4 April, 2006
Photos by Wendy McEahern
MAHWAH , N.J. – If Kay Khan had been born in ancient Greece, she probably would have created the beautifully painted vases and urns treasured in museums around the world. Instead, trained as a painter, Khan turned to fabric as her medium, and now, with her Janome 6500 Professional , she creates equally amazing pieces shown in prestigious galleries across the country.
It's easy to see why people love Khan's work. Made in the shape of ceramic vessels, her pieces have bright figures moving across them, interspersed with geometric shapes and word phrases. They are colorful and intricate creations that entrance the eye and reveal a hidden treasure upon each new inspection.
While her work is certainly inspired by the Greek amphora, Khan explains the figures moving across them are drawn from a different subject matter.
"The figures on the classical works seen in museums are usually mythological or historical. In my work, however, I chose to place my figures in contemporary scenes." Each piece is a mosaic of fragments, collected experiences, information and images.
Khan has managed to create a look that is unique in all of fabric art. Yet quilting was not her first choice as a medium of expression.
After graduating with a degree in fine arts from James Madison University, she went looking for a job in furniture making. She hoped to use skills related to her studies in ceramics and painting. But the closest thing she could find was work as an upholsterer. There Khan learned how to sew on an industrial machine and how to shape fabric to fit furniture. It wasn't her favorite job, but after she left and had more opportunities to focus on painting, she continued to use her upholstering knowledge to sew personal projects.
"I kept collecting fabric scraps," says Khan, "and experimenting with different things. But I was never sure what to do with it."
Then she developed a sudden and devastating allergy to paint. Just going into an art supply store would produce terrible headaches. So she turned to her cache of fabric and began experimenting with quilting three-dimensional pieces in classic ceramic shapes.
She works like a painter, building up her images with many layers. "I quilt first, using the layered structure of quilting to make a thick, yet malleable material to use for construction and as a strong background for my imagery."
Khan uses many different fabric and stitching techniques to build the various parts of her pieces into panels, which she then laces together by hand. Most of her pieces, which stand up to three feet tall, require no internal structure to hold them up.
Khan has been a Janome user for many years, first owning a New Home model, then a 4800QC , and now a Memory Craft 6500 Professional. She loves the large sewing bed on the 6500P, its independent bobbin winder, and other speed features. Since it can take her a month, sewing seven days a week, to create one of her smaller pieces, it's vitally important her machine be accurate, reliable, and quiet. Many of her pieces are criss-crossed by grids of straight lines, and she loves the fact her MC6500P can sew as fast going backwards as it does going forwards.
She's currently working on pieces for shows in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York City.
More images of Kay Khan's work are available online at at Jane Sauer's Thirteen Moons Gallery , located in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Janome America is the largest subsidiary of Janome Sewing Machine Company of Japan, which produces more than one million sewing machines annually as well as a line of related sewing products and embroidery software. It is a category leader in innovation, and Janome sewing machines are recognized throughout the industry for their ease-of-use and unsurpassed stitch quality.