Interview: Erin McMorris on Wildwood

Mary Beth of Supafine is back with more reportage for you.

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Erin McMorris

Erin McMorris is a textile designer living in Portland, OR, and the creator of the recent FreeSpirit release, Wildwood. (Her previous lines include Park Slope and Urban Garden)

I met Erin at Quilt Market in Pittsburgh in May, where we chatted a bit about Northwest Ohio (from which we both hail), tiny trees, and a particular shade of yellow.

Wildwood is a bright and poppy arboreally-themed collection with lots of great dotty details and cheerful, organic feeling. Erin gracious agreed to a Q and A to give us a closer look at the line — and the lady behind the line. (Completely different from the man behind the curtain.) (Not a wizard.) (Maybe a whiz, though.) (They’re going to take my parentheses away.)

quilt showing Wildwood by Erin McMorris

All right, Erin, let’s start with you.+What has your career path looked like so far?

The path has been covered in weeds and very dusty, Mary Beth … I sneeze a lot.

[Hee.]

I know you studied graphic design in school; how did you make the transition to designing textiles?

OK, I guess it started when I had an evening job painting ceramics for a friend … copying her style on a range of products that she created. I loved it more than my day job. And so I started taking ceramics classes and realized that it wasn’t so much the ceramics, it was the PAINTING of the glazes that I loved! I then started painting patterns and designs on canvas and sewing them into book bags and purses. But it wasn’t until a friend started taking a textile class that I actually thought about it as a career. I decided to just go for it and went back to school at FIT in NY. I still really love graphic design … and hopefully that still comes across in my work as well.

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How have your designs evolved over time? What kind of evolution has your work undergone since you started?

Well, to be honest, I’d have to say that hopefully I design less crap! Maybe I shouldn’t say that, but I have a whole collection of designs from over the years that make me roll my eyes! I think I’m designing looser which is always good. I’m not a real serious person, so hopefully my designs reflect that, and are contemporary, happy, and if it has a slight retro look … that would be perfect.

What does your design process look like?

It is very messy in a computer sort of way. I LOVE asking other designers how they work and am in awe of how different everyone does it! I tend to draw tiny bits of sketches in my notebook just enough so I get the idea, scan it and then proceed with sketching in Photoshop with a pen and tablet. Photoshop is really just an extension of my sketchbook at this point where I keep drawing until something clicks. Once I can see a possibility in a messy sketch, then I clean it a bit more and color it with a quick palette that I develop just to test the designs to see if they balance with the others. When I am FINALLY happy with the way the group is looking, I finalize the designs, and put them into repeat. Then I color! I always color last, but I know already know how I’m going to color them, meaning which designs fall on light/dark grounds, and which ones are more multi or tonal but I just don’t know exactly which colors. I print out every combo that is working for me, and then start sorting and discarding. If the printer isn’t giving me the colors I want, I’ll paint up chips and swatch them that way. I wish I could be more organized or think through a design before I start, but I just can’t!

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All right. Juice time. Let’s talk about Wildwood. You get three words to describe it: Go.

Summery, dotty, and fresh? Or modern, organic, and happy?+Or lemonade, mojitos, and raspberry smoothie? Is that nine words, or am I just thirsty?

When we talked earlier, you said the inspiration came from a trail in Forest Park, the nature park near your home in Portland. Tell me more.

I knew I wanted to draw more leafy prints this time, and so I thought of Forest Park. The Wildwood trail is only about two miles from downtown and runs about 30 miles through the park and it has a bit of everything. I like the juxtaposition of the urban environment vs. the forest and tried to reflect that.

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What are the colorways and what do they mean to you?

I don’t really like to design in completely separate colorways and I always think of them as more like fuzzy colorways, meaning that one kind of bleeds into another. I usually become obsessed with one color a year and this year it was a sort of acidic yellow. Then, I saw a clipping of it paired with a light mint green and a dark pink … and that was all I needed to get going! I tried to basically keep one colorway experimenting with different shades of green from mint to olive, and one colorway more citrusy in lemons and pinks. And of course I added gray because it is my nod to Portland (yes, it does rain a lot here!) and I love the way colors pop on gray.

Image via Fat Quarter Shop

Image via Fat Quarter Shop

Can you tell us a bit about each print, how it came about, and how it fits into the overall collection?

This is always a really hard question for me mostly because I just keep drawing and drawing until I know it’s done. I really think more about the collection as a whole and about the variations I want: the number of multi vs. tonal prints, the variety of scales, the number of directional vs. allover prints vs. set patterns, etc. So here is what I was probably thinking when coming up with some of the group:

Sophie's garden

Sophie’s Garden: This was probably where I started. The bubble flowers have some pretend shading on them which is unusual for me (gasp!) because I usually like everything flat.

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Modern Vine: I wanted something swirly and dense and abstract. This was an offshoot of Sophie’s Garden but I wanted it simpler and more tonal and only vines.

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Pressed Leaves: So I had my swirly allover leaves with the Modern Vine, and I also wanted a set leaf design. This is actually an old print that I had in my collection that didn’t sell, so I reworked it a bit so it fit in with what I was doing here. I like that it reads graphically and also because of how it’s colored, it is a stripe (bonus!)

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Check-a-dot: I love dots … I use them all the time. I think they are fun and graphic. I didn’t want to do a straight polka dot so I tried a bunch of different layouts before this one clicked. The dots are all hand-drawn so it gives it a bit of an imperfect wonky look. I think this is a resting print when it is paired with another print, but it is also fun on its own.

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Lotus and Leaves: I think lotus pods are such crazy looking flowers … I cannot get over their shape and I like to draw them a lot. All of my flowers are really just made up, but it’s nice to know that this simple shape really does exist in nature! I drew them as a vine that is a direction print and added the dots as color-blocking. I like adding dots as texture to areas.

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Forest: I draw a lot of popsicle trees … and I wanted the “dotty” theme to continue so I changed some of the trees to dots. I love mixing a cute conversational print with the other florals/leaves. I think this print has a similar feel to the Pebbles print from Park Slope, but I turned it into a conversational print.

Thanks for the interview, Erin!+This has been very fun! Readers: Wildwood is widely available now from independent quilt and fabric shops. You know what to do.

5 Comments

  1. strikkelise says:

    Thanks for the interview with Erin McMorris!
    I have actually been staring at these fabric the last couple of days, trying to pick which ones to use for a quilt. I absolutely love the Flower Shower patterns both in yellow and green, and also the Pressed Aspen Leaves.
    Do you happen to know any recommendable online shops to get this line from, none of the ones I know carry more than a couple of the designs?

    P.S. For more of that acid yellow and dark pink, check out the old French movie “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”. I was completely obsessed with that a couple of years ago.

  2. Vicki says:

    Great interview. I’ve been admiring this line for a while now…. I’d love to make some late summer baby clothes from some of these designs.

  3. Natalie says:

    Lovely designs and a great interview!

  4. Shannon says:

    I love the Wildwood collection, especially those “popsicle” trees. Thanks so much for sharing this interview!

  5. Constance says:

    I love the insight into how designers work, thanks for a great interview…I LOVE Erin McMorris’ style