Selective Focus: Karen McTavish

Duluth’s Karen McTavish has been named the Minnesota Quilter of the Year for 2017, and her work is being displayed at the DECC as part of the Minnesota Quilt Show this weekend, June 7-10. Her work can also be seen at the quilting studio she runs at 1831 E. Eighth St..

K.M.: In 1997 I came to Duluth to machine-quilt full time as my only source of income. I had no prior experience quilting so I had a lot of fear. I had no mentors and no idea what I was doing. I went to the Duluth Public Library and started my research into the medium, carrying hand quilting books out of the library six at a time. I applied for a studio at the Washington Studios Artists Cooperative to live/work and was accepted. I met a hand-quilter named Cheryl Dennison there. Cheryl was a modern quilter, my mother was an art quilter and I was this wandering idiot trying to find my style, my passion and my voice.

About a year into quilting full time, I used the books from the Duluth Library and became old-skool traditional as a style. This felt very safe and the rules that applied to hand-quilting I applied to machine quilting. Much like styles of tattoo artists, I became comfortable in the traditional genre. Although my life appeared to be rule bending and non-conforming, my quilting was meant to appear as if an Amish hand-quilter worked by candlelight in a house without electricity.

I was very aware of the challenges I would face. Some challenges were harder than others — challenges were based my age, a lack of grey hair and earning a living wage so I could afford to be a single mother for my daughter. After I lost the fear of failing, I jumped in without the rules, restrictions and started to quilt from a really authentic place. A style developed named “McTavishing” which is known around the industry. This style was originally inspired by Alphonse Mucha — who was a Art Nouveau decorative artist who I had obsessed about since high school.

I have gone from quilting in a tiny space to a very large brick and mortar studio. I have had a storefront studio gallery open for two years, with two full time quilters, including Cheryl Dennison and Frank Palmer. We quilt full time, teach full time and help anyone in the community who would like to start quilting. We teach beginner to advanced quilting. We offer many machines for rent so people can finish their quilts quickly and affordably. We are an APQS longarm machine quilting showroom with sales, tech support and service.

Some of the rewards I now see is helping many younger quilters learn to quilt so they can quilt full time as their only source of income. I love helping women to be self supporting. The challenges of being self-employed are more intimidating than learning how to quilt. Being a woman-owned business in the arts is super challenging. I have so many women to thank for helping me stay afloat. The Women’s Entrepreneurial Fund, UMD corporate accounting have helped me with many of the challenges that I have had to face.

These pieces are painted/inked quilts that I made this year. Jane Doe series from Converge album art. This is what I like to do to recharge my soul.

Gallery Studio is open to the public during regular business hours, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at McTavish Quilting Studio, 1831 E. Eighth St., Suite G101, Duluth. Cell/text: 218-391-8218.

June 9, 7 to 9 p.m. – Prove Collective Needlework: Rethinking Vulnerability and Resistance – Karen McTavish will have one of her pieces in this show called “I have always been the woman of my dreams” wallhanging on cotton, white, quilting.

June 7-10 – Minnesota Quilt Show at the DECC – Special Exhibit- Karen McTavish Minnesota Quilter of the Year 2017 – this special exhibit is open to the public and features many of Karen McTavish’s best work. Karen will also be teaching during this show. This exhibit features over 20 pieces that will be on display.


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