FunQuilts Interview: Wild Bunch

Wild Bunch fat quarter collection courtesy RJR Fabrics

If you follow my other blog, Dioramarama, you know I’m a big fan of FunQuilts, the husband-and-wife team of Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr. Together they have written two revolutionary booksThe Modern Quilt Workshop and The Quiltmaker’s Color Workshop (née Color Harmony for Quilts), created scores of amazing contemporary quilts, and designed several quilt patterns and fabric collections.

“Fern”

FunQuilts’ fabric lines have always stood out in the quilt fabric world for not standing out. Traditional quilting lines typically center around a “focus fabric” and are supported by a mix of smaller-scale florals and geometrics. They grab your attention with highly contrasting multicolor prints. Think of them as the popular kid in school, complete with entourage. FunQuilts’ collections, on the other hand, rely on more subtle variation of tone, scale, and motif. Their fabric designs grow are an extension of their quilt designs, in which the role of individual fabrics are downplayed in favor of color, shape, and texture in the finished product. These are the smart kids who you might not notice at first but are really cool and beautiful once you get to know them.

The new line Wild Bunch (slideshow) is FunQuilt’s sixth quilting fabric collection — their first for RJR. Though they say the line is a step toward more traditional collections, it is still 100% FunQuilts.

Ringle and Kerr kindly answered a few of my questions about Wild Bunch. Don’t miss the pattern giveaway at the end!

True Up: How does Wild Bunch build upon and/or differ from your previous collections?

Weeks Ringle: When we first started designing fabric six years ago, our natural inclination was to design fabrics that we would want to use in our quilts. We use primarily monochromatic prints because the piecing and the design of our quilts are the primary focus. Both FreeSpirit, the manufacturer of our first five lines and RJR, the manufacturer of Wild Bunch, as well as many shop owners along the way told us that most quilters design very differently than we do. While we generally start with the design of the quilt and then look for a fabric to work with it, many quilters start with a fabric they love and then figure out what to do with it.

So we’ve learned over the years that we need to design a collection of fabrics that will inspire the quilter to want to make something. Wild Bunch, like our previous collection Mendhi, is a collection of original, hand-drawn motifs but Wild Bunch has more multicolored prints. These should be an easier starting point for those quilters that like to design with a focus fabric.

“Meadow”

True Up:: How did you work as a team to create this collection?

Bill Kerr: As designers we always have more ideas than time. For each fabric line that goes to market we’ve got another three or four ideas we’ve explored but have to get set aside. In the case of Wild Bunch, the idea germinated from some sketches that Weeks had done. She was interested in developing a line that combined our love of botanical drawings with the lush feel of the Mendhi line. She drew dozens and dozens of pen and ink sketches of individual plants and divided them into the habitats in which they would be found in nature. I then scanned the drawings, collaged them and put them into intricate repeats. We develop the color palettes together and divide them into color stories based on the total number of prints and colorways that RJR has committed to print. The collaboration to transform that idea into fabric is great fun.

True Up: How did you start working with RJR?

Weeks: Demetria Hayward, a vice president at RJR contacted us out of the blue in November 2006 asking us if we’d be interested in developing quilt patterns using RJR’s Cotton Supreme Solids line. It turned into a long and impressive conversation about the quilting world and her vision of it. She had a ton of energy and ideas. At the time we had just released the Mendhi line, our fifth print line with FreeSpirit. Two days after the call from RJR, the president of FreeSpirit called to tell us they were being taken over by Westminster. I don’t think most people know that when it was taken over by Westminster, FreeSpirit only had three employees (none of which stayed after the takeover) so we felt as though we would be starting over anyway with a new set of challenges complicated by the takeover. We loved Demetria’s energy and enthusiasm and really wanted to work with her so the timing seemed right.

“Succulents”

True Up: Are those succulents I see? What is the botanical story behind the collection?

Weeks: Yes! Those really are succulents drawn from the collection at the Garfield Park Conservatory here in Chicago. I love their shapes and textures. As for the story behind the collection, there seemed to be so many florals out there based on roses or generic flowers but none that featured, say, Virginia Creeper or humble Crabapples. As a former landscape architect, I have a great love of our country’s diverse plant habitats and wanted to celebrate that.

Weeks Ringle’s sketches of succulents

True Up: Your style is very different from most commercial quilting lines, both color- and design-wise. Can you talk more about that?

Bill Kerr: We joke that we always opt for the most time-consuming way to do things. That would include our fabric designs. There are lots of different ways to design fabric. Some are easy and some are complex. It’s very common for designers to recolor vintage prints. There’s no drawing and you just tell the mill to swap out colors. Done. The next easiest thing would be to design a motif with one or two colors that sits on a solid field of a single color. That’s generally a slam-dunk for the mills. The fewer colors and elements in the design the easier it is to get it right. You can figure out the repeat in two seconds.

We both love to draw and are excited about the intricacies of color that are possible with modern printing, so we start from scratch on every line. We design complex motifs in complicated repeats using sometimes a dozen hand-drawn motifs per fabric and often max out the number of colors according to the limits of the mill. We totally push the printing capacity of the mill. The Mendhi line was printed by FreeSpirit in Korea using a printing method that allowed up to 18 colors. RJR chose to print our new line, Wild Bunch, in Japan because their rotary screen printing produces finer detail, but with a limit of 12 colors. Instead of placing the motifs on a solid background, which we find harder for concealing seams, we collage them into a complex repeat that is very hard to spot. The upside to this time-consuming (and certainly less-profitable on an hourly basis) process is that there are no other lines out there that look like ours and that the fabric seams well. We’re designing with the end use in mind, not just for the fabric to look good on the bolt. Even something that looks like a navy floral might have 12 shades of blue in it because we want the fabrics to be lush and have depth. It takes a lot more time trying to get each color right but the mill in Japan does an amazing job.

“Hellebore”

Weeks: As for color selection, we tend to love richer colors and luminous combinations. We try to combine bright colors with more understated colors in the same print so the combinations don’t get to harsh or rainbow-y. The most interesting and freshest color work out there, I think, is done by people who understand that fabrics that are colored in all pastels, all darks or all neon shades become really dated very quickly. If you look back over the centuries of paintings, for example, you see really inspired palettes that include both bright clear colors as well as less saturated colors.

True Up: Are there any quilt patterns or other sewing patterns using Wild Bunch on the horizon?

Bill Kerr: Hot off the presses are the Party of Four pattern and the Boardwalk pattern. We would be delighted to send a free copy of one of the patterns to two of your readers. Your readers can email us at funquilter@aol.com with their mailing address and in two weeks our 7-year-old daughter will choose two names out of a hat and we’ll mail the patterns out to the winners. We also have a free-download pattern in the works using Wild Bunch. Yet another pattern using the line will appear in the April 2009 edition of American Patchwork & Quilting Magazine (which will be out in late January). In the next few months we’re hoping to have an Inspiration Gallery up when we launch an all-new website later in the year.

Weeks: We are in the process of redesigning our entire website. The new design will include an inspiration section and a blog that will include tips for fabric selection and sewing techniques as well. We are expecting to relaunch the site later in the fall.

Wild Bunch is just arriving in stores now, so look for it from your favorite local or online fabric shop.

9 Comments

  1. Wow! What a gorgeous collection!
    Love the bold colors and vintage-y prints.
    Kimberly

  2. daisy janie says:

    Wow! Those images of the stacks are so striking! Loved seeing her sketches next to the finished fabrics. Thanks – needed to see something like this today!

  3. I can definitely see all the work that’s gone into making these complex prints a reality. Nice work… and nice interview!

  4. Anne Marie says:

    Thanks – I had not heard of their line before, and am super excited to find out about them!

  5. soph says:

    there’s something instantly recognisable about this line – it’s true no-one else does anything quite like it. the subtle colour combinations are just beautiful. and despite the nod towards commerical viability with the bolder designs i love that many of the prints still read as solids or textures at a distance, that’s what i loved about the mendhi line.

    thanks for the interview.

  6. hillary says:

    hooray for funquilts! loved this interview. bill & weeks are such an amazing creative duo.

  7. Nicole says:

    Great interview and looking forward to the new range.

  8. Cecilia says:

    I enjoyed looking at the fabrics and reading about the design process. These fabrics are different than any I have seen in my area. I think they would make a “traditional” pattern look very modern.

  9. Nikki says:

    I wanted to let you know that I’m using a photo I found here of the Wild Bunch fabric on my blog. I just bought the line this weekend and wanted to share it. If you need me to take the photo down, let me know. Isn’t it gorgeous?