quilt bloggers are white - does this reflect the wider quilting community in the US (or your part of the US)? 
Yep, I think there are those who will never accept that there is diversity (even beyond race) in the quilt community. There are quilters still shocked to learn that there are male quilters! And, after almost 10 years shopping at the same local quilt shop, I'm still treated either like a complete sewing novice or like a potential robber when I go in there. It's maddening. Anyway, in the art community I'd say the percentages resemble that of the population overall; the textile art community is less representative, but race is less of an issue there than it is in the (largely politically and socially conservative) commercial and hobby quilter worlds.

Girl with side eye

One of the things I wanted to ask in the interview (but couldn't quite work out the right way to ask it or whether even asking the question would be offensive) is about your experience as an African-American quilter. 
Sure, you can ask; it's not offensive. But I tend to be more reserved with my answers. The more interesting thing for you to do, though, is not to spotlight me to speak for my race and to be scrutinized. Doing so makes it seem like I am the problem. Why not ask a white quilter (hobby quilter, guild quilter, art quilter...any quilter) if they find it uncomfortable that there are no more than a few tokens of diversity in their world? Are they aware of the barriers and the discrimination? Will they work to do something about it?

Thank you so much to Chawne for participating and for her honest and insightful answers.  I particularly love her three tips that changed her quilting life.  I really recommend that you check out Chawne's other work at Completely Cauchy, and follow along if you're so inclined.  I have a hunch that we'll be seeing lots from her in the months to come...

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Heather said...

Completely Cauchy was one of the first quilting blogs I discovered. So glad you were able to include her in this series - are you thinking about following her suggestion to pose the diversity question to the rest of your interviewees?

Charlotte said...

Chawne is my hero. And that is not hyperbole.

Hettie's Mum said...

Thanks for interviewing Chawne - such thought provoking work!

cat and vee xoxo said...

I really enjoyed reading this, I'm a huge fan of Chawne's creations. Thanks so much Adrianne. Cat.

Liz said...

Howdy Chawne! Hope you've enjoyed your virtual trip to NZ. I've just had a look through your quilts and can't believe how your style has transformed over the years (in the best possible way). I like the question you posed to Adrianne and when thinking about it, while I can speculate as to the barriers, I simply don't know (you don't know what you don't know). Something to ponder. I'm fascinated to know what your day job is btw - it looks tres thinky ;-) Congrats on another great visitor Adrianne - I'm loving meeting all of these great bloggers!

Abby@ ColorBarQuilts said...

Adrianne - Thank you for interviewing Chawne. I have been following her blog for a while and am totally memorized by her work. Her tiny cross stitch portraits kill me with there detail.

It is a shame that there is not enough diversity in the quilting world and people who do not fit into the preconceived mold of who a quilter is seemed to be scrutinized at every step. We are all people and can learn from everyone race or sex should never come into play in my opinion. I think corporations feed this with their skewed analysts of the quilting world, numbers don't always tell you how the real world is. I think there is a growing group in the quilting community (even if they don't know how to speak up or express it) that would love more of the level of thought and discussion that Chawne and others put into there work. Not just another cookie cutter book or pattern. Pushing people to think more about why they do something even if in the end it is as simple as I did it because like it should be encouraged. As a mom of two boys I find it encouraging that there are male quilters and I want them to know that they do not have to do stereotypical boy things like most of society says they should. I want them to find their way and just do it and not worry what others say. Thank you again.

cauchy09 said...

Charlotte, we are the Mutual Admiration Society, you wild and crazy, super talented gal! xo

cauchy09 said...

Aw, thanks! Wish I could actually visit NZ too... :)

We learn about barriers by having conversations and walking miles in others' shoes. once I was on crutches for more than a month and it confirmed my suspicions that we often thwart the disabled, but it did so much more to help me see how to help. I don't know how to simulate other forms of diversity,'s worth considering.

cauchy09 said...

Thanks, Abby! It's great that you're open to the conversation and some deep thought about issues of diversity and difference in the community. That's the beginning. And I have hope that things will slowly get better in our artsy has been sloooooowly improving for decades. xo

Yvonne @ Quilting Jetgirl said...

I am so inspired by Chawne and her work. Her blog is eye candy for the soul. Regarding diversity... such an interesting topic. There are 2 quilt shops in my little town, and if my husband goes with me into one of them, the shop owner follows him around like he's about to grab an armload of fabric bolts and, well, bolt. I refuse to give her business. The other quilt shop is co-run by the owner's husband and they let me walk into the store with my backpack because I tend to walk back and forth to the quilt store - such a difference in atmosphere and I love shopping in their store. I guess I feel like diversity in quilting is almost related to diversity in quilting styles. Part of the reason I love the crafting blogosphere is for the diversity in projects and inspirations. If I only ever look at styles like I am currently sewing, I'll be stuck in my rut forever. Which brings me back to Chawne and her amazing work and the inspiration she has seeded in so many of us. Wonderful interview, and thank you both for sharing.

Wendy said...

As a long time follower of Chawne's blog (and fan of her work of course), I was interested to read her answers to your questions. I feel I should answer her question too "if they find it uncomfortable that there are no more than a few tokens of diversity in their world? Are they aware of the barriers and the discrimination? Will they work to do something about it?"

You know, no I wasn't aware of the barriers and discrimination. Bearing in mind that I'm English and the quilting community isn't as rooted as it is in the States, and bearing in mind that as I'm new to quilting I've mainly met younger quilters, I've never given discrimination in quilting a thought. I'm not even sure that I consider what skin colour a blogger has when reading their blogs. I tend to think of bloggers by either their header, or a quilt or item they've made that sticks in my mind. A lot of bloggers (myself included) don't have photos of themselves on their blogs and there are only a handful that I'd recognise in the street.

There seem to be more and more men entering the quilting community and there are already ladies from all over the world, including countries where white skin isn't native. To me that makes no difference, it's a question of whether I like their work and whether I feel I can form a connection to them.

So will i do something about it? To be honest, I don't know what I can do.

Wonky Patchwork said...

Really interesting interview, especially after your post on diversity last week. Never mind diversity within the quilting community, what amazing diversity just within Chawne's work. I love the 3 tips too, and looking through Chawne's work makes me question where my boundaries are, not something I'm consciously aware of having usually.