Islander Kitty Sorgen became interested in quilting after her son gave her a gift certificate for a quilting class as a Christmas gift. Decades later her quilts will be a part of internationally known quilter Kaffe Fassett’s “Power of Pattern” exhibit on display at London England’s Fashion and Textile Museum opening Sept. 23 through March 12.
“I had always been interested in quilts but was very intimidated by the whole process of making one. It only took one class to get me completely hooked,” Sorgen said.
To pay for her ‘habit’, according to Sorgen, she began working at a local quilt shop. Within six months she was teaching classes there.
“Quilting became my life. For the next 16 years, I worked and taught at that quilt shop, and for 10 of those years I traveled to Norway one month a year to teach quilting classes there,” Sorgen said. She has also taught in Kenya and the Aleutian Islands. Her first contact with Fassett and his partner Brandon Mably was in 2009 before traveling to Kenya to teach quilting.
“I knew that we were going to have no electricity or running water where I was going, and we were going to have to be doing our sewing by hand until we might be able to get a treadle machine for the quilting cottage,” Sorgen said. “I had made up some small samples of what we might start with using my bright colorful Kaffe fabrics since I knew these would appeal to the women in Africa. When I posted my samples on Facebook, Brandon sent me a message saying he like what I was ‘doing with their fabrics.’”
Sorgen replied back providing him the details of her trim, and Mably told her to call the person responsible for handling their fabrics. “Brandon said he would give me whatever I needed for the class I was going to be teaching,” Sorgen said. “The huge amount of fabric he shipped to me was enough to last the whole two months I was in Kenya, supplying all 24 ladies who took the class!”
Sorgen added that five years later she was fortunate enough to take a class from Kaffe and Mably during their visit to Island Quilter on Vashon Island. She was able to meet them in person and express her gratitude for their kind generosity.
When asked what keeps her returning to quilting, Sorgen replied, “I love working with my hands and creating things. The colors and textures in printed fabrics just set my mind whirling. It’s so much fun to see the excitement in a piece develop right before your eye.”
She added that she also loves the surprises. “Many times I have no idea how a quilt is going to turn out, but it’s as if the quilt has a mind of its own, and somewhere in the process of making it, it lets me in on its ‘secret’. You just never know what’s going to happen and I love surprises and ‘happy little accidents.’”
That quilting slows her down in this fast-paced world also appeals to Sorgen, she said, a sentiment that seems to resonate with other women as well.
”It seemed in the classes I taught, women were just hungry for the connections that were made when quilting. The slow pace of the activity welcomed the visit with a friend or a chat with a total stranger over a new idea,” said Sorgen. “Quilting fosters the sharing of patterns, fabrics and encouragement. Stories and memories are all stitched into our quilts, along with prayers. It’s no wonder quilting has become one of the most popular hobbies today, in this age of technology. “
Over the years Sorgen has created hundreds of quilts. Almost all of them have been given away.
“ I don’t always know who the quilt recipient will be while I’m making it, but somehow they all find a home. That’s all part of the ‘quilt magic’.” Sorgen explained. “My quilts are keeping folks warm in Canada, Kenya, Norway, Singapore, Belgium, England, and now the Ukraine and Poland too.”
In September 2020 Mably asked her to submit photos of her quilts for consideration for the “Power of Pattern” exhibition. Nearly a full year later, October 2021, she heard her quilts were still ‘in consideration’ and the panel was meeting ‘soon’.
It was not until January of this year that Sorgen finally was told they wished to have three of her quilts in the exhibition.
”It was shocking to even be considered for this exhibition, and I was dumbfounded to have been included in their selection,’ Sorgen said. “ My quilts have always been made to be used as comforts to keep one warm and cozy, and I’ve not thought of them as ‘art’.” They were made to be wrapped around someone, taken on a picnic to the beach, used to build a ‘cave’ with tables and chairs, or kept in the car for a chilly ferry ride.” To see them hanging in a museum, she continued, is going to be amazing.
Sorgen was a travel agent for years and has been to England on multiple occasions. This trip, however, will be extra special.
“I am really looking forward to returning for this special event. The evening before the exhibition opens, we’ve been invited to a Private Viewing. The three designers…Kaffe Fassett, Brandon Mably and Philip Jacobs, will be in attendance, along with the other artists whose works are on display,” said Sorgen.
After March 12, 2023, the quilts will go to a museum in Edinburgh, Scotland for several months, then to a museum in Stockholm, Sweden until February. 2024.