In 2015, when Moda was celebrating its 40th anniversary, we wrote about the company’s “oldest” designers, Sandy Gervais and Jan Patek. That description refers not to Sandy’s and Jan’s ages, but to their years as Moda designers. Deb Strain, Moda’s third “oldest” designer, has come up with a kinder, gentler moniker. “We’re the vintage girls,” she says.
In the years since Deb signed her first contract with Moda (she’s still got the one-page document, dated March 5, 1996), she’s designed around 85 collections. They include a Christmas line and a Halloween or autumn-themed line each year: her most recent line, Bee Creative, features some of the flora and fauna that inspire her.
Until recently, Deb was surrounded by that flora and fauna—she and her husband Scott lived on twenty acres in a house they’d shared for 20 years. But the possibility of living next door to their twin grandsons proved too tempting to resist, and Deb and Scott moved an hour-and-a-half south to live next door to their daughter Arrin and her family. Now the boys, who are seven, come to their grandparents’ house after school. “It’s my hour-and-a-half break,” says Deb of the afternoons the boys spend with them. “They’re here a lot and I get my hugs every day, and if I don’t I go next door and get ‘em.
The move from a house where they’d spent 20 years required that Deb and Scott do some downsizing. “It was challenging, but we simplified and it feels good,” she says. They designed the new house to include a studio that encompasses the entire second floor, with lots of windows and a balcony that overlooks the interior so she can check in on the household’s comings and goings. “I’m up here a lot and I love it,” she says.
Moda is not the only company to appreciate Deb’s images. Her paintings and illustrations appear on calendars, coloring books, ornaments and figurines, garden flags, coasters, and pillows. She and Scott recently produced a line of greeting cards for quilters called Sew Noted, which they sell through their Saltbox Wholesale company. Deb revels in the opportunity all these items provide for her to create. “I just love pattern and color—designing and painting are my world,” she says. “My dad says I’ll be buried with paintbrushes in my hand.”
Inspiration for her work comes from nature and she follows color and fashion trends. Travel is also important for fortifying her reservoir of creativity. She and Scott try to take a trip out of the country annually and have been to Thailand, where they rode mopeds and elephants, and to European countries including Germany, Switzerland, and Austria to visit the Christmas markets. Next up is Barcelona, Spain. “The color, the architecture, it all serves as inspiration,” says Deb.
Deb’s travels also take her to see her other children—she has a daughter in New York City and a son in Portland, Oregon—and she’s grateful her work is portable. “I’ve painted in many hotel rooms and drawn on airplanes—as long as I have my stuff I can work anywhere,” she says. She doesn’t use a computer when creating her Moda designs, but instead draws and paints each piece in the fabric line. “Once I get the colors and theme I start painting different coordinates,” she says. “I love laying them out and watching the collection grow.”
Deb is grateful for her nearly 21 years of designing for Moda and for the opportunities it’s provided. Together with her daughters Arrin Turnmire and Katie Strain she designed a children’s line, Grow with Me, and before life with twins got too busy, her daughter Arrin had her own Moda lines, Little Things. “It’s been such a blessing in our lives and in our children’s lives, and so much fun to watch Moda grow from the early stages,” says Deb. “Their success is so well deserved and we’ve met so many great people—the designers, new and old, are just wonderful. It’s a kind-hearted industry and I’m so fortunate to be a part of it.”