“The Stitch-at-Home Challenges Are Like Stretching Exercises at the Gym”

An interview with Kate Godfrey / By Simona Petrica

Kate Godfrey is a Graphic Designer for nonprofits by day and a Maker of things by night. Three of her artworks have been part of the Stitch-at-Home-Challenge exhibitions. Read her story below and find out why she suggests we accept a challenge from time to time.

You say that you’re a Graphic Designer for nonprofits by day and a Maker of things by night. What’s your story?

Sometimes the two disciplines overlap and I get to be a good citizen as well as a designer. Currently I am a volunteer embroiderer for Social Justice Sewing Academy and I also design their quilt guides, block of the month pattern publications, and collateral. I am super proud of the work we do with youth and community.Like embroidery, I fell into Graphic Design, but once I was working in the field it was a natural fit. My abilities as a graphic designer are a direct result of learning to make things by hand. My primary discipline is publication design which is all about breaking up blocks of text and images to create an accessible environment for a reader whether for national newsstand magazines or small nonprofits. I design by instinct and that plays right back into stitching and story-telling, where I usually start with a single motif and then stitch to see what develops.

Embroidery came first for me. I learned from a friend’s neighbor when I was ten. Many kittens, girls in bonnets, and monograms were stitched using dime store patterns ironed on pillowcases, handkerchiefs, and napkins. Thanks to that neighbor, embroidery continues to be a skill that is always there when I need it.

Kate’s piece for Stitch-at-Home Challenge: Talismans
The Birthday Scissors. My Father’s Penknife. Hand embroidery on canvas using Perle cotton, sewing thread, and Swarovski crystals.

 

What does it mean to be a maker of things by night? 

I work for design clients during the day to pay the rent and keep the night time for my studio practice. The studio setup is simple. My partner refers to it as “Kate Island”. There’s a comfy chair, a two-shelf rolling cart with boxes of thread, and a mix of containers holding tools, plus many pincushions. Anything can be a pincushion including my grandmother’s monogrammed napkin ring.

I stitch after dinner until around 11 pm. I usually have a central project to work on while listening to podcasts (The DailyJealous CuratorThe Guardian Book Review), audiobooks (currently the entire Miss Marple series by Agatha Christie) and half-watching, mostly listening to online movies (Troop Zero is a current favorite). Having to hear voices around is probably a direct result of working for years in open office environments. The noise is comforting and I can eavesdrop without guilt!

Three big projects are in the works on Kate Island. Long term I am creating an embroidered map of Oakland’s Lake Merritt that will include conversations I hear while stitching outside at the Lake–a self-declared artist in residency. I’m also working towards making a series of 14 X 20” portraits of 5 poets. To prepare for that I am taking an online course for stitched portraits produced by Sue Pitcher in Britain.
Lastly I am starting to join up ceramics forms I have made over the last few years with embroideries in various forms including on 3-dimensional figures. The working title is “Unmoored”.

Every project is designed to push me out of my comfort zone and into a new format. For Lake Merritt I am working large and in response to the community around me instead of trying to mold that community in my image. For the poets, I am exploring portrait work and using stitch to build a narration around a particular poem by each poet. And in “Unmoored” I am paddling into another dimension.

How did you discover SNAD and the Stitch-at-Home Challenges? 

My friend, Lucy Childs, introduced me to SNAD. The library is a great resource and the classwork is inspiring. I learned about the challenge through the newsletter. The themes push me to explore deeper emotional levels in my work. They are like stretching exercises at the gym! Thanks to the Challenge program I’ve had work travel to the San Jose Museum of Quits and Textiles and the Nest conference in New York.

Kate’s piece for Stitch-at-Home Challenge: Borders
Border Study. Hand embroidery in Perle cotton on Indigo-dyed hemp.

 

What kind of feeling do you have knowing that you are exhibiting your work with people from all around the world?Needlework is a sturdy bridge to other cultures. It’s a thrill to be in displays with work from this dynamic global community and also to take classes from practitioners of other needlework traditions.

In my experience, it takes a community to raise an artist. Making and showing work creates unexpected connections for me. Organizations like SNAD offer a space to learn and build deeper skills in a craft that connects me to the world on a deep level.