Digging Deeper with Alison Kaplan




In our Digging Deeper series we introduce you to some of the contributors in our upcoming issue REST. We hope you enjoy this behind the scenes look at how some of the pieces came to be, and the stories behind these inspiring makers, doers, and dreamers.

Find Alison's piece "Lavender Tuck-In Pillow" in the HANDS section of Issue 24 :: REST.

You run your own craft studio Kata Golda.  Tell us a little bit about what you do and what originally led you down this path?

I grew up surrounded by handwork.  I spent many childhood afternoons in my mother’s knitting, cross-stitch, and needlepoint shop, The Strawberry Patch.  The connections my mother made with other crafters was so comforting – and being exposed to the simple joy of making was such a huge gift.  I remember being transfixed by the walls of color.  I loved feeling, organizing, and re-arranging the yarn and thread. I know that early infusion set me up for a lifetime of creating.  I have always been drawn to hand work as a “career” – but my path has been a wandering one (I’m not one for straight lines.)  Before starting Kata Golda, I worked as a professional custom quilter and a book binder.  In 1999, I fell in love with hand dyed wool felt and started making toys for my new baby girl.  Teddy bears turned in to sketch books which turned in to pouches and photo albums… and it seemed that Kata Golda (named after my great grandmothers) gently created itself.  Friends would ask me to stitch something up as a birthday gift, friends of friends would place an order.  I enlisted my creative pals to help me sew, and as we would stitch together I noticed all of these incredible talents that were not being utilized.  My circle included machine stitchers, pattern makers, fabric dyers, a potter and a letterpress printer.  Those skills seemed like natural extensions to my studio, and my line blossomed and started to grow in to what Kata Golda looks like today.  

You focus on hand-crafts such as sewing, bookbinding, letterpress, and more. What particularly draws you to these mediums?

I don’t exactly know what draws me to a medium, everything I work with sort of feels like it’s been waiting for me.  One thing I know about myself is that I have a hard time sitting still with one medium – which is why sometimes my line feels like a haberdashery of sorts to me.   I don’t really question it, it is a reflection of who I am.  It would feel tedious to me to make the same thing day after day, year after year.  Not to say I don’t embrace the long slow rhythm of hours of focused stitching, but I also find myself racing around like a squirrel dabbling in a bit of this and a bit of that.  I am always trying new things and being pulled in different artistic directions.  Sometimes, introducing something new to my line feels slow and intentional, and sometimes it just pops in quickly like it was just supposed to be there all along.   I love the process and the contrasts.  I think I’m sort of a contrast: I make sort of precious and delicate things, yet I swear like a sailor and have a fiery personality.  At the end of the day, finding interesting ways to simply draw with a needle and thread brings me balance and seems to somehow pull everything together. 

You describe finding your inspiration in nature.  What does that process look like? Where do you begin?

I used to really try to structure my craft as I am quite a structured person.  I thought I needed to sit at a cleared workspace to be productive and creative…but ideas don’t pop into my head in a predictable way.  I need to wander loosely…I need to see the little details that really define something.  It is these subtle and quiet things, like a line of barely noticed stitches, that really give something its character.  I spend a lot of time outside, and nothing makes me feel more complete than when I am really absorbing those small features in nature instead of trying to define an object. Like looking at the way that the light hits a stick, taking note of the curve of that stick and the bits of moss and splintered end where it broke from the tree.  I often remind myself that there are no straight lines in nature, and I like this as a metaphor for life.  I take great comfort in it as I can’t draw or stitch in an absolutely straight line.  When I am outside noticing with my full attention, I am in a very good place. 

What projects do you have in the works?  What’s next for you that you’re particularly excited about? 

I am feeling pretty excited about two new fabrics that I’m working with.  Organic cotton fleece is currently my absolute favorite fabric to touch, and it is especially nice to squeeze when it is gently stuffed.  I have also started working with a hemp/organic cotton canvas.  This particular fabric has a bit of a looser weave than the fabrics I am used to working with.  I love that it looks really saturated when it is dyed, it doesn’t just feel like the dye is only sitting on the surface.  I work with Kathy Hattori of Botanical Colors in Seattle.  Her plant-based dyes have transformed my color palette, and it feels like this fabric really honors that process by truly becoming infused and vibrant and rich.  I am also so pleased with the way my needle and thread drawings look on this canvas.  Both of these fabrics are integral parts of my new work.  

I also have a bit of nervous excitement about a  project that feels like a huge departure for me.  I’ve been designing a line of jewelry, which I will hopefully launch next summer.  

As you know, the theme for this issue is REST.  How do you find moments and ways to pause and pace yourself in work and life? We’d love to know what the idea of “rest” conjures up for you. 

I really love to take a moment to consider a concept like this, and look at myself and my habits from the outside.  I think rest takes on many different forms for me depending on how I am feeling physically and emotionally.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • Laying in the warm sun with my eyes closed.  Not sleeping, but wandering in my mind.  So many ideas just meander in… sought after solutions are often found when I am in this place of not concentrating or forcing myself to think.  And maybe the greatest gift of these restful moments is that I remember things that I have forgotten.  Especially lost ideas that I promised myself that I would not forget…sometimes I trick myself by making that promise.  As a general rule if I don’t write it down I don’t remember except for sometimes in these sun filled moments. ( As a general rule i always have a journal and a sharp pencil in my pocket.) 
  • Rest happens when I feel like there is order and everything is in its place.  Sitting down after sweeping up gives me a sense of calm and rest.
  • Rest is when I settle in comfortably.  Somehow, this is not as easy as it sounds and simply doesn’t happen very often.  Too often I am sitting awkwardly, too cold, thirsty, without the right scissors or perfectly sharpened pencil…yet I continue on without correcting these simple things and making everything in my small space just right.  Rest is when I take that small step to make my situation right. 

    you can find more from Alison at katagolda.com.