Interview: Patty Young on Mezzanine

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Patty Young is a busy woman. If you follow her on Twitter, you know that her days typically start very early, involve a lot of coffee, and are filled to the brim with Getting Things Done. (I’m not sure quite how she manages to get it all done, but I strongly suspect it’s the coffee.) (Or some sort of time machine.) (I hope she’ll tell us.)

Patty’s latest line for Michael Miller Fabrics is called Mezzanine, an architecturally-inspired blend of quatrefoils, windowpanes, flowers and dots. She shares a little about the stories behind the line here.

Hi, Patty. So tell me. How did this all begin? How did you get into fabric design? What has your career path looked like so far?

I can’t tell the story about how I got into this whole fabric thing without crediting my good friend Sandi Henderson. A few years back, Sandi and I roomed together during Boutique Cafe‘s Girls Getaway Weekend in SLC. Sandi brought her laptop and gave me a little sneak peek of her preliminary drawings for her first line, Ginger Blossom. At that point, she had not yet pitched it to any fabric companies but had planned to do so at the next Quilt Market. Sandi encouraged me to get a textiles design portfolio together because she knew of my strong graphics background (I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Graphic Design & Photography and had worked as a graphic designer for 15 years). A few weeks after our getaway Sandi called with the great news that she had been picked up by Michael Miller Fabrics and again pushed me to get some designs together. I took her advice and started to draw some preliminary designs.

The next time we spoke I showed her some rough designs for Andalucia and what I had intended to be a separate line, Mod Blooms. I think I only had Moorish Tile completely finished and maybe Flowery Stripe and Tiny Flower (which were plucked right out of Moorish Tile) and then I had another separate collection which included the Mod Dots, Mod Blooms and Tiny Dots. The conversation went something like this:

Sandi: “Patty, these are great! Mind if I show Kathy Miller?”
Patty: “Don’t you dare! These are just rough drafts. I want to get the collections a bit more polished up before I show anyone else.”
Sandi: “OK.”

A couple of days later, I got an email from Sandi and the subject read “Don’t Pass Out.” I think I almost did even before I read it. The email said she showed the designs to Kathy and she loved them and wanted to speak with me on the phone.

After that, without trying to be too cliché, “The rest is history,” but you guys pretty much know the story since I never tend to be too tight-lipped on my blog. I received a licensing contract from Michael Miller in April of 2008 and since then I’ve been working on fabric designs non-stop. My third collection will be out this fall (more about that later).

You also have a business called ModKid Boutique, with two new patterns out (the Sophie and the Sydney). Which came first — the fabric designs or the sewing patterns? How did your work on each aspect of your business inform the other?

The fabric designs came first. I debuted Andalucia last October in Houston and created a few garments to display in my booth. And, again, I hate to sound clichéd but if I had a dollar for every person who asked me if I had sewing patterns for those dresses I’d be rolling in the dough right now. So, it was pretty clear to me what I had to do as soon as I returned from Quilt Market. Lil’ Chef was my first pattern and it was one of those “kill 2 birds with 1 stone” things. My oldest daughter decided she wanted to have a “cooking theme” birthday party so I made chef hats, oven mitts and aprons for all the party attendees (there were only 5 of them! LOL). I drafted the pattern for those items and the photos from the party made for great “inspiration photos” for the instruction booklet.

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After getting my feet wet with Lil’ Chef, I realized I really enjoyed drafting patterns, making mechanical drawings and laying out the booklets. Frida came next, then Kyoko, then Emma. We had such a positive reception when we launched the first 4 patterns that we decided this was the thing for me. Patterns and fabrics go hand in hand, after all, so why not? I am currently working on a whole slew of new patterns that will debut in October alongside my new fabric collection.

What is your fabric design process? What’s your favorite way to work?

My fabric design process is is somewhat unconventional and organic. I draw inspiration from previous travels, foggy memories, old photographs and then throw in current trends in colors and imagery to get that eclectic look in my collections. Some of my designs start out as pen & ink drawings that I scan and clean up in Illustrator or Photoshop, depending on the look I’m going for. Others start out as vector drawings in Illustrator. I work with a Wacom tablet which has pretty much become an extension of my arm. The stylus works just like a pencil or pen so for people that love to doodle all the time it just comes naturally. I start out doing my colors in Pantone, because it’s what I’m comfortable with, but by the time my designs leave for the mill, they have been color pitched using anything from old fabric swatches to color squares printed on my home printer. Anything I find around the studio that has the color I’m looking for gets attached to the print-outs for reference.

Mezzanine is your second collection for Michael Miller. How is it different from Andalucia, your first? How has your style changed (if at all) since then?

Just like Andalucia, Mezzanine is another travel-inspired collection. Growing up as the daughter of an architect and then being exposed to all those history of art and architecture classes back in college, I have a keen eye for structural elements. I love gazing at old buildings and letting my eye wander through the repeating patterns, interesting shapes and amazing textures. However, I do think that Mezzanine has more of a cohesive style throughout. All of the designs look like they belong with one another and work together so beautifully. Andalucia, on the other hand, is more eclectic. It has a wide variety of design styles, from the more traditional look of the Moorish Tile to the über-modern Mod Dots and Mod Blooms.

When we chatted at Quilt Market, you shared that the inspiration behind Mezzanine was a 1998 visit to Europe. Let’s get a little more specific: What are the inspirations behind each print?

Yes, it was a work-related trip which allowed me to live among the Dutch for 3 whole months, but afterwards I had a wonderful opportunity to travel through Belgium, France and England.

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Gothic Flower was the first print I designed for Mezzanine. It was inspired by a photograph of an old ironwork gate from one of the many cathedrals I visited in Belgium.

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From my Gothic Flower design, I literally plucked out Clover Dot and made it into a sweet repeating pattern that coordinates perfectly with the entire collection.

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Gothic Wave was also plucked right out of Gothic Flower. If you look closely you’ll see a Clover Dot in there and the little flower in the center of the Gothic Flower motif.

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Gothic Arch was drawn from a photograph of a stone relief in the front of a cathedral in Antwerp. Of course I took some liberties with the repeat, but in essence all the details are still there. This was by far the most time-consuming of my drawings. Taking something that was originally 3-D and flattening it out while still maintaining the feeling of depth and texture was so hard. I remember working on this drawing for days and days until I had that “EUREKA!” moment.

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Tapestry is a classic quatrefoil pattern that you see repeatedly all over in Europe, especially in England and France. I just love it!

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Secret Garden takes my Tapestry design and sprinkles it with these gorgeous flowers (not sure what they were… wild roses? poppies?) I saw and sketched in a garden in France. The collection really needed a floral to soften up all the structural designs.

Have you seen this sketchbook?

Patty with her sketches for Secret Garden. If you’ve seen this notebook, contact Patty! It was lost during the hustle of Quilt Market in Pittsburgh.

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And last, but certainly not least, is Stained Glass. Of course, this was inspired by a stained glass panel from the interior of a cathedral. I adore the symmetry and geometric quality of the design. It seemed like a mixture between a stylized sun and a flower.

Tell me about your choices for each colorway in this line.

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The colorways in Mezzanine went through a myriad of transformations. Colors started out more like deep jewel tones. The collection was really dark & intense. (You can see some of my original colorways in a patchwork curtain I made for my studio.)

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We brightened them up by adding some pinks and citrons here & there. But by the end most of the jewel tones were replaced by a brighter, happier combo of pinks, aquas and citrons. It was a difficult process for sure, but I am pleased with how the new, brighter tones compliment and soften up the linear, geometric shapes in my designs.

You’ve got a lot on your plate these days: fabric lines, sewing patterns, two kids … How do you do it? Yeah no seriously. What’s next for Patty Young? Is there anything coming down the pike you can share with us?

HAHA, I do this with very little sleep and lots of caffeine. As a matter of fact, if you follow me on Twitter, you know by now that I’m petty much useless without my morning Iced Mocha.

I have so many things in the works I don’t even know where to begin. Well, I guess I’ll start with my next fabric collection with Michael Miller, titled Flora & Fauna. Even though I’m technically not supposed to sneak peek it yet, I will tell you that for this collection I had to go completely out of my comfort zone. I deviated from the structured, linear feel that I am so accustomed to and went with a more free-flowing, organic set of designs. This was my way of proving to myself that I could do something completely different while still staying true to my style. I am so friggin’ proud of this collection I could burst. I seriously can’t wait for everyone to see it.

I also have a whole new range of sewing patterns debuting around the same time as Flora & Fauna. I’ve already been sneak peeking some of these on my blog and will show more as soon as I have them completed. The plan is to have 4 – 6 new ones at Fall Quilt Market.

There are a couple of big exciting projects coming down the pike that I cannot reveal at this point. If you know me at all, you know I’m not very good with secrets so keeping this info to myself drives me absolutely batty. So, all I can say is keep checking my blog because as soon as I am given the green light, I will SHOUT IT OUT! :)

Thank you so much, Mary Beth, for letting me blab and blab about my creative endeavors. I know this was long so KUDOS to any readers out there who made it through. ADIOS!

Mezzanine is available in fabric shops now. Thanks for sharing, Patty! Can’t wait to get a glimpse of Flora & Fauna — and to hear about those projects you’ve still got under wraps!

11 Comments

  1. I love these interviews! I can’t wait to see the new collection! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Jona says:

    Woohoo! Great interview! I’m so intrigued by the inspirations behind each print (how fun to get the inside story). I can’t wait to see what’s next from Patty!!

  3. Lovely interview! Always nice to hear how someone gets started doing what they do.

  4. Alex says:

    I just discovered Patty Young’s Modkid patterns and love them!.. Then I find your awesome site.. SCORE!
    Now to find the fabrics in my town. I must call my local shops.. Love the colors.. Love the prints.. I see some cute kids clothes and maybe some bags with these fabrics.. Can’t wait..
    Bzzzz
    Alex

  5. Wow that’s so great for you! I create designs inspired by quilting and fabrics, and my sister (who is a quilter) keeps sending me links to a wide variety of fabric sites–including this one. I think she wants to see my work in fabric…!

  6. monicalee says:

    oh! this was just what I needed this morning! This was a great interview! I just finished designing my first fabric line and this has inspired me!! I am so enjoying your blog!

  7. Jen says:

    I’m curious about which Wacom tablet Patty uses to create her beautiful fabrics… does anyone know?

  8. Wonderful interview and gorgeous fabric line!
    Its no secret that I love pink and red together and if you add a touch of green, I’m even happier.
    So, the Gothic Wave and Gothic Arch fabrics shown here are an absolute MUST have for my stash.

    Kimberly :)

  9. amylouwho says:

    great interview! I just ordered some of this line and was so happy when it looked so great in person! I LOVE IT!!

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