aren Foster is a social maker. The mother of two and grandmother of an imaginative 5-year-old joined Flickr at the height of its creative boom. Foster recalls swaps and quilt-alongs on the social platform as the turning point of her social media presence, and her start with a transformative quilting community.
“When I was ten, it was a neighbor who taught me how to sew,” says Foster. “Art was always my favorite subject in school, especially drawing, painting, and printmaking.”
When Foster started quilting later in life, she learned the skills of the craft through adult education classes in Capitola, California, where she lives now.
“I wasn’t all that excited about following directions and making something already envisioned by someone else,” Foster says. “I only got hooked once I started modifying patterns and making up my own.”
Currently, Foster is an active participant in virtual groups like Finish Along, an Instagram account that helps quilters set quarterly goals for finishing their quilts. In 2018, Foster managed to finish nine quilts, and had 11 projects she still considers works-in-progress. While the Internet helps to fuels her productivity, it also inspires her design ideas through challenges like an improv abstraction quilt and BeeSewical. In October of last year, she created an MQG Quilt of the Month, Merge, which features curves and playful color placement to create a unique modern style.
“Being a member of BeeSewical has had the biggest impact on my work,” says Foster. “The creative spillover is enormous from almost every bee block I’ve made — it always spawns another idea or future project.”
As a quilter who takes risks with her designs, she’s often asked to share her techniques, and Foster doesn’t shy away from helping.
“Teaching has strengthened my creative process by forcing me to examine what I enjoy and to identify why,” she explains. “Encouraging others to develop skills, to tap into their intuition, and explore new possibilities is rewarding, especially when it starts to translate into their work.”
When I ask Foster the secret to her craft, she keeps it simple: embrace imperfection and aim for structurally sound. As every successful artist will suggest, she isn’t too concerned with the response to her quilts, but rather focuses on the process and experience of the composition. Foster is also very particular about the fabrics she uses for her quilts.
“Working with solids has a painterly element that speaks to me,” she says. “Naturally, I’m attracted to materials that allow me to execute what I visualize in my head, but still with the flexibility to go to plan B, which is often better than the original.”
A new component of her social presence is teaching her granddaughter how to begin creating. The creative pair has made two collaboration quilts in the last year that her granddaughter has gotten to gift to friends and family.
“Her enthusiasm for color and fabric has been there since she was tiny,” Foster says, “With my assistance, she made her first quilt for her best friend at the age of four.”
The creative bug must be genetic, because Foster’s sister, Sharyl Sheppard, is also active in the quilting community. Two of Karen's recognized quilts in Nashville, Stretch and Merge, were designed by Foster, but quilted by her sister Sharyl.
“Bouncing ideas off one another, despite living far from each other, keeps us connected between the time we spend together at QuiltCon,” Foster says.
Foster is not only surrounded by creative people but also lives in a prime region to keep developing her craft. In the South Bay Area, art is a valued part of the cultural thread, and self-expression is encouraged. The Pajaro Quilt Association has organized a quilt show for the broader community every year, for the last 40 years, that keeps quilting present through generations, even as the world becomes more virtual. Foster hopes to see a regional retreat take place soon to bring quilters together; she attends a 4-day local retreat twice a year nestled in the redwoods, and it makes for an experience that is both inspiring and picturesque.
“There is so much to be learned from collaborating and encouraging others,” Foster says. “The Facebook group Quilt Design A Day expanded my aesthetic beyond eclectic and scrappy — it allowed me to explore graphic minimalism.”
Foster will be partnering with her sister again this year, and their newest project is scheduled to release soon.