Member Spotlight - Kay Lange


As a teenager, I began teaching gymnastics to neighborhood children. This led to owning my own Dance Studio for five years where I taught Tap, Ballet, Acrobatics and Baton twirling to over 100 students. Having a studio also meant Dance Recitals. My mother and I studied costume design together from a lady at Northwestern Costume House in Minneapolis. This was before spandex and leotard costumes, and everything was made from satin and sequins and tulle netting. I dreamed up the designs and my mother made the patterns – all the costumes were colorful and pretty. I bought my first sewing machine at the age of 16 - it was a 1933 Singer Featherweight. It has seen much use over the years and I still have it today.

When I began working as a Stewardess for United Airlines in 1964, I never dreamt my career in flying would span the next 40 years. During that time, I made most of my own clothes, and I remember thinking that when I could afford to buy the kinds of clothes that I wanted, I wouldn’t be making everything. Little did I know that one day I would even make the fabric for my garments.

There was a lot of waiting time between flights. My aunt suggested knitting and proceeded to teach me how to knit. She was a highly accomplished knitter, and I loved it immediately. When I was on a trip and I made a mistake, there was no one to help me so I had to figure it out for myself. I decided that knitting was like puzzles, which were always a favorite pastime for me. I created quite a wardrobe of sweaters over the years for myself and for my husband, and knitted many baby clothes for gifts. In the early days of flying, I would make a sweater, wear it for a couple of years and then tear it apart and reuse the yarn in a different style. We were not paid very much in those days, and after years of tearing out sewing mistakes, tearing out a sweater and beginning anew was not big deal for me.

I also learned to do needlepoint, crewel, bargello, macramé, kumihimo, needle felting and anything else that was portable.  As a matter of fact, I often carried my Singer Featherweight on layovers so that I could sew. I made my wedding dress, a baptismal gown, a jacket for my husband and even pillows and curtains on some of those layovers. Not the glamorous image that you might think of for a flight attendant!

Eventually I thought that it would be nice to have fabric to match my hand knit sweaters and I wondered if I could learn to weave with some of that beautiful yarn. Enter---Denise Kavanagh, The Loom Room and Seivers School of Fiber Arts. How could I have known where all of that would lead? I went to the very first Uncommon Threads event which was held in the upstairs gallery of the Fine Line Barn. I was so inspired and so awed, and I knew right then what I wanted to do. I took classes, attended conferences, entered shows, joined numerous weaving and knitting guilds and just kept making things. 

But this was just the beginning of my involvement with Fine Line. Soon after that first Uncommon Threads encounter I was asked if I would like to help with Uncommon Threads. OF COURSE, I did, and the rest is a 30-year history of being a volunteer that has meant more to me than it ever could mean to even Fine Line.

During those early years, my life took a huge turn when my husband of almost 30 years passed away. Fine Line was one of the lifelines that was my saving grace, with support from Denise, Peter, Geraldine and many others. With guidance from Heather Winslow, I began teaching weavers how to design clothing to be woven on narrow warp looms. For the next several years, I taught and lectured for guilds and conferences around the country. Pretty soon my life became bigger than me, so I stopped teaching and concentrated on my first love, Uncommon Threads.

About the same time, I began working with a group of very talented fiber artists in the Chicago area. “Women's Journeys in Fiber” exposed me to another venue that I did not even know existed. In the last 20 years, I have been involved in the group’s annual “Process Project” exhibition that debuts at the Chicago Botanic Garden and then moves to the Chicago Flower and Garden Show at Navy Pier, the Anderson Arts Center and various other shows around the country. The influence of this group expanded my creativity and introduced me to new materials. I made a gourd mask covered in pheasant feathers, a motorcycle helmet made of fused silk, a radio of silk and needle felt, tap shoes with hand woven and embroidered fabric and Swarovski crystal covered taps, a parasol of Japanese paper with crystal bead raindrops, a tapestry triptych of “Over The Rainbow” on a yellow brick road and a tiny origami-inspired piece with fused silk airplanes flying over needle felted clouds.

I can’t imagine not making things as I go forward. I am planning to weave my second Navajo Rug this winter. Thanks to Fine Line, I learned to weave my first rug in a class I took many years ago. I also cannot imagine not being involved with Fine Line. I currently serve on the Board of Directors, and have been co-chair of Uncommon Threads for more than 30 years. It has been, and still is, a labor of love and an honor to be involved with Fine Line and to help to grow this unique and inspirational place.