Shannon Gillman Orr has always been a maker. Her mom taught her to sew when she was five and she sewed during college when she needed a break from her architecture classes (she even got a minor in costume design). Though her college degrees gave her an opportunity to create, neither provided the satisfaction she yearned for.
All that has changed for Shannon, who today produces quilt and other sewing patterns and will have her first line of fabric, Acreage, on store shelves in September. “At the end of my conversation with Cheryl Freydberg, when she called to offer me an opportunity to design for Moda, she said ‘You don’t have to answer right now, you can think about it,’ and I hung up the phone and thought ‘Are you kidding? It’s the job I never knew I wanted!” says Shannon.
Today Shannon lives in Tucson, Arizona, but previously she and her family (she and her husband have two sons, ages nine and six) lived in New Hampshire. While there Shannon worked for an architecture firm doing rendering—taking an elevation drawing done by an architect and adding color, trees, and textures. “I didn’t really enjoy the blueprinting part of architecture, but I loved this,” she says. Then came the downturn in the economy, which coincided with the birth of Shannon’s eldest son. “It provided a great exit strategy,” she says with a laugh. She continued to do consulting work, but it was never a great fit.
One day at church a woman held up two quilts during a show-and-tell event. Shannon particularly loved the woman’s bright, modern quilt and asked her to teach her to quilt. They became good friends and Shannon’s teacher encouraged her to try fabric design. “I said ‘That’s not a job!’ but she told me it was and showed me bright fabrics and told me they were designed by real people,” says Shannon. In the meantime, Shannon started designing quilt patterns, giving a contemporary twist to traditional designs. She also dabbled in baking and jewelry and costume making. And then one day, while poking through a thrift shop, she picked up a recipe box for three dollars, and by the time she got home she had an idea (she wrote her business plan on recipe cards). Eva Blake Makery and Emporium (a combination of the name she’d choose for a daughter—Eva—and her great-great grandmother’s and dad’s name—Blake) was planned as a brick-and-mortar site where people would come to craft.
Shannon started offering craft classes as a way to earn money to open Eva Blake’s Makery. Held in housewares shops and touristy gift shops—“wherever I could convince someone it was a good dual marketing idea—the events featured crafts packaged in pink bakery boxes with instructions on recipe cards, and some shops provided catered food and even a photographer. “It was fun, but not sustainable long term,” says Shannon, who continued to do events after moving to Arizona.
In 2015, she finally followed the suggestion of the friend who taught her to quilt and pulled together a portfolio of drawings. She submitted it to Moda, and two weeks later got the call. For Shannon, designing fabric and patterns is the culmination of her studies in architecture and costuming, and her yearning to have a creative business. “I can use my love of color, design, and all things vintage and put it into fabric and it’s just awesome,” she says. In preparation for spring Quilt Market, she and some helpers have been stitching projects from her upcoming line. “Seeing them is just delightful and I’m so excited to see what people will make with it,” she says. She was especially thrilled when she saw the colored registration dots on the selvedges of her fabrics. “They’re little flowers that I drew that were just part of my sketchbook,” she says in wonder. “I’m so grateful for the details Moda puts in.
While she’s dedicated to quilting, Shannon contributes her stitching skills to help others less gifted. Last week she agreed to alter four prom dresses. “They were that awful, slippery satin,” she says with a shudder. “One of the dresses needed to be shortened and when I cut six inches off the bottom, one side was three inches shorter than the other. I was so happy to finish them and get back to using quilting cotton!” As the vice president of the Tucson Modern Quilt Guild and a member of the local “traditional” guild, Shannon is a proponent of quilting in all its forms. “There is so much to learn from traditional quilters,” she says. “Modern is a loose term for me, and really every quilt is a modern quilt because you made it today. It doesn’t matter if it’s abstract or improv, those are just methods. Learning to sew well adds to the quality of your craft.”