Meet the folks at Martingale: Karen Johnson

Posted by on March 23, 2012, in quilting & sewing,

Karen in high schoolHi, I’m Karen Johnson, Director of Marketing at Martingale. We’re taking time to introduce you to all the writers at the Stitch This! blog. This week, it’s my turn!

Okay, first the basics. I was born 50-some years ago in Southern California. My parents wanted to leave what they called “the rat race,” and so we moved to Portland, Oregon, when I was ten. That’s where I did the rest of my growing up. I have one sibling, a younger brother I long ago nicknamed “The Brat.” He’s still a brat, but at least he doesn’t poke me anymore. His real name is Mark.

I started sewing when I was ten, mostly because I was too tall for store-bought clothes. I hit six feet tall when I was 17. Eddie Bauer didn’t carry tall sizes just yet. I didn’t enjoy sewing, but I did it until adulthood because it was a necessity. I stopped as soon as taller sizes hit the ready-made world. I haven’t sewn clothing for a long time. Here I am in high school (above right). Can’t you just see the budding quilter?

Karen's first quilt.Like many women, the first quilt I made (shown at left) was for my baby some 21 years ago. I’d never made a quilt but I’d sewn forever, so how hard could it be? I’d found some fabric hearts in my mom’s stash, cut from my own baby clothes—how cool is that?

I appliquéd the hearts onto blocks (didn’t know it was called appliqué, or what blocks were for that matter), hooked them together with fabric (sashing? didn’t know that term either), and machined tacked the quilt with store-bought binding. My “baby” is now 21 and a junior in college, majoring in Journalism and International Studies. (Isn’t she gorgeous?)

These days I live with my two feline roommates, Marty and Tucker. Both are extremely helpful in the sewing room.

My second quilt (get ready to laugh) was made from an Eleanor Burns Trip around the World pattern. It’s not funny unless you know that Eleanor is well-known for her strip-piecing technique. A huge time-saver, right? Not if you use scissors and cut out every individual square. Not only did I not follow any of the instructions but I didn’t invest in any tools. I’d never been in a quilt shop, never heard of a rotary cutter, and didn’t own a mat or ruler. Tedious though it was, I did finish the top but didn’t quilt it until many years later.

When asked how long I’ve been quilting, I answer 15-ish years, because I really got into quilting when I started working at Connecting Threads, a catalog company in Portland (now in Vancouver, Washington). I was the Call Center Manager and found that none of the call-center reps knew how to quilt. I quickly learned the basics from the books we sold (many were from Martingale). As the company grew, I hired only quilters who understood the products. Soon I was learning from new employees. Before I knew it, we had after-work sewing evenings and mini classes taught by operators! Within a few years, nearly every operator was well-versed in the products we sold. Later I was promoted to Vice President of Connecting Threads, where I ran the quilting division for over ten years.

A few of my more recent projects


My quilting tastes are quite eclectic. While I love traditional projects and have made more than my share of Log Cabin quilts, these days I lean toward the artistic. I’m in an online Artist Trading Card (ATC) group, a pincushion group, and a thread-painting group. These are all groups from the quilting community I launched a few years back. I’m still an active member and I’ve made many online friends there.

My fabric choices lean towards batiks and brights, but I also have a huge ’30s reproduction stash. Go figure. I also knit, crochet, and bead; dabble in metal-jewelry making; and enjoy baking, gardening, and travel.

And there you have it—a lifetime of sewing and crafting in 750 words or fewer.

My official title here at Martingale is Director of Marketing. I happily joined this well-known, employee-owned company in June 2011, which involved a move to the Seattle area—something I was thrilled to do. It’s only a three-hour drive from my friends and family in Portland. I love, love, love Seattle. I’ve also loved helping to launch this blog, and I’m looking forward to sharing more with you soon!

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