Karen was born in Wisconsin in a farming community and studied Chinese language and literature in university. She immigrated to western Canada in the early 1970’s and has made her home on Salt Spring Island since 2000. She and her husband, Terry Nelson, founded Treenway Silks, a silk fibre and yarn import/export company in 1978. As managing director of Treenway Silks for over 30 years, she wrote an educational newsletter, produced an award winning video, published an educational poster explaining the lifesycle of the silk worm, designed and developed new yarns, fibre kits, and colour palettes. She used all their products to create projects to inspire their customers.
Karen's quest to understand all aspects of silk, a desire to better serve Treenway's customers, and her personal curiosity, took her on the first of many journeys to Asia starting in 1986. With camera and journal in hand, each expedition was focused on researching the rich history and heritage of silk production and traditions. A deep respect for the land and people who make the textiles as well as prodding from her friend in India, inspired Karen to lead many textile tours through India and Laos.
She began teaching weaving classes in yarn shops in Victoria, BC. She developed a number of workshops which led her further afield throughout Canada, US, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines and India sharing her knowledge of weaving and silk.
With this focused, yet varied background, Karen has written over 40 articles about weaving, silk fusion, the production of traditional textiles in Asian villages, the raising of silk worms and embellishing styles.
The business has been passed on, so semi-retirement sees Karen dividing her time between the studio and their partially self-sufficient garden. Her deep connection to the natural world, her organic garden and her wide knowledge of world textiles inform her work.
Karen is currently represented by Gallery 8 on Salt Spring Island and continues to participate in group shows through the Surface Design Association, Textile Society of America, Island Textile Artists, the Studio Art Quilts Association and Salt Spring Island Weavers and Spinners.