Cat Babbie’s artwork is as warm and soft as the afternoon sun in spring.
Cat moved to North Carolina over a decade ago. Now she works in his studio at the VAPA Center.
Cat describes herself as an abstract textile artist. She likes the freedom that the abstract gives her and the infinite possibilities it offers to play with color.
Her love for textiles is expressed in a variety of forms: tufting, felt sculpting, weaving and sewing. As long as it’s a fabric-related art form, she’s interested in it.
Among the many obsessions of textile art, his favorite is machine tufting, which uses a wire-powered electric tool called a tufting gun to create wall cushions and soft sculptures with hand-dyed wool.
The dry cleaner is the place where she fell in love with the world of fabrics.
For her, dyeing tufting yarn is like mixing colors for painting. You have to think in a way like solving a puzzle because it is not possible to superimpose colors on top of each other like in painting. Linear thinking is required when creating quilted art. For each piece she creates, it’s like solving a puzzle for which she doesn’t have a reference photo, and that’s what catches her interest.
“Creating color is what drives me to create,” he said.
This process is one of his favorites when creating a work of art. It provides subtleties and variations that cannot be found in commercially dyed yarns and can help her add more depth to his works.
For example, in his recent tufting series, “Future: Movement, “ Cat noted: “Commercial blue is blue; my blue is water, robin’s egg blue, the first blue of the morning, all in a skein of thread.
In Cat’s hand-dyed wool, some colors stand out so well they’re good enough to stand on their own and be celebrated in little works. They would then be hung together like map pins, vibrant and full of vibrancy. Other colors form larger landscapes of the sky and become echoes of orientation through memories and dreams.
The most sentimental thing about textile arts and fibers is the comfort and intimacy they bring to the environment they are in. When displayed, the pieces soften the space and invite viewers to come closer.
Having always wanted to create works of art that are instantly accessible and comforting, Cat is very happy to have fabric as the primary medium.
He describes the arts of tufting as “soft and structured”, being able to “balance the tension between wanting to touch the artwork while knowing it is against ‘the rules'”.
Fabric is something we interact with every day: we wear clothes, sit on car seats, walk on carpets; so when people see Cat’s work, tension builds when they want to enthusiastically touch the work, even knowing it’s not allowed. This interaction is very interesting and exciting for Cat, and it’s one of the biggest reasons she’s created.
Although the main ideas are similar, the process of creating a quilted artwork is very different from painting. Both before and after you start dyeing the yarn, the designs for the wisps are often sketched loosely in watercolors.
Cat said that even though she goes a long way off script, the watercolor splashes help her get the colors in her head. If she is working with an odd shape, she would create a paper pattern to make sure she is quilting in the right direction.
Like a painter who uses canvas to paint, Cat uses a backing fabric made for quilting and stretches it onto custom wood panels using the carpet tack. Panels, like our bones, are the invisible support of each piece.
After everything is ready, it’s time to start quilting using the quilting gun. It must be very relaxing, I think, to see the beautiful colors blossom on the plain canvas that is in front of you, and to immerse yourself in the white noise created by the tufting gun.
Nowadays, many gift shop tufts and patches are mass produced using computer programming and machines. In the era of mass production, Cat thinks the purpose of manual manufacturing lies in the act itself.
“I think doing things by hand, especially fabrics, immediately reminds me that we are all human and we have to slow down,” he said.
Handmade crafts are not as perfect as machine made, but this shows how imperfect we humans are in our own special way, which makes each of us unique. In modern society, where people move so fast, the act of making a craft by hand is almost like meditating, a conversation with one’s soul.
My favorite series that Cat created is her Cocoon series. Each of the cocoons is so unique and delicate and even has its own name. They are her deeply intuitive pieces of hers and each title is a reflection of her thoughts and emotions as she was making it.
He said, “Cocoons are deeply imbued with a sense of security, and each of the cocoon pieces I’ve made sometimes reminds me of being protected.”
The commission for a custom cocoon is opened and Cat would ask for the intention or emotions her client wants her to think about while working on it. They are special and personal pieces for both Cat and her clients.
Sometimes I would like to cocoon myself and be hugged by the thin wall of the confined space when I feel tired or sad. The cat agrees with me. He’s dying to have a chance to create a cocoon big enough for people to sit on.
Speaking about her journey as an artist, she said: “I’ve been an artist all my life. I’ve always been creative in an artistic sense, and I don’t remember having a moment where “NOW I want to be an artist”, making art was a constant friend “.
As a child, Cat loved doing art and crafts in her spare time and the experience of being able to interact with artists working at a young age also inspired her to become an artist herself.
Looking back on some of her childhood pieces, she is surprised at how they relate to her work now as an adult. Ever since she was little, large amounts of colors and patterns have always been present in her creative journey.
After studying studio art and art history at James Madison University in Virginia, Cat spent some time figuring out which art field she wanted to enter. She initially thought she would be a potter for the rest of her life. Although she later realized that her pottery didn’t make her for her, she said she didn’t regret any of this, as learning different art forms helped her to become the artist he is today.
If Cat were to describe her relationship with art in one word, it would be “constant”.
“It’s always there,” he said. “It’s always something I think about and come back to.”
Cat doesn’t always have all the time as a full time artist to work on her art as she has to balance a full time work on her art, but the art always gives her inner peace whenever she needs it. She told me that having a full time job takes the pressure off the feeling that “I have to sell art” and the pressure to create art for other people rather than for herself. Having her bills paid means that she can focus on her art of hers with pure passion without worrying about anything else.
“It almost makes it more exciting when I sell my art because it’s not my only means of survival,” he said. “As frustrating as it can be to not be able to work on my art full time, it gives me a lot of ease and relaxation while making art.”
Would you like to know more?
You can see all of Cat Babbie’s work online at www.catbabbie.com or see the pics in progress at @catbmakes on Instagram. She is always interested in getting commissions and working with people.