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Omaha Magazine

Textile Artist Kris Khan's Blanket Statements

Oct 01, 2021 01:46PM ● By Kim Reiner
woman stands with racks of homemade quilts

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

 Kris Khan's first career was caring for people. She tended to patients in intensive care and pediatrics as a nurse for 30 years and, for a time, she worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.

Now retired, the born nurturer has found a way to continue providing comfort for others while cultivating her creativity.

Khan is a quilter. She’s a fastidious collector of brightly colored fabrics, and an artist who sets her own rules and work hours. She’s also particular about her commission projects, choosing only those that sync with the colors and fabrics she wants to work with.

“A quilt is just a blank slate. You can make whatever you want,” Khan explained. “You don’t have to fit a body with curves or fit a window. That’s when my inner artist is let out of the box.”

Gifted a sewing machine at age 13, Khan taught herself to sew, fashioning doll clothes early on. Her projects were, and continue to be, useful. 

As a young mom, she made her triplets’ clothes. Even as she worked long hours as a nurse, she found time to sew every day. She had a stash of go-to hostess gifts (pot holders), and was known to give her friends functional gifts, such as cosmetic bags. 

In 2014, she followed her now ex-husband from Atlanta to Omaha “kicking and screaming,” as she described it. Much to her surprise, she absolutely loved her new home city. She set up a studio inside Hot Shops Art Center in downtown Omaha and has never looked back.

“I really found a community here that I never had before,” Khan said.

At Hot Shops, she befriended Des Moines-based potter Deb Anderson, whose twin sister had a studio near Khan’s. Anderson and Khan began trading pieces. Anderson started decorating her cabin with items made by Khan—first pillows, then a quilt.

“Kris has some really special fabrics in her collection, which she combines brilliantly,” Anderson said.

A colorful array of items greet visitors as they enter Khan’s studio. Her fabric is organized by shade following a ROYGBIV color pattern along a wall of shelves. Khan explained her compulsivity and matter-of-fact nature drive how she sorts her fabrics within each color. Comparing herself to a painter who needs to have the perfect paint on hand, she needs the ideal fabric easy to locate and grab.

Sharon Medcalf, Ph.D., became a regular customer after venturing into Khan’s studio during a Hot Shops open house. First, she bought practical, yet whimsically designed, items, such as placemats and bags. She returned for each open house to buy something new. Eventually, she commissioned Khan to create a cover for a small metal door in her apartment. She had a color scheme already in mind. 

“In fact, I sent her a picture of a bouquet of flowers that I had on my table,” Medcalf recalled. “I wanted a wall hanging of a similar bouquet that I could hang on the metal door. The result was fabulous! She made me a beautiful wall hanging that I now have hanging in my new home.”

Like most of us, Khan pivoted in 2020. The former nurse recognized a need during the pandemic and began making dozens of face masks. 

“As I get older, I look back and see themes in my life,” Khan said. “The creativity and desire to make things has always been there. I’m also a carer and a nurturer. I think that’s what made me a good nurse and, I hope, a good parent. It was the motivation behind making all those masks. I wanted to protect the community...It’s why I make quilts instead of paintings. I really like that [customers are] going to actually use them. I really hope they get loved and used.” 

This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Omaha Home. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

Photo by Bill Sitzmann