Artist Profile: Karen Phillips-Shwallon

Lynn Schoeffler © 2006

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Calling to get Karen's permission to feature her work in “The Road to California Quilt Show” article (CQMagOnline April 2006), I was delighted to find another wonderfully enthusiastic crazy quilter. Karen was kind enough to send more photos of her work, a workshop schedule, and an illustrated stitch guide for the stitches used on the “vestie” that I had admired so much at the quilt show.

Karen has owned and operated “The Quilted Heart”, a teaching studio in Grindstone, PA for more than 20 years; she has an extensive background in all forms of embellishment including dimensional embroidery, appliqué, crazy-patching, red and white work, and trapunto. She also travels widely to teach half-day and multiple-day workshops, emphasizing beginning to advanced embroidery, appliqué techniques, and crazy patching. Although she offers over 15 workshops with such tantalizing titles as: “Putting On the Ritz”, and “Mighty Mini's Baskets”, Karen will also customize classes for groups.

Karen is an accomplished designer of award-winning quilts and patterns and I was very charmed by her “Crazy-Patched Workbasket” block patterns. These are a series of twelve blocks; each with a different basket of floral embroidery surrounded by beautifully embellished crazy patches. The patterns are all amazingly diverse. Each block pattern contains a full color photo, with detailed instructions for completing the block.

Workbasket Block #11

Partial Block Detail

Workbasket Block #8

For those of you who like Redwork, Karen offers a series of twelve Lady in Red designs, each featuring a “crinoline” type lady—again all different, with figures depicting brides to bathing beauties for each month of the year. These patterns can be stitched in any color; each pattern is designed to teach one new stitch.

I had some questions for Karen:

Lynn: How do you start a new piece? Do you always use a pattern?

Everything I see influences my crazy quilting: napkin designs in restaurants, fabrics themselves, laces, embroidery of all styles, Victorian pictures, my landscapes which are ever-changing, the shapes of all the beautiful trees, beading, past and present, dimensional flowers and beautiful bouquets, I think you get the picture...

Sometimes the spark of starting a new piece is spontaneous! Sometimes it takes great planning. Bigger projects always get planning and pattern making. I like to take the full sized patterns and miniaturize them... I get a birds eye view of the all over and can change a shape or stitching line to suit the look with out having to pick out the stitches or fabric. Sometimes this type of auditioning takes time but in the end it is worth it...

Lynn: What are your favorite CQ materials, and where do you get them?

The fabrics I like best are cotton, sparked with silks, satins, embossed cottons, and metallics. Finding these are easy, the manufactures are on to us!!! My favorite color palette is no color: ecru's, beiges, taupe's, white-whites, creams and soft shades of these. I like the stitching to be dramatic; I can use any color of thread, floss, ribbon, or bead to bring the dynamics together. I can also use oil pastels to apply the color where I want it and make the tiniest designs without appliquéing.

Lynn: Do you feel that Crazy Quilts have a place at traditional quilt shows? Should they be judged in a category by themselves?

Crazy patching is an art of it's own. So much is happening in one block. I think you need to ask questions of show personnel before entering a quilt show. Does the quilt need to have quilting; if so, does it have to be a lot or minimal to be accepted? Does it have to have a batting? If these are yes answers, then you have to construct to these specifics to be accepted…especially if the category "Crazy-Quilted" does not exist. Talk to the show sponsor to see if the category can be added. This can create interest and add to the education of quilt visitors as to this style of quilt.

Years ago when I started teaching embroidery techniques and stitches with quilting and appliqué, the quilt guilds didn't want this type of program and the embroiders didn't want the quilting... Perplexing since this is where a lot of the original quilts in America began, just look at some of the beautiful all white quilted counterpanes with embroidery and the candle wicking with quilting. Amen, enough said. What goes ‘round will come again.

In finishing I would like to add that never in the history of our world have we so many beautiful thread, ribbons and yarns at our disposal and so little hand stitching... I am forever hopeful that this will change! Embroidery, quilting and crazy patching are amazing together and allow the artist to  freely create a truly individual piece.

For further information about patterns and classes, email Karen at

Permission granted for use of photos by Karen Phillips-Shwallon

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