As quilters, we like to chat with other quilters about quilting. We’re curious about “why this color” and “why that combination of fabric”. I don’t know if there’s something about cotton fibers that makes us a little more curious – sounds better than nosey – but chatting-up quilters is normal.
Except when the quilters are both in the “quilting business”. Then it’s a bit of a challenge – especially at Quilt Market, the only time when many of us are in the same building. Never mind that there’s rarely enough time, asking a lot of questions in’t something that’s always well-received.
So yes, I really enjoy that this job means I’m finally getting a chance to pick a few brains.
Or trees. One in particular. It’s got something to do with a fig.
Isn’t this just figgylicious?
If you’re even a little familiar with Joanna’s fabric collections, you know that they always include a darker accent color. Over the years, they’ve included various shades of plum, cocoa and navy, but the “Chalkboard Black” was new. I was curious if that was a recent inspiration, or something she’d been thinking about for awhile.
I think somewhere early on in my designing career I learned that I really like medium tones. I love tomato red and aqua, butterscotch and my apple green. But when creating a fabric collection, I need light cream prints and darker accents to make something really great. The medium tones might still be my favorites… but they look so much better when they are contrasted with soft lights and warm darks. I do this lecture thing on color where I talk about “instant vintage” colors and over the years I have tried to incorporate all of them as my “accents” or pops of dark. I have used taupe, chocolate, plum and have been waiting to use a soft black for a while. We actually put it into another collection a while ago but it didn’t quite make the final cut, it wasn’t what we were looking for. The minute I added it to this group, I knew it would work. There is something about that yummy chalkboard tone of it that makes it so awesome… just saying.
I love this collection. I know many, many of you love this collection. So what is Joanna’s favorite part of Farmhouse? (I teased and asked for her reply in “two or three keywords, please.”)
The daisy print. The chalkboard black. The “retro vibe”. I know that’s more than two or three words but no one has ever accused me of being too brief. Sorry.
(It must be a Libra thing.)
Joanna’s Mystery Sampler Block of the Month.
One of the things that Joanna and I have in common is that we both like language, and we both like to write. So I was curious how she would describe Farmhouse to someone who had just started quilting and didn’t know anything about the Fig Tree style. (Mostly I wanted to know would she would describe the collection – using any words but “fresh” or “vintage.”)
You are a funny girl. I have to use “fresh” and “vintage” in everything. I am nothing if not consistent! But having my hand tied behind my back like that I would probably say… Farmhouse is my way of going “country chic” and “retro” at the same time. It has our signature color palette of warm, saturated colors, mixed with ivory and now accented with this fabulous chalkboard black that makes everything else around it sing! The prints are a bit retro and a few are direct reproductions of some of my favorite vintage designs – uh, oh, I used the word “vintage”… but so far we are good on the “fresh”. When I mixed those with a few more modern prints, I loved the result and “farmhouse chic” or “country chic” is how I described it even though I don’t really know that that is an actual “look”. LOL. I make up words all the time [as English is my second language] so I might as well start making up entire design categories!
(Making up words. What gets into some people? Who ever heard of such a thing!)
Just so you know, with Farmhouse arriving in quilt shops now, Farmhouse does indeed play incredibly well with Joanna’s new collection, Strawberry Fields Revisited – it’s due in stores in January. (Rumor has it that it’s going to be a Frivol too.) As Joanna wrote, “They are completely different yet it seems as if they were made to play alongside each other. Gee.. I wonder if someone planned that!
The various combinations are endless but using the blacks and the oranges from Farmhouse and mixing them with Strawberry, especially with those taupes and yellows… well, its just making my heart sing just a little bit right now.”
After asking about fabric, what I was also curious to ask about was the business side of it. So I asked – I think one of the biggest challenges of a creative business is staying true to your style while also re-inventing yourself – doing something new that still fits you. How have you managed to stay true to the Figgy-style while also staying “current” and… wait for it…”fresh”?
When I first started out, it was much easier. It was all new and every new thing was not only new to me but also to my fans, so it was pretty much a win-win scenario. As the industry has developed and changed and grown, it has been more of a challenge to stay true to our signature color palette and vintage-feel prints. Yet I still sometimes feel the desire to become somewhat more modern while still pushing myself to do something new that still stays true to me. I think it has helped that I’ve never tried to have a look that is like anyone else. My “look” is totally in my head, it always has been. If you look at my house, it pretty much looks like my fabric. As does my wardrobe, people tell me!
Adding new colors to my collections as often as possible while still keeping groups that people love to mix and match is part of what I love to do so that part has been easy. Over the years we introduced a light grey, then various shades of blue, then a beautiful navy and now black. The year I decided to add navy to my group, there wasn’t very much of it around. But I had started seeing it appear in fashion and in most of my favorite stores. I thought it would be a good time to try it mixed in with Fig Tree colors – Avalon was that collection. It was very popular – everyone loved it – so we brought it back again several times after that. It is a wonderful pop color! Black is my newest addition and we will definitely be bringing it back again, perhaps as early as our next group. I just don’t think I can live any longer than a year without more of it. Don’t you think?
Another thing is that over the years, my lines have definitely gotten a bit brighter and lighter, and now I base everything on an ivory base instead of the buttery cream that I started off with. That makes a lot of the prints “pop” more and it also makes my collections much more “mixable” with others. I love to use Minick & Simpson’s creams and reds in some of my bundles, as well as fabrics from Jen Kingwell, Sweetwater and a few others too!
One of the things you’re becoming known for is the eclectic mix of fabrics you’re putting together for Halloween, Christmas and your Mystery Sampler quilts. You even Figgy-fied Moda’s Modern Building Blocks quilt. (Two of them – lap-sized, one for each of her boys.)
I love to pull colors from collections and create something completely different with them. My favorite choices? Halloween and Christmas of course.
Our Halloween bundles have become a bit legendary and we do one each year – usually in September. We mix our Figgy creams and oranges with some yummy black pieces from other collections. This time around, I fell in love with the blacks from Kathy Schmitz‘ line Sturbridge… the combinations were just too good! As for Christmas… what can I say! Almost every single one of our collections has a red, and a green, and a cream. I always add in a few other current favorites, like the Minick & Simpson reds and creams I mentioned before. They are my favorites for mixing and Voila! Even red and cream on its on… yum! I just loving what happens when you pull out colors and use them in different and unexpected combinations. The results are often some of my all-time favorite quilts.
So what’s the best part about being in this business?
Color. Getting to play with color, create color combinations and sew with color is the best thing I can think of to do for a job. Its all about the color!
Then I had to ask the obvious – was there something she wished she could change about the business? (Was there a “worst” part?)
Oh… I have a worst part….. I don’t love the arduous process of writing and editing patterns. Don’t’ get me wrong, I love making the diagrams and explaining things in such a way that people can really understand them. But the actual process, the nitty-gritty of formatting and editing and then editing again… that is definitely not a task I look forward to. Does anyone want to do that for me? I would trade that for anything! LOL!!
Is there something you wish you’d known about this business – and running your own business – before you started?
My dad was a seasoned business owner and my hubby is an MBA so between the two of them, my beginnings were pretty good. They literally made me do a full business plan before we started anything so I was set up pretty well in terms of plans and structure. But I sure wish I knew how all-encompassing it would be when I started. It wouldn’t have stopped me from taking the leap, but maybe my expectations would have been different. Maybe I would have hired help sooner.
What is the one thing you’re glad you didn’t know about this business before you started? (And yes, this might be kind of the same thing.)
How crazy I get when it comes time for a serious deadline. Who knew?
Indulge me on this – it’s my “Vulcan Mind-Meld” question. Name one person in the industry whose mind you’d like to read, whose brain you’d like to pick. Why? What is it that they do that you’d like to understand?
I would seriously love to mind meld with Lissa Alexander or Mark Dunn.
With Lissa, it’s because of the marketing ideas she comes up with that pretty much lead the industry. (And I am not kissing up in any
way!) She’ll say that it’s just because she throws out so many different ideas that some of them are bound to stick… but I don’t really buy that for a minute. She’s just that far ahead of the rest of us.
And Mark Dunn… because, well seriously? Who wouldn’t want to mind meld with Mark Dunn?
Modern Figgy Building Blocks No. 2.
You should know that all of the images used here were taken by Joanna – I asked if she’d send me all of these quilts so we could photograph them here in Dallas. She thought that was funny and replied that it would be easier, faster and safer to just send along some pictures.
I think she suspected an ulterior motive with my suggestion. Imagine that?