I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the parallels between the fabric and music businesses. Designers = musicians, fabric collections = albums, individual prints = songs, fabric companies = record labels, shops = well, shops. (Then what is True Up? You be the judge!) I bring this up now because Joel Dewberry‘s new collection, Deer Valley, illustrates the metaphor so perfectly. This collection tells such a tight story, like a concept album — a great concept album, where the whole is better than the parts, though the parts can stand alone wonderfully as well.
The modern mountain gothic feel imparted by the deer heads, Columbine flowers, and church architecture motifs is edgy, wistful, a little haunting, and so beautiful. It reminds me of something in the alt-country genre — Neko Case, maybe, or The Handsome Family, or M.Ward. What do you think? What music does this collection bring to mind for you?
Joel Dewberry has built up his fabric rock star reputation through his previous quilting- and home-decor-weight collections Chestnut Hill, Manzanita, Aviary, and Ginseng, and now Deer Valley, but I didn’t know much else about him. I’m so glad he consented to this email interview about his background and creative process. Cue music …
Is textile design your full-time career now or do you do anything else for a living?
Currently, I have two careers, but textile design is my passion. I am fortunate that both of my pursuits complement one another. When I am not designing textiles or working on expanding my designs and product offering through licensing, I consult in the discipline of brand strategy and product design. It is a bit more stuffy, but also has its benefits. While there are times when I long for singular focus, just being a textile designer, I believe that at the end of the day I am a better designer because I cross over into other industries and activities. I think it gives me a fresh perspective and I work hard at allowing that to come through in my designs.
Being a male in a female-dominated profession, do you find yourself getting an unusual reception? I imagine people must love the novelty, but I bet there’s some “Hey, this is a girl’s club, what are you doing here?” going on too …
In the beginning, I felt a little bit like a fish out of water, but that quickly changed. After my first show/market and the overwhelmingly positive response to me and my designs I felt quite at home. I found the industry to be very friendly and welcoming. As you mentioned, the novelty is something I think that has helped me to find a home here and stand out in my own way from the many talented designers out there. I have also had many comment that while many of my designs focus on organic or floral themes they still have a subtle, but unique masculine quality that provides a fresh approach for fabric.
I’m sure you get this a lot, but, I have to ask about your mom! I knew she designed fabric, but I didn’t know about her biggest claim(s) to fame until now. Who started designing fabric first? Your styles and audience are so different — do you advise each other? Any rivalry going on?
My mom is an amazing artist. She was the influence in my life that helped me to arrive where I am today. Her entrepreneurial spirit and amazing talent gave me the confidence to pursue my own aspirations in design. We worked together for many years and I helped her to launch her first fabric collections that did exceptionally well. It was through relationships we developed at that time that doors opened for me and I was invited to throw my hat into the ring of textile designers.
We are a sounding board for one another and find value in each others’ feedback, but we also realize, as you pointed out, that our styles and customers can be very different at times. No rivalry, just genuine support and the desire that each of our collections is well received.
And what about your other siblings — are they artists/designers/crafters as well?
I am the second oldest of seven children and to date, I have been the only one to express interest in and pursue the arts. I do have a younger brother who has just recently begun to explore design with some interest.
What is your design process — do you sketch by hand? All computer? Do you do the repeats yourself?
I love the design process! The end result is rewarding, but I relish the experience of creating and cultivating that “something new.” I describe my process as organic, but structured. I start every day with a sketchbook in hand and then remain open to inspiring moments. I cultivate a theme and then allow that to steer the development of a new collection.
My background is in fine art, but I have become proficient with designing on the computer as well. Currently, I own the entire process from design conception, to color selection, to the delivery of digital files in repeat. It depends on the particular design I am working on, but I will sketch, paint, use photography, and even design right on the computer to create new designs.
How have your collections evolved over time?
I like to think they have. I would love to hear what others have to say. I feel like I can take a step back and see a maturity and sophistication develop in each consecutive design collection. I have embraced the same design philosophy and process for each collection, however, I feel like I have refined my sensitivity to scale and color over time. I also believe I am evolving what it means to be “Eclectic Modern,” my signature style. Each new season provides an opportunity to redefine what is modern and what styles I merge to create something fresh and inspiring.
Now let’s talk about Deer Valley. Can you tell us about it in general? You call the style “lodge chic” (I love it!) — where did that idea come from? What are the colorways, how did you develop them, and what do they mean to you?
Deer Valley is really a reflection of some pretty dramatic changes in Laurie, I, and our four kids’ lives. At the time of creating this collection, we were moving from a place we loved near my family (in Florida) to another place we loved near Laurie’s family (in Utah). It was a bittersweet experience in every respect. Our new home in Utah brought with it a dramatically inspiring setting and feeling I wanted to capture. My method of capturing emotions and settings is of course to express them in design and color. Deer Valley became my outlet. For those familiar with the Rocky Mountain West, I hope I have done it justice.
We live in a relatively small town with an abundance of farmland, meadows, +peach, cherry, and apricot orchards and just below the Wasatch Mountain range. On more than one occasion, we have been entertained by herds of deer that forage for food in our yard and orchard. It was difficult to pass up the opportunity to include all of these things in my next collection, so I didn’t. In some way, they all found a home in Deer Valley as is evidenced by the names of many of the designs (Antler Damask, Mountain Gem, Weave Stripe … ).
The colorways Azure, Persimmon, and Tarragon were intended to communicate the emotion and attachment we feel for our new home. These colorways were also intended to convey the feeling of finding a secluded meadow (Tarragon), the richness of discovering fresh spring blooms (Persimmon), and the feeling of dusk as the sun sets over the mountains (Azure).
The style of “Lodge Chic” was my way of describing injecting a bit of modernity into my new rustic setting. I thought it was an interesting concept to blend rustic with somewhat urban and contemporary color palettes.
I know FreeSpirit/Westminster has begun to brand itself as a purveyor of “lifestyle fabrics” (rather than “quilting fabrics”) — and you seem to be a perfect example of that, creating versatile collections that work not only in quilting but also in fashion, accessories, and home decor. Is that just naturally how you design or is it more of a collaborative decisionmaking process with FreeSpirit?
I just believe it is fortuitous that I came on the textile scene at the time a lifestyle emphasis was being encouraged. I believe that is true of most of the designers with FreeSpirit. I am not aware of any strategic initiative that would encourage us to design in that way. I believe it was the focus and style of the designers in the FreeSpirit family that has positioned the company in that way.
I solicited further questions for Joel over Twitter. True Up reader nycstitcher asks:
Deer Valley seems to have so much more movement, and larger scale, than Ginseng or Manzanita — was that a conscious decision?
Yes, it was a conscious decision. Deer Valley was created with the quilter and fashion seamstress in mind. I wanted to deliver a range of prints that caused a stir and were friendly in quilt-making and in designing clothing and handbags.
What should a fabriholic with no more room in the closet be absolutely buying now, other than (of course) your new line? +And in a year, what colors will I be buying (I am sure that is on your drafting table now)
She/he should be buying whatever inspires them to create. That changes for me so often, so it is hard to put my finger on just one thing. As far as up-and-coming colors, I see a resurgence of classic palettes with a jolt of the unexpected.