Giveaway / Q&A: Jessica Levitt on Timber

Nearly a year after bringing her fresh designs to Spring Quilt Market 2009 to find a home, new designer Jessica Levitt sits down to share with us the tale. After you are thoroughly impressed, please enter our giveaway for one of three fat quarter packs of Timber — details at the end of the post.

Hi, Jessica! Thanks so much for talking with us. We’re all very excited about the release of Timber, your first fabric collection for Windham.

Thank you, it’s wonderful to have the chance to talk to all your wonderful fabric-o-holic readers!

Let’s start by talking a bit about the behind-the-scenes process for getting a fabric design from idea to finished bolt. How did Timber come about? What was your inspiration for the line? How long did it take you to refine your ideas into something you could show prospective companies?

When I start a design project of any kind, I almost always start with a theme. +I sort of hate to say that word because it evokes over-the-top kids’ birthdays (which I also love to do) and I try to go for a less literal theme-y look. I find that having a particular concept in mind limits me, but that limit also challenges me. In the case of Timber, it’s pretty obvious that the inspiration is trees.+I+really wanted to do something in nature, but I didn’t want to go too floral. +started looking at trees everywhere and thinking about their leaves and roots etc. And my favorite aesthetic is a modern version of Art Nouveau or Arts and Crafts style, so I was sure to carry that through to each design.

I worked on the collection for quite a long time, probably about a year. +I’m not really a natural illustrator or painter, so I don’t just sit down and paint a pretty picture. Instead I conceptulize it, then sketch, then scan into the computer, then spend forever tweaking the design and the colors.+I wanted something that was more sophisticated than playful, so with each design I asked myself “would I want this as a pillow on my living room couch?”

And once I had the basic designs done, I had to draw on my knowledge of quilting fabrics and work on scale and value and all that. It was helpful that I’ve been sewing and quilting for so long, so I knew what I, as a consumer, would want from a collection.

You shopped your prototypes around at the Spring ’09 Quilt Market in Pittsburgh and had several bites by the end of the show. Can you tell us what the process is like finding a home for your designs?

First and foremost, it was nerve-wracking. You’re really putting yourself out there, and I don’t care how confident you are in your talent, that’s hard. Some of the developmental year was spent on the presentation I wanted to show manufacturers. I worked on beautiful printouts, and I also had the designs printed on fabric (using Spoonflower) to make samples. I made children’s clothing and even a whole quilt to show. I know that really helped manufacturers to see how it all worked together, and it was an added plus to them that I could sew.

I really didn’t know many people in the industry when I set off for Quilt Market the first time, but immediately I met tons of supportive folks, from shop owners to other designers (and of course you!) +Despite having to peddle my wares everywhere I went, I had a blast. It was amazing to meet so many people that just “get” the whole crafting/sewing thing.

As you said, there were several companies interested in my designs, and in the end I got to choose who to work with.+It was actually a tough decision because there were so many factors and really you just don’t know until you try it.

{ Timber on display at the Windham booth, Fall Quilt Market 2009 }

So what happens after you shake hands and sign on the dotted line? What happens to the designs that you created?

The next step is to review them with whatever company you’ve signed on with.+It’s a joint process to figure out exactly what makes the best collection. A manufacturer obviously has a good idea of what sells and what you need to include in your collection, so you might have to adjust scale or colors or sometimes cut a whole pattern. It turned out that I had spent so much time editing myself, that the changes to Timber were pretty minor. I felt like Windham really respected my artistic vision and for the most part deferred to my judgement.

After the designs are finalized you send them off to have samples printed, called “strikeoffs.” Then you work on those to get the colors just right.

And now here it is: Timber! Can you tell us a bit about the colors you chose and the inspiration for each print?

Sure. The colorways just basically started with my favorite colors (or what I’m into at the moment anyway). I love blues and greens so those came first (The Breeze colorway). They worked with the natural look and I kept them pretty soft. Then brown is one of my favorite neutrals so I decided to go for an earthy palette with Clay. And finally I felt I really need something pink or purplish for all the little girls (or little girls at heart) out there, so I added the Berry colorway. Each group coordinates because some of the colors carry over, but you can create totally different looks depending on your taste.

Now for the patterns … I think it all started with Gingko. I’m just crazy about gingko leaves. Probably because they’re used in Arts and Crafts design quite a bit. I started looking at some actual leaves and then flattened and simplified them to make the pattern more graphic.

Next was Dogwood. I knew I wanted a large, but fairly simple floral, and for this one I actually found some Nouveau clip art to start with. I changed some elements and added some and played with colors. Once I had those two done, the feel of the collection was set and it became easier to do the rest.

I added Bamboo because I’m crazy for stripes. I think they’re so useful in quilts for things like borders and bindings and more, plus they are always good accents in any lifestyle project. A lot of the stripes I’ve been seeing are varied in widths and colors (which I love and use a ton) so I thought a gradated version where the stripes were all uniform in width would be a cool change.

And it turns out Willow is almost a stripe too, although much softer. For that print I actually traced a bunch of willow leaves, and took the best and scattered them along long, never-ending branches.

Pear is based on a fairly popular almost mushroom shaped Art Nouveau tree.+I felt like repeating it in a very straight, simple way made it more graphic and “mod.” Of course I added the little “partridge” in the branches that gave it it’s name.

Maple acts as the solid of the group. I love those little seed pods. Remember sticking them on your nose or making helicopters out of them as a kid? So I thought they made the perfect little icon to show up in a very basic print.

And finally, we have Magnolia. This one wasn’t based on any real tree (I just chose Magnolia as the name because their leaf shape was the closest I could find).+I wanted to used the type of rose shape that Charles Rennie Mackintosh made so popular, but in different way, so I turned it into a nest. I don’t think it’s readily apparent that it isn’t actually a floral, but it’s fun that when you look closer and see the birds in the background, you get it. This was the most hand-drawn of all the prints. I did a ton of sketches and scanned in the best. I don’t often feel that’s my strength, so it was a step outside my comfort zone and a lot of people tell me that’s their favorite, so I think it paid off.

Beautiful. And now for a little of your background: how long have you been into fabric design? What has your career path looked like so far? Has your prior work life in (engineering, right?) informed your current processes at all?

Yup, I have a degree in electrical engineering and computer science. But I’ve always been a sewist and crafter. And I loved the idea of something more creative as a career. I’ve tried a bunch of other avenues from event planning to interior design, but I’m pretty passionate about fabric, so being a designer was always a dream (or at least since Amy Butler entered the scene and showed us all how it’s done).

I only started to do actual design with this line, Timber. I doubted my ability since I’d never used Illustrator or done much design on the computer, but it did come naturally. My previous career definitely helped with the computer end of things. I feel like I learned pretty quickly (it doesn’t hurt that I have a Dad and a sister who do graphic design and I could ask them a ton of questions). Also, there’s a planner/project management element to engineering which I carry over to all my creative endeavors.

Anything I have forgotten to ask, or anything more you would like to share with us? (I have baby brain right now, so I am sure there is more I wanted to ask!!)

Hmmm … the only thing I can think of is: what’s next for me? +I am working on a second collection, but I’m taking my time. I don’t want to disappoint my new-found fans! So you should definitely see some new designs by the end of the year. Otherwise I have plenty of other projects to keep me busy, including my two little ones at home. +:)

Thank you so much, Jessica! Can’t wait to see what everyone makes with your creations. Way to go!

My pleasure! +This was lots of fun.

……..
Giveaway Time! Just leave a comment on this post to be eligible to win a fat quarter pack in one of the three colorways. Comments will close and a winner will be drawn next Friday, April 9, 2010, around 3pm Central U.S. time.

398 Comments

  1. Beth says:

    Oh no, yet another fabric line I can’t live without! But there is small comfort in knowing which colorway I want: breeze.

  2. polly columbus says:

    Love the beautiful fabrics!

  3. Mama Spark says:

    Love all the blues and greens!! How wonderful, thanks for sharing!!

  4. Gudrun says:

    Gorgeous line, love all the colorways!!

  5. Wow! Free fabric. Thanks for the chance. It’s a beautiful line.

  6. Mare says:

    I just LOVE these fabrics, and I really would love to get some, I’m already dreaming what will be done!

  7. Nicholas says:

    WHat a beautiful fabric line! The Breeze colorway is so amazing!

  8. Charlotte says:

    What beautiful colors! These would look lovely on my sailboat!

  9. krishna says:

    great colorways. thanks for sharing the behind-the-scenes info on the collection!

  10. Den says:

    Each pattern is nice on its own, but together they look fantastic!

  11. Christa says:

    I love this line. We are remodeling our Kitchen and main level and fits my color scheme perfectly.

  12. Maria Grahm says:

    PLEASE!
    Let me be one of the winners!
    My quiltshop have only four of your timberfabrics and I`ve bought them, but I want MORE!!!

  13. tjesa says:

    Love this fabric…gotta get me some Timber!

  14. Jennifer Schott says:

    This wonderful collection gives me the opportunity to express myself through the clothing I wear, rather than letting fashion determine my attitude. Thanks so much for the opportunity.

  15. I’m really into blues and greens lately so the Breeze is really catching my eye! Love the modern look of there fabrics!!

  16. Susana says:

    I love this collection. My favorite print is one she didn’t mention, Apple Mist, I think it’s called. I would love any of the colorways, but love that print in Breeze, especially.

  17. Lucia says:

    I love Jessica’s designs and think she’s fabulous!

  18. Steph says:

    Oh, I thought “It looks so Arts & Crafts!” the second I saw this collecton. LOVE it. I’ll now spend hours daydreaming about the perfect Arts & Crafts bungalow, totally outfitted in these fabrics.

  19. Caitlin T. says:

    love, love, love these patterns!

    thanks for the giveaway!

  20. cathy says:

    The fabrics are lovely and the story is fascinating. Thank you for sharing.

  21. Heather says:

    Sigh. What beautiful fabrics… I enjoy hearing how designers are inspired. Thanks for sharing!

  22. Kelly says:

    This line always catches my eye…would love to win some!

  23. Heather says:

    I love love love this fabric! Fingers crossed!

  24. Deb says:

    I love all the fabric!!! But I am partial to purples so I love the Berry colorway.

  25. Laurie says:

    what great fabric thanks for the story about it and the great give away.

  26. Samantha says:

    Beautiful fabrics, Beautiful colours. SO inspiring.

  27. K. Anne says:

    It was interesting to read a little bit about how the whole process began. Thanks for sharing!

  28. Mary says:

    Gorgeous fabric, and I love hearing the behind-the-scenes story!

  29. Janiebird2 says:

    I would love to win some of this fabric–it is beautiful. Even the names of the colorways and the individual fabrics make me happy.

  30. Lisa says:

    I loved this article, it is so interesting to hear how this absolutely gorgeous pattern line came to life! I’ll certainly be buying some, but would love to win some too!

  31. Ruth says:

    The fabric is beautiful, just beautiful!

  32. Debra G. says:

    Oh my! Lovely fabric and colorways. I will have to make my daughter and son-in-law a quilt with the “Berry”!

  33. anne a. says:

    Such pretty fabric! I must have some. :)

  34. Mel says:

    I’ve been eyeing this collection for awhile. I’d love to win some! Thanks for the chance.

  35. Tiffani says:

    I havent seen a set of fabrics more inspiring than these — they just might be the ones to make me start my first quilt.

  36. Lauren says:

    Thank you, Mary Beth and Jessica, for sharing your inspirations! The line is lovely and I can’t wait to get my paws on it.

  37. Karen S says:

    Thanks for the lovely interview of Jessica. I do love that line of fabric!

  38. Rebecca says:

    Lovely I read her blog all the time

  39. Nancy B in Many LA says:

    Very nice post – and I LOVE the Clay colorway!

  40. Mystica says:

    Its such a lovely interview and the fabric line is so varied and pretty. Thank you.

  41. Brandy says:

    I Love Timber! Can’t wait to use it!

  42. Kathy says:

    Love the fabric, and this was a great interview. I learned a lot about the process. Thanks.

  43. jane says:

    Great fabrics–all of them–would love to sew up something special with them right now.

  44. Susan S says:

    Love the fabulous designs and colors – I’d love to have them all!

  45. Linda says:

    Lovely fabrics! I would love to add a fat quarter bundle to my collection. I have to admit that the “Clay” colorway is my favorite, but they are all beautiful.

    Thanks for the giveaway

  46. Aimee says:

    It’s encouraging to see another creative, out-of-the-ordinary engineer! I’ve been following Jessica’s blog for nearly a year and have been amazed to see the progression of her career. Way to go, Jessica! What a blessing to be able to do something that you love and enjoy!

  47. Maggie says:

    Beautiful stuff, I really love the breeze colorway, and the dogwood design is sublime.