Katherine Knauer is a New York–based artist who began making quilts in 1976. Her work has been widely exhibited and published over the past thirty years, including in The Art Quilt by Robert Shaw, and examples of her work are included in the John M. Walsh III Collection of Contemporary Art Quilts and other private collections.
Inspired by traditional quilt patterns and textile techniques, Knauer frequently prints her own fabric in order to layer-in imagery taken from contemporary headlines. A wry sense of humor is an essential component of her work, and a familiarity with textile history provides viewers deeper understanding of its many visual double-entendres. The juxtaposition of a medium most often associated with comfort and warmth with imagery concerning war and environmental degradation gives her work a unique perspective and energy.
Asked "Why quilts?," Knauer responds: "Stitching is my native language, and I am more fluent with this medium than any other. The amount of focused time required, the singular concentration on the subject, and the repetitive nature of careful craftsmanship provide a meditative atmosphere for reflection on the topic. Quiltmaking also allows me to create large, colorful pieces while working in a limited space. (I have a great studio now, but for years, the exigencies of family life in an apartment squeezed my quiltmaking into whatever compact space was available.) I love being part of a craft tradition, and feel a great kinship with the lace makers, seamstresses, weavers, knitters, and quiltmakers of previous generations. I also have a terrific support group among my quilting pals."
But Knauer's visual world extends far beyond quilts and other textiles. She says she visits museums and galleries several times a week and finds living in New York City "an endless banquet of visual inspiration. I love Mark Bradford's huge exuberant collages with permanent wave endpapers and paint. Philip Taaffe's multi-layered, over-printed paintings are mysterious, hallucinatory and beautiful. Nick Cave's "soundsuits" are simultaneously playful and imbued with deep personal meaning. Ditto for the stitched constructions of Charles LeDray, whose ethic of 'work, work, work, work, work' strikes a chord with me."
Knauer calls what she does "tampering with tradition" and explains: "Pairing a traditional quilt pattern chosen by its title with a contemporary topic is what I think of as a 'visual pun' and intrinsic to my process of quiltmaking. I create this link by printing my own fabric. In juxtaposing a medium conventionally associated with comfort and warmth against dynamic surface imagery I am imbuing the quilt with personal meaning and the energy of an unexpected fusion. In referencing a traditional pattern as the foundation of my quilt design.
"Researching facts and images in order to design my own fabric for each piece is the beginning of a multi-step labor-intensive process. After collecting images gleaned from news articles, my own photographs and the internet, I digitally design a fabric print which I then send to an on-line fabric printing resource (Spoonflower.com). I've been using digital printing since 2009, but I began stencil-printing fabric in 1984 and have been printing my own fabrics since then. I often use commercially designed fabrics together with my own prints.
"My quilts are machine pieced and usually hand quilted. I love the meditative time spent hand quilting and often listen to audio books during this step of the process. In answer to the question 'How long did it take?' I can respond that my most recent quilt has taken seventeen audio books to hand quilt."