"Rockstar quilter" settles in Two HarborsWith dreadlocks, tattoos and gauged ears, Karen McTavish doesn’t look like your typical quilter, but she's found great success in the quilting world. The offbeat quilter has recently settled down in Two Harbors.
By: LaReesa Sandretsky, Lake County News Chronicle
With dreadlocks, tattoos and gauged ears, Karen McTavish doesn’t look like your typical quilter. In fact, when she started quilting, she said she worried that her appearance would diminish her credibility.
“I thought the biggest thing about quilting was looking like a quilter,” McTavish said.
People soon learned, however, that McTavish’s work is as unique and colorful as she is. The quilter, who recently moved to Two Harbors after years of traveling and teaching, has written five books, received more than 50 national and international awards and has a quilting technique named after her.
“I thought I’d be in a band. I still can’t believe I’m a quilter. It’s a terrible way to pick up men,” she said with a laugh.
She began quilting in 1997. She was living and working in California with her daughter when her mom Janet called and pitched the idea of starting a quilting business.
“I knew she had the artistic ability to do it,” Janet said.
McTavish jumped at the opportunity to abandon her accounting job, though she knew next to nothing about quilting.
“All I cared about was that I could be at home working and not have to go to a job where I had to put nylons and heels on,” she said.
She and her daughter moved back to Clover Valley, a small community in Duluth Township, and McTavish dove headlong into the world of quilting. She said she began by borrowing quilting books from the Duluth Public Library to learn her new craft, although many of the techniques shown in the volumes were outdated.
“Most of the books were from the 1920s or ‘30s,” McTavish said.
Those books formed her style, which her mother describes as “traditional”. She uses a longarm quilting machine, which houses a computer that can be programmed to do much of the work. McTavish said she “can’t figure out” the computer, so instead she uses a more labor-intensive and traditional method: guiding the machine’s arm herself.
“I use really basic fundamentals in quilting...what they’ve done forever. I’ve never really done fast quilting,” McTavish said.
The custom work she does takes much longer, but allows for more creativity. In fact, the free-handing allowed McTavish to develop an entirely new method of quilting. She said the flourishes she started stitching onto quilts look like “cartoon Wonder Woman hair.” The technique was so different that no one knew what to call it, so her quilting contemporaries came up with a name for the technique—McTavishing.
According to Sara Duke, owner of On-Word Bound Books which has published all of McTavish’s books, she’s a very popular quilting author. Her book “Mastering the Art of McTavishing” has about 40,000 copies in print.
“People will order her books months in advance,” Duke said.
McTavish seems to be astonished by her success in the quilting world. Her proudest moment came early in her career. In 1999, just two years after she started quilting, she received her first ribbon at a quilting show.
“I got the quilt back and there was a ribbon in it…and I started bawling my head off. It made me feel like a real, legitimate quilter,” she said.
There’s no doubt about her status as a legitimate quilter now. She has over 1,100 “likes” on Facebook and she said she’s been recognized all over the country. While McTavish may be astonished by her success, her mother said she knew all along that she’d make a great quilter.
“I knew she would be fantastic at it,” Janet said. “Now, I can go into any quilt shop in the country…and (they know Karen).”
Quilting is McTavish’s focus, but her other dream came true, too—she is the singer for the alternative metal band, Grounds for Dismissal. She even listens to “ridiculous doom metal” while quilting—leading some to dub her work “rockstar quilting.” Though she’s blazed a distinctive path in the quilting world, McTavish said she’s happy with the unusual direction her career—and life—has taken.
“I still don’t know why I’m doing what I’m doing but it feels right,” she said.
McTavish lives in Two Harbors with her husband and 7-year-old son. She offers classes, private quilting lessons and quilts for hire. She can be reached at 391-8218 or email@example.com. Her teaching schedule can be found on her website www.designerquilts.com or on her Facebook page.