More than thirty years after it happened, Cathy Karen can still pinpoint the moment when her career in art took an unexpected twist.
As a fine art major in the conceptual art department at University of California, Irvine, she had created a painting for a traditional painting class. But instead of leaving the finished canvas alone, she began pulling at the fabric – easing out individual threads, and leaving behind a painting that was as much about the canvas as it was about the paint.
“My professor looked at my work and he said, ‘You need to think about textiles.’” she recalls. “That was a pivotal moment in my art career.”
Indeed it was. The Manhattan Beach textile artist immediately refocused her studies, switched universities to enroll in one of the West Coast’s leading textile arts programs, and soon launched into a highly successful career in textile design and color consulting.
Now, at last, she’s working for herself – bringing all her skills and creative energies to her newly-opened business “twist, Yarns of Intrigue” in Manhattan Beach, California, a boutique yarn store that is already drawing raves from knitting bloggers and knitters across the country…
‘Before Sunrise’ writes: “ I was just there today and wow, everything is wonderful, instant love. I petted and bought my first Malabrigo (worsted and lace) and saw my first Habu scarf and bought a kit. Cathy is super helpful, enthused, friendly, and down to earth. I often feel intimidated or invisible at yarn stores, but she made me feel welcome and at ease. I love the selection of yarn, luxurious and earthy at the same time.”
For Karen, the store is the outlet she has long desired for her creative energies – an opportunity to express her own vision in textile and color, after years of working with others as a product designer and color consultant in the carpet industry. With “twist” she has created a store brimming with hand-picked artisan yarns, rich skeins of cashmeres, silks, organic fibers, mohair bouclés, kelp, bamboo, soy and an array of surprising blends in a finely-tuned palette of colors, many of them hand-painted.
Karen puts careful thought into her choices, spending hours and hours searching out yarns and colors that can’t be found easily, supporting women artisans whenever possible. She takes particular pride in what she calls her “yarns of conscience,” a collection of beautiful yarns from around the world made by women employed by special projects that pour part or all of their profits back into helping the communities they come from.
Her most personal yarn, however, is her own, a signature line of “twist” yarns that are surprising combinations of fibers and textures, hand-plied by Karen to create one-of-a-kind skeins that can’t be found anywhere else but in her own store or on her website.
“As a Color Consultant and Product Designer, I focus my energies on designing products and colors that will create volume and sales for the companies I work with”, she says.” I always balance my personal sensibilities of what I view as beautiful, with an understanding and appreciation for the target market.”
“But with my shop, I get to focus on what I think is aesthetically fresh, on work that isn’t necessarily being represented in the mass market,” she continues. “There are yarn artists working in small home industries that are making breathtakingly exquisite yarns. In my shop, I’m able to bring these in. I wanted my store to give exposure to these wonderful yarns.”
Karen also carefully edits what she purchases, with an eye towards colors that are what she calls “fashion forward.” As a color consultant, who for over 25 years has participated in the Color Marketing Group, an international not-for-profit Association of 1,100 Color Designers who forecast Color Directions® one to three years in advance, she has a finely-tuned perception of color.
“A lot of people visit the shop and are amazed at the color selection. They say these are colors they don’t see everywhere,” she says. “I don’t bring in every color that each artisan or manufacturer offers. I edit with fashion and interiors in mind. And my own line of twist yarns is filling the voids that I see within that. Sometimes, I just can’t find what I’m looking for by anybody else, so I’m creating it.”