Cathy Kleeman makes quilt designs unlike any you have seen before. Rich in color, vibrant and warm, all stitched together like an abstract painting you would expect to come from the brush of Wassily Kandinsky or Robert Delaunay.
It is not enough that Kleeman takes quilting to a new level of artistic expression, but she also makes the fabric her own by hand dying each piece to her own specification. She also may use stamping, screen printing, gelatin plate printing, stenciling and even painting to create the colorful expression she desires. In itself, this activity sets Kleeman apart from most quilters but she takes the creative effort another step beyond with layering techniques. On close inspection you can see how the individual pieces of fabric and threads add dimension more like a sculptor than a painter.
John Hopper, author of The Textile Blog out of the United Kingdom, expresses the artistry of Kleeman’s style best. “Layering is never an easy option in any creative medium, as juxtapositions of differing colour tones and textures are notoriously difficult to blend and mold as one. In the pieces shown in this article (22 Oct. 2009), Kleeman has used two separate levels of layering, the much more subtle tones of the background composition and the much more strident abstract shapes of the foreground layers. These two systems of layers are then, in their turn, blended together so that the composition does not allow one ground to dominate another, but also without the background and foreground becoming indistinguishable. This is not an easy task to perform.”
“I’ve always liked quilting and hand crafts and things like that,” said Kleeman, who sewed her own clothes when she was a teen. “I actually started quilting in the late ’80s and doing traditional quilting, which is where you make a bunch of blocks and you sew them together and you make a bed quilt or a baby quilt or a lap quilt or something that’s functional. (Tyler Waldman, Towson Patch, Aug. 9, 2012)
“In the 90s, she took classes in art quilting, learning tools of the trade like textured painting or using freezer paper as stencils. A teacher advised her to get an old-school thermal fax machine, which she uses to test and transfer designs.
“Some of her tricks include dying her own fabrics then throwing the quilt-in-progress, sewn to its cotton backing, into the dryer.
“That makes the back shrink up, then I paint on [the quilt],” she said,
“Her pieces range in size from just a few square feet to dozens of square feet. Depending on how you look at it, a piece could take her weeks or months to complete.
“Many of her pieces are influenced by the outdoors: the sun hanging high in the sky, breezes across a meadow, scribblings on walls. Graffiti, too, often informs the scribbles of fabric across her work.
“Sometimes, the final product may change midstream. Much like an artist splashing paint on a canvas, she said it wasn’t “until well into the process” of building “Breezes” that she envisioned using blue strips to evoke the wind.
“Kleeman’s work has been shown near and far, in places she may never visit.
“Right now, I have a quilt at the American Embassy in Bangladesh as part of the Art in Embassies program,” she said. “But I’ll probably never go see it.”
“Closer to home, Kleeman said she’s about to start building a new studio above a new detached garage this fall, making bigger pieces and entering more shows than ever.
“You’re not limited by a canvas,” she said.”
Cathy has exhibited her work in several hundred shows throughout North America, Europe and the Far East in addition to being honored with coverage in many publications.
Vibrant colors, lavish textures, and visual depth are the hallmarks of my work. My inspiration lies in the natural world that surrounds me and can run the gamut from ocean waves breaking on a sea shore to irrigation patterns seen from an airplane window to the warmth of the summer sun shining on my head. These visions are a starting point; I work in abstract images and impressions and seldom does a literal representation appear in my work.
My medium is fabric and thread. With this very versatile resource I can achieve the colors and textures that appeal to me so much. Starting with ordinary white cotton fabric, I work with multiple surface design techniques, which might include dyeing, painting, stamping and silk screening. Layer upon layer of color is added to each fabric. I love the process of mark-making on my own fabrics. I am now ready to cut the fabrics into pieces and reassemble them into a composition. Then, using the time honored technique of quilt makers, I create a fabric sandwich with top, batting, and backing. The thread and stitching that holds this sandwich together form another layer of color, texture, and depth. From a distance my work often resembles a painting; but as the viewer approaches, the stitching detail beckons and invites even closer inspection. The possibilities inherent in these little surprises are what delight me the most about the fabric medium.
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- Traditional Quiltworks Magazine, Issue #56, May, 1998
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