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.


  1. ~Michelle~ says:

    Definitely lovin’ Timber! And all of the colorways are beautiful, how to choose?? I think any could make a pretty sweet & stylish baby quilt (not to mention a grown-up quilt).

  2. Kristin says:

    wow – your collection is beautiful and your story is inspirational. thank you for sharing!

  3. Ellen says:

    I adore this collection – especially the trees and the gingko.

  4. eadaoine says:

    I love the breeze and clay colorways. A wide variety of applications!

  5. Thanks for sharing how you came up with each design elememt. I love hearing how designers work out their designs, it’s a great insight as to how much work and thought goes into a collection. I love your color palette and how each design element compliments the others. I think my favorite is the breeze colorway, but they are all beautiful. Thanks again for sharing :)

  6. Rachael says:

    What a great collection! Fun to read about it too! Thanks!

  7. Katie B says:

    Thanks for the interview and giveaway! This is beautiful fabric.

  8. blair says:

    i am in love with this entire collection! it’s so great to hear how it was created and the thought process behind each design! love it :)

  9. Lucy says:

    Great fabric, and adorable projects! I am inspired. And thanks for this giveaway opportunity!

  10. Kyra says:

    Gotta say that Dogwood in Clay is my hands down favorite.

  11. Liz says:

    Thank you so much for introducing us to Jessica and her fabric! It’s GORGEOUS!

  12. John says:

    Timber is one of my favorite new lines and Jessica’s interview was VERY inspirational. Thanks again for another job well done!

  13. dangermom says:

    Gorgeous! I love the Breeze and Clay colorways especially…

  14. Emily says:

    Lovely! I particularly love the “solid” with the maple leaves! Totally reminds me of my childhood!

  15. Erica Ferguson says:

    I really love this line. Really love the ginko and the dogwood.

  16. angie says:

    beautiful fabric! all three colorways are just lovely. thank you!

  17. Melissa C says:

    Thank you for showcasing this line and designer. I had not seen it yet, and I love it. I also love reading about the process for the designs.

  18. Margaret says:

    So beautiful a collection! I would love to win a pack. Thanks for the chance and thanks for introducing us to this designer!

  19. Adva Price says:

    I love the Clay colorway.

  20. Charlene Christian says:

    Wow, I love this line. Thanks for the thoughts behind the process!

  21. rachael says:

    just received my first order of some of this collection last week and can’t wait to get started with it! what lovely patterns and colors :)

  22. Sheri says:

    These are so beautiful. What great designs. I’d love to make something with some fat quarters!

  23. Julie says:

    Wonderful job! The fabrics are so beautiful!

  24. susan says:

    I’m a sucker for gingko leaves too.

  25. Amy says:

    This collection is beautiful! The collection has both very simple repeats and more complicated patterns like the Dogwood which come together very nice! I am looking out for this collection for sure. Congratulations to the designer.

  26. Amber says:

    I love Jessica’s blog already and her fabric line is just gorgeous – those gingko leaves are so pretty! What a great interview – I love how she described her Quilt Market adventure….brave girl!!

  27. Tammy says:

    I love the pretty colors- would love to make something with it!

  28. Lynn says:

    Wow! GORGEOUS collection. I love all of the colorways!

  29. PumpkinMama says:

    What a beautiful line! And I always love reading about the development and design process. Wonderful!

  30. Melissa H. says:

    These are great designs and colors!

  31. Kate says:

    Wow, so delightful! I’m a plant nerd and you touched on a few of my very favorites with a great amount of stylized design.

  32. Rossie says:

    I love this collection. I’ve been hoarding one print in particular!

  33. Chris says:

    Love this collection! Thanks so much for the chance to win :-)

  34. Alice S says:

    I love reading about the story or inspriation behind the fabric designs. A great collection of fabrics! I was also intrigued because I have an engineering background too.

  35. gwyneth says:

    oh my gosh, i am drooling!

  36. Evelyn says:

    I have to enter – my sister-in-law loves art deco stuff, and I know I could make her a quilt she would LOVE with this line. It’s just beautiful!

  37. so we added chickens says:

    I love Timber – and this was a great interview. It made me see more in the line (I hadn’t seen the birds in ‘Magnolia’) and it was great to hear about Jessica’s design process. Thank you!

  38. SparklePetal says:

    Great interview and a fantastic fabric range! I really like the way the designs mostly came from Art Nouveau beginnings. Great colourways and graphics, so inspiring!

  39. Hilary says:

    Lovely – especially the Clay and Berry colorways!

  40. Chelsea says:

    Love every last one of these. Thanks for the interview, it always helps me look at the fabrics in a new way.

  41. carrie says:

    Such a great collection–so many ways to use it, with such wonderful potential.

  42. Joanna says:

    Beautiful fabrics! My husband is an engineer and a painter. Perhaps we need to be hitting Spoonflower!

  43. Cathy says:

    What lovely fabric!

  44. sarah says:

    I’m in love with that little partridge!

  45. Mary P says:

    Great interview, and gorgeous collection. Thanks for the giveaway!

  46. Melissa says:

    Beautiful collection!

  47. Ellen says:

    I love this collection – especially the simple dot with the seed pods and the gingko, but they are all beautiful! The art nouveau / arts and crafts influence is great with the contemporary colors.

  48. Lindsay says:

    I love the willow print. Thank you for sharing the ins and outs of your collection :)

  49. Katrin says:

    I love the Breeze colourway! Georgeous line, I really want it…

  50. cathy says:

    I love these fabrics. All three color ways. So modern and retro.