Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Spotlight Interview: Meet Kathy Downie

In-Depth Interview with 
Kathy Downie Quilter, Designer, Artist, Electrical Engineer

Kathy Downie
  • Kathy Downie is a quilter, a fashion designer of her own patterns, AND a Research & Development Director. She sells her patterns under the label Downie Designs and has exhibited art quilts and wearable art across the United States and at international venues. 
  • She started her career as an Electrical Engineer and has experience and career growth in the developing and managing the development of products in a wide variety of industries including Healthcare, Defense, Communications, Public Safety, and Industrial Manufacturing. 
  • I recently enjoyed seeing a wonderful quilted art piece Downie exhibited in a fiber arts show. In this fun and informative interview, Kathy shares with us how she ties all of her passions together.
Standing in front of Deep Ocean Choreography with Kathy Downie at Vogt Visual Arts Center

Q: I’m fascinated with the dichotomy of your two loves. Which came first, quilting and sewing or your career as an engineer? Is there a connection between the two or is quilting your outlet from a long day of “developing newly engineered products?"

A: When I was young I thought I would like to be an interior decorator but somehow by the time I went to college I began studying to become a Mathematics professor. After 2 years of study I took a detour and joined the U.S. Army. When I returned to college, that is when I decided I would like to be an Electrical Engineer and got my degree. I didn’t find quilting until I was about 15 years into my engineering career but quilting is much more than an outlet from my day job, it is a passion that requires me to create a little almost every day. I think there are many connections between my two worlds: My innate curiosity causes me to learn new quilting techniques or learn new engineering technologies; My love of problem solving enables me to figure out how to combine many quilting techniques together to create the look I want in my art and allows me to stay focused through the engineering challenges that arise when developing all new products; My structured thinking has allowed me to advance my engineering career and allows me to figure out new clothing construction methods and explain new techniques in my pattern line, Downie Designs.

Purple Majesties
Q: Who or what started you on this path…how did you get hooked on quilting? 

A:  I always have created my own clothes and continued when I began my career as an engineer although these clothes had to be more sophisticated and tailored so I bought the bible for professional methods to get a custom look: Clotide’s Sew Smart book. I found my passion for quilting when I moved to a small town and one of the shops was a fabulous quilt shop. While making my first quilt, my old sewing machine died so I did my product comparison analysis by test driving all models and in doing so I found out that there was a vast world of fabrics, threads, tools, techniques, and machines that I didn’t know existed and that is when I found my passion for quilting and my traditional tailored clothing look changed almost immediately to wearable art. Since then I have taught and lectured about wearable art and quilting regionally. My work appears regularly in juried shows across the country and has been exhibited nationally as well as internationally.

Dear Jane
Detail of Dear Jane
Q: Tell us about your line of clothing and patterns. Is there a show or award of which you are most proud?

A:  My clothing, quilts, and patterns are noted for its textures, unique techniques and elegant quilting. my pattern company tagline is “simple patterns for the imagination” which reinforces the goal I have of offering a fresh outlook with flattering shapes and patterns filled with techniques and tips to mix and match to create truly personalized wearable and home art. The event I am most proud of is being invited to design a runway fashion for the Bernina Fashion Show in 2005, 2006, and 2008. (Photos below)

Carnival Rio
Midas Archipelago
Rendezvous with Natures Rainbow

Q: Do you find that working on a quilt inspires ideas for your clothing line and vice versa?

A:  My quilting does inspire ideas for my clothing line. Typically each new pattern focuses on a new quilt block or new technique or a combination of the two. But having said that, I find that fabric, thread, fibers and the entire world around me inspires everything I do. 
Crazy Quilt Table Topper

Q:  Your recent art piece, Deep Ocean Choreography, part of the Midwest Surface Design Association “Always Something,” at The Vogt Visual Arts Center in Tinley Park Illinois was fabulous. Do you have plans to do more of this type of work? Will there be a series? What inspired you? Please elaborate!

A: This piece represents a new process and look for me. It was a very exciting and fluid process which is unusual for me since I like to work everything out in my head before starting - I’m usually a planner. I think that is why this project was so much fun and I am working on a series beginning with this art piece. The piece started with the challenge to work in complementary colors and I had more
variety in blue and orange than any other color combinations, and I had more roving, yarns, and threads in those colors than fabrics. So, I decided to base the piece on just those fibers rather than fabrics and this was the result. So not only the design process but even the idea was a very spontaneous and fluid event.

Deep Ocean Choreography

Leaves Therapy
The Passage of Time
Q:  Share with us your favorite quilting tool(s) and why?

A: This is an incredibly hard question to answer because I am a tool gal! I need them all. So let me talk about the ones I am using the most over the past few months.

Martelli rotary cutter because it is the only ergonomic cutter out there

Creative Grids ruler because they don’t slip

Olfa rotating cutting matt for easy cutting

Gingher scissors are heavy duty

Ott lite for natural lighting

Bernina Sewing machines with all the accessories for precise stitches

Baby Lock Serger with all accessories for clothing techniques

The Gypsy Cutting Gizmo for string piecing

Ideal Seam Guide to aid in accurately stitched seams

Supreme Slider for no drag quilting

Machingers the only gloves that breath and still let you use your fingers

Q:Is there a favorite fabric line, colors, or style that you can’t walk away from in a store?

A: I love all fabrics but usually try to buy for the project I am currently collecting for. But the ones I have a hard time walking away from anytime are civil war fabrics, wool, and don’t forget roving, yarn, and thread.

Q: Can you tell us about your favorite quilt shop(s): where it is and why you love it?

A: I have several favorite quilt shops and unfortunately they are not near by.

Primitive Gatherings in Menasha, WI. 
I love this shop because it has an old
fashioned feeling and for Lisa’s hand dyed wool, civil war fabrics, homespuns,
Daiwabo fabrics, and beautiful patterns and kits.

The Back Door in Indianapolis, IN.  

This shop has thousands of bolts of fabric and the owners are fabulous and have been in business for 40 years.

Country Threads in Garner, IA. 
I love this shop because it is out on a farm, in a renovated chicken coup and they have been designing their own quilt patterns since 1983. It is not only a fabulously packed quilt shop but is a destination event as well.

Q: Do you do your own quilting or do you send it out? If you quilt your tops which method do you prefer: Hand quilting vs. machine quilting – do you own a longarm machine?

A: I always do my own quilting and have never had a top quilted by someone else. I always machine quilt rather than hand quilt and can be very precise on my table top Bernina machine. All my competition quilts are quilted on my Bernina. I also make some traditional quilt patterns for fun, utility and decoration and those tops were piling up because they were less of a priority to my competition quilts. But I have a friend that just bought a long arm last year and she let me test drive it. I completed quilting 3 quilt tops already and for fun, loopy, and fast quilting I highly endorse it. I need to finish off part of my basement just so I can have a wonderful room to put a long arm in!

Q: Are you a believer in “finished is better than perfect”—why or why not?

A: I strive for perfection in my competition art, of course because it is a competition. In art quilts for shows and galleries, I continue until I feel the piece is “finished” but I always strive for perfection just by nature. If I am creating a quilt for my personal use, perfection is not a goal so I could say that in that case finished is better than perfect.

Q: Many quilters say, “I don’t need another quilt, but I can’t stop making them!” Have you reached that point? If so, how did you react?

A: I always need another quilt and don’t think I will ever reach that point. I always need to create so if I would reach that point in the future I would just find a way to share them with the world somehow.

Q: Do you have a blog, website, FB, Twitter, etc that you’d like to share?

Blog: under construction but will be publicized on my website and FB page when

Q: If there is anything that you’d like to comment on about quilting, hand sewing, or anything else, please post here.

A: I believe you need a space dedicated your art so at any given moment you can accomplish something without needing a chunk of time to set up. I also have a space now where all my supplies are out in the open as you can see in the photo. I am involved in many quilt organizations for camaraderie, inspiration and motivation which is something I recommend to everyone. I also just started art journaling as a daily practice. It is supposed to help in spurring your imagination and creativity. I'll keep you posted on how it works for me.
Kathy Downie's Studio



  1. Lovely article about a wonderfully talented and fun friend. She is always growing and evolving and amazing me with her work.