Karen Cohn, of Dragonfly
by Rita Vainius
Karen shares a passion for nature, in all its manifestations, with her husband, who is a veterinarian. Together, they have spent years rezoning their land as a wildlife refuge. Each year, they see new plants, animals and insects take up residence, as their previous habitats are destroyed by development or misuse. This summer, Karen observed three new species of dragonfly and one of damselfly. This discovery is recorded in her "Dragonflies and their Damsels" pattern. Her "Needle Stitched Wren" design, depicts a family of wrens, who have nested yearly on a hanging rose geranium plant, that graces the back porch.
Her designs are the inevitable outgrowth of her skill as a needleworker, entwined with a life spent in sync with nature. Just as she once collected specimens for her private natural history museum, she now creates miniature tableaux of the natural world, using needle and thread. Encounters with birds, insects and small mammals are preserved in her quilts, fabric collages and stitched pieces. You will find a monarch butterfly, perched on some milkweed, decorating the top of her sewing box, just as you would in a meadow.
Karen loves to travel and on her journeys has amassed an eclectic collection of threads, beads, books and antique needlework tools. Even at home, she is always on a quest to find unusual fibers and fabrics to incorporate into her work. On one such expedition, she discovered the Caron Collection and recognized immediately the compatibility of these threads with her own designs. They have since become an integral part of her creations. She is especially enamored of the Caron silks, with their extraordinary range of colors and subtle matte finish. The textures of other fibers are uniquely suited to the representative aspect of her stitched pieces: the green Antica is superb for the dragonfly body, Kit Kin is perfect for milkweed fluff, and the Double Dipped Rachel makes great spider roses. She also finds the Soie Cristale to be remarkably resilient to the abusive stitching required to attach the wire framework to ribbon for her raised appliqué work.
An experience, which had a profound impact on her development as a needle artist , was her first glimpse of a crazy quilt. The dimensional embroidery, the realistic depiction of plants and animals, and the sheer variety of stitches, fascinated her. She tried a few pieced quilts, but found she was happiest blending appliqué and embroidery. Upon attending an exhibition of Baltimore Album Appliqué Quilts at the Baltimore Museum of Art, in the 80's, she immediately recognized kindred spirits. Since that epiphany, she has been actively involved in several Quilter's Guilds and Societies, eventually becoming a Founding Mother of The Tulip Tree Quilters Group, herself.
Another inspiration was found in the book "Adventures in Stitches" by Mariska Karasz. It celebrates experimenting with material and stitches to discover how they relate and create pattern and texture. When teaching her Embellishment classes, she incorporates the techniques found in this book, exploring different groups of stitches and using a wide variety of materials in conjunction with them. At the "Show and Tell Tea", which she holds a month after each class, both she and her students are inspired and excited by the results of this experimentation.
One of Karen's true pleasures is to discover older needlework traditions that may have lapsed and fallen into disuse, and to revive them by adapting them to her own work. One such find was a book entitled "Stumpwork Embroidery" by Jane Nicholas. The subtitle, "A Collection of Fruits, Flowers and Insects for Contemporary Raised Embroidery" was irresistible to an inveterate stitcher, such as herself. In the Caron Line, and elsewhere, she found substitutes for the threads originally recommended, and new vistas in needlework were uncovered. Her designs have taken on a greater dimension and realism, resulting in enhanced renditions of flora and fauna in her textiles.
Karen's approach to needlework is not only artistic, but also visionary and edifying. She asserts that exploring the history of needlework through reading, museum exhibitions, needlework shows, and even flea markets gives us a link to the past which can only enrich our future. Needlework provides a way to record what we enjoy in this world, what is important to us, what has happened to us, and, perhaps even, what we look forward to.
In addition to her patterns, Karen is compiling a workbook for quilters and embroiderers, who want to incorporate stumpwork and dimensional embroidery into their own work. Her catalog also includes a book of verse co-published by her daughter, entitled "Album Sentiments", which is a poetry sourcebook for quilters, embroiderers, calligraphers,and other artists. Historically, words and stitches have been wonderful textile companions, as evidenced by the Baltimore Album Appliqué Blocks in the mid 1840's and the Victorian Crazy Quilts at the turn of the century. Karen, herself, has always found a happy marriage in verse and textiles and hopes to encourage others to continue this tradition.
The name "Dandelion" was selected for Karen's design collection, because these "weeds" are a constant reminder to her, that we waste more time, effort, and money trying to control nature, rather than living in harmony with it and just simply appreciating it. It is her fervent wish, that her design booklets will induce people to take another look at the world around them, enjoy it, preserve it and hopefully STITCH it! Karen best expresses the integral place her own needlework occupies in her life by saying, "When I am unable to be outside to enjoy nature, I can always use my needle and thread to bring flower or bird to life".
Karen Cohn's patterns are available from Ellen Nell Inc. at (800) 499-1224 or directly from Dandelion at (410) 329-8020 or KPCOHN@aol.com. If you have not already seen it, a sampler designed by Karen is featured on the Caron Website On Line Class for November 1997. Check it out!
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