Beth Johnson | The Kamloops Quilter from Another Time

quilter kamloops, beth johnson, kamloops artist, kamloops quilter

As a local to Kamloops, with a deep knowledge and interest in her family history, Beth Johnson is a source of stories. Upon meeting her, it’s soon clear that Beth has lived a rich, interesting and sometimes maybe even bizarre life.

As a frequenter and member of the Kamloops Makerspace, Beth is often surrounded with a vibrant social life full of like-minded creators. Her art is not like most of the many patrons of the Makerspace as she finds herself in the realm of quilting and textile art.

As much as I mention that Beth seems to be from another time, she doesn’t knock modern technology helping her art. As an adult in the modern age Beth mixes both traditional and modern techniques. When it comes to her style though, this girl is nothing but authentic vintage patterns and styles. She is hands-down one of the best dressed people in all of Kamloops.

When/Where/Why did you start making art?

I grew up with a mother who is an avid quilter. She says that I used to watch her like a hawk when she was working on a project, so she decided that she would teach me. By age 5 I was making little quilts and outfits for my barbies. At age 9 I made my first quilt (with, of course, ample help from Mom). That got me started. From there I have dabbled in related mediums- embroidery, crochet, applique, etc. In 2014 I took a class on how to use a long arm quilting machine and fell madly in love. I work part time at Heather’s Fabric Shelf where I finish other people’s quilts on her long arm. Ultimately my dream is to buy my own machine and to become very good at custom quilting. I dabble now, but it’s hard to really put the time in without my own long arm.

How long have you lived in Kamloops?

I was born and raised here. I have had long gaps away- 6 years in Victoria as a student, 3 separate years abroad, and a few longer backpacking road trips- but I keep returning to Kamloops as my home base.

What did you attend post-secondary for and did it help you on your artistic journey?

I finished my BA at the University of Victoria, where I majored in Hispanic studies. One of my other great loves is language, so I wanted to become reasonably fluent in something other than English. It put me in good stead for my stints in Mexico and Colombia, and my travels around Latin America. Those areas of the world also happen to have a very vibrant and active textile culture. I have a lot of embroidered textiles that I’ve bought there. I also find myself increasingly influenced by their motifs and colors. In particular, I am influenced by Mexican imagery- Day of the Dead, La Loteria, hand-painted tiles, Frida Kahlo, etc.

What are your artistic goals for the next 5 years?

My longer term mission is to become a skilled free-motion quilter, and to produce art quilts that are worthy of entry into national and international quilt shows. I think I will be on my way to that in 5 years, but it is a mission that will probably take a few decades to fully achieve.

What are your favourite mediums and what medium do you want to try?

Above all, I am a quilter. I tend to favour fussy, hand-stitching techniques like English paper piecing, applique and embroidery. They are great for getting into a meditative groove. I do a lot of basic sewing too. Frequently I buy funky fabrics at thrift stores that I make into skirts and dresses. I would love to master more advanced embroidery and hand quilting techniques, and try out things like trapunto. My other medium is jewellery. I make earrings out of old bottle caps, sometimes using old photos or stamps as the image inside. I also embroider designs on to circles of fabric, and make them into button earrings. I am a member of the Kamloops Makerspace. Every Wednesday evening we have an open house for the general public. Sometimes I give tours, but more often I sit in the lounge and work on my hand stitching. It’s a great way to engage strangers as it gives us a starting point for conversation. They want to know what crazy, fussy project I’m working on. I frequently use our laser cutter to cut out my templates. I love how I am able to use a very modern piece of technology to do something so traditional.

Besides making art, what are your passions?

I am a passionate (very) amateur photographer. I especially love to take photos while I’m travelling. In the last few years I have been making photo books of my travel photography just for myself. I am in the process of adapting some of my photos for embroidery and applique so that I can use them in my quilts.

What is the best and most difficult part of the Kamloops art scene?

One of the pitfalls of quilting is that it is frequently not seen as an art form. I suspect that has to do with unintentional ageism and sexism. Traditionally, quilting has been an almost exclusively female medium, practiced quietly at home for utilitarian purposes. A lot of people today only know it as a grey-haired women’s craft. I would love for the wider public to see quilting as a legitimate medium. I would love for the skill (including of traditional quilting) to be recognized, and for people (including guys!) of all ages to be more comfortable with the fiber arts. A lot of people also aren’t aware of Modern Quilting as a distinct thing. It involves a lot of experimenting with different techniques, materials and themes, as well as a strong streak of reinterpreting the traditional. I love it because you can depict whatever you want, however you want. The positive side is that the quilting community here is very active. I am a member of the Kamloops Modern Quilt Guild, where I get to meet other like-minded stitchers. We talk a lot about tools and techniques, and we always have a show and tell of our latest projects. I always learn something new!

What do you want people to know about you or your art?

I love quilting because -however artistically, precisely or elaborately made- a quilt is still a very tactile, approachable object. Quilting unites art and utility. I love paintings, but I also find them very distant and separate. With a quilt, I feel I can pick it up and run my fingers over the textures and colors. Giving a quilt to a friend is like giving them a hug that they can wrap themselves in anytime.

*Important side note though, don’t touch someone else’s fiber art project without permission! Exhibits usually have very prominent ‘Do Not Touch’ signs. The standard practice at quilt shows is that quilts can only be touched with cotton gloves, and with permission. Vintage textiles also have to be handled with greater care.

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