Stories in Song & Stitch:

 

Amy Taylor of Kitsch, Asheville’s Coolest Fabric Shop

By: Kristin MacLeod-Johnson

It is a wet November morning when Amy Taylor, owner and operator of Kitsch fabric shop, located on Haywood Road in the heart of West Asheville, demonstrates to me the correct stitches to bind a quilt. The 47 year old strawberry blond with an infectious laugh is not just a quilter, she also dabbles in dressmaking and doll making. Her fingers look effortlessly nimble, flexible and dexterous as she shows me the stitch.
“Now you try,” she says, looking at me from behind her cat-eye glasses.
I feel skeptical. I’ve never quilted or sewn anything in my life. But the next thing I know I’m binding the quilt with her.
The approximately 30 squares of vintage fabric (“We’re guessing it is from the 30s,” Amy says) were given to Kitsch by an elderly couple. Taylor believes the blocks of fabric to be the handiwork of the 96 year old mother of one of the gifters. The nonagenarian is still alive, but unable to keep sewing. Amy and Marie Marcella, another excellent local quilter who is, serendipitously enough, WNC Woman’s Copy Editor, have been steadily reworking the blocks with sashing and a border. The result is a perfectly lovely quilt that they intend to give the couple as a surprise gift.
It is really a feast for the senses, particularly sight and touch, to visit a fabric shop. The bright array of color and design, the liquidity of satin, the fuzz of fleece, the bump of sequins–it is here the eye meets the hand.
“Touch,” Taylor encourages me.
The store sells anything needed in the manner of sewing. There are baskets and shelves full of fat quarters and long quarters for quilting. Kitsch sells buttons, patterns, ribbons, lace, twine, scissors, needles, pins, spools of thread and zippers in every color of the rainbow.   
A mannequin by the front desk features a kimono that Taylor made her daughter for Christmas last year. The robe, resplendent in turquoise and purple cherry blossom print, has wide sleeves and a broad sash around the waist.
“I kept finding it on the floor,” Taylor says, laughing. “And I thought ‘That’s it’; I’m bringing it to the shop.”
Kitsch has a fetching collection of Asian-inspired cloths. Fabrics with Japanese landscapes, pagodas and koi cluster together on the shelves. I handle a richly colored cloth with scarlet lotus flowers and another with lavender and gold ocean waves. Some prints resemble the fluid style of watercolor painting, others have the bold outlines characteristic of Asian design.
I find a wall of soft flannels, several wildly patterned vintage fabrics from the 50s, 60s and 70s, and shelves of decorative William Morris fabrics on consignment. Morris, an English textile designer, artist and writer, associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the English Arts and Crafts Movement, worked during the second half of the 19th century. The Morris fabrics are heavily detailed with natural imagery: lots of leaves and flowers, all done in the highly decorative style of medieval art, which William Morris greatly admired. Next to these fabrics is Kitsch’s most extensive collection: the batiks.
Batik is a cloth that traditionally uses manual wax-resist dyeing. The technique is quite old. All of the batiks in Taylor’s shop are imported from Indonesia. There are earth tones, spring greens, twilit purples, sapphire blues; some are bright and primitive, others more nuanced and detailed.
“There’s a lot of manipulation with batik that doesn’t happen to printed fabric,” Taylor says. “I think batiks are alluring to me because they’re works of art before they even get made into another work of art.”
I gravitate again to the back of the store where I find a heavy dark blue fabric, perfect for my first sewing endeavour, a curtain to keep away winter drafts. I discover, happily, that it is $4.99 a yard. This is another beautiful thing about Kitsch; the shop seeks to sell good, quality fabrics for under $10 a yard. “That’s my goal,” Taylor says.
As consumers, it is imperative that we support small local businesses like Kitsch. They are the niche markets that make Asheville unique; they are what gives the city its special flavor and keep our local economy strong in the face of a greater national crisis. Kitsch is also a hotspot of collaboration and cooperative effort. The shop is a dynamic learning center of sorts. During my visits to the shop I’ve seen the creations and collaborative efforts of other patrons: a swaying skirt made entirely of ties, tropical fish printed pirate pants, ornaments celebrating same sex unions. Taylor partners with Marie Marcella, who offers quilting classes the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month. Meg Manderson, another talented local quilter, offers classes for kids at Kitsch on Saturday mornings.
“They are fairly free form classes,” Amy explains. “The kids all pick their own things to work on, and Meg helps each one as they go along.”
Back in April 2011, Kitsch partnered with the Fiber Arts Alliance to bring Asheville The Artful Bra Challenge. Local artists decorated assorted bras; lingerie-lovers paid $1 to vote on their favorites. The event culminated in an auction where the bras and other donated prizes were bid upon and sold to the community. The entire event supported and raised funds for Ladies Night Out, a local organization that gives mammograms to women in Buncombe County who do not have insurance.
“It felt good to know that we were helping our neighbors,” Taylor says. Chances are high that The Artful Bra Challenge will happen again this spring. Next up, Kitsch is going global with a project partnering with Little Dresses for Africa. So far, 82 adorable handmade dresses have been sewn by sartorial Ashevillians of all ages for African women and children.
“This is what we do,” Amy says. “We’re a community of women coming together to make it all happen. That’s ancient tradition in the quilting world–everyone gets together and puts in what they can
Perhaps Amy Taylor is like her quilts in that she’s complex and made of many parts. She is the mother of Fiona, a sophomore at Asheville High, Draegon, a fourth grader at Isaac Dickson, and the wife of Adam Taylor, a commercial photographer and videographer. She is also a bartender at one of Asheville’s most hoppin’ restaurants, Doc Chey’s Noodle House. In fact, Taylor created the curtains and wall-hangings that bedeck Doc Chey’s busy dining area.
In addition to her deep interest in seam and stitch, Taylor is also a talented songstress. Her stage name is also her maiden name: Amy Pike. She is the lead singer of The Bonaventure Quartet, voted Atlanta’s best jazz band for the 4th year in a row by Creative Loafing, Atlanta’s alternative news weekly.
“Singing is different from other art forms,” Amy says. “It’s there, and then it’s gone.”
Sometimes Taylor, who was born in Alabama, believes her choice to sing stemmed from a stubborn rebellion against her father, a potter.
“He wanted to make things that last forever,” she says. “I think it was his way of defying death.”
Taylor is also working on a spectacular wedding quilt, a gift for Charles Williams, band leader of the Bonaventure Quartet, and his wife, Lynne Dale. The quilt has a border of different batiks and a black backdrop to the main design of two large red hearts. Taylor has quilted into the piece intertwined circles, like two wedding bands, her own interpretation of the Irish claddagh, and an elaborate protective symbol she recently discovered called Penelope’s Web.
“The story and symbol represents something that you always work on, but never finish,” she says. “I loved the design and thought it seemed very fitting for a marriage.”
There is another quilt on the wall, a smaller art quilt, also sewn by Amy. It is a mountain scene with lots of blues and greens. It’s like what one might see on the Parkway. Maybe Amy Taylor’s art isn’t set in stone, but it is set in song and stitch. One protects us from the wind, the other dissolves into it. Both tell a story, sometimes many stories, ones that can and should be told again and again.
To make my curtain, Amy puts me to work on her 1958 Singer.
“This is a good machine,” she tells me. “It belonged to my husband’s grandmother, and it’s what I learned on.”
I’m shocked and happy to learn that Amy did not begin sewing until she was 30 years old. There’s hope for all of us.

Kitsch Fabrics is located at 742 Haywood Road in West Asheville.

Kristin MacLeod-Johnson is a freelance writer based in Asheville. She can be reached via email at krismac81@yahoo.com.

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