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. rachael says:

    These fabrics are beautiful!!!!!!! Such a great article!!!! all the colourways are inspiring, my creative cogs are turning…

  2. Yolanda says:

    Good afternoon. The Breeze colorway is begging to be the textiles used in my master bedroom. Simply beautiful.

  3. Edith says:

    I love theclay colorway and I love hearing about her process.

  4. Jackie H says:

    These nature-inspired fabrics are refreshingly different! Love it!

  5. Bumpzilla says:

    Wow, the colors sumptuous and the patterns are too cute! Love the graphic ginkgo leaves! so cool!

  6. Katie says:

    The bamboo stripes are my favorite, I love the whole line though.

  7. michaela says:

    I’m relatively new to quilting and sewing, and I really loved reading about the fabric design process. What lovely work!

  8. Christy K. says:

    Wonderful fabric collection!

  9. Tobie says:

    I saw the Mackintosh rose but never noticed it was a nest. Love it!

  10. Jen says:

    Nice interview!
    I love all three.

  11. Patty says:

    I love the fabric…..the clay colorway is just wonderful.

  12. Joan says:

    Wonderful interview. This collection makes it easier for people like me (rigid traditionalist, love antique reproductions) to move out of my box and in to some lovely colors and designs. My husband is a great fan of Frank Lloyd Wright, and he is steering me toward these types of prints! He’s pretty good at the geometry part of my quilts, so I’m leaning toward his advice on fabric. Great collection, will look for it & will look forward to seeing your next line.

  13. Joan S says:

    The style and color of these fabrics is just so fresh!

  14. sarah baird says:

    It is so interesting to read how the designers take a concept and bring it to life for us to enjoy so much.

  15. wendy says:

    Wow, great interview! I just this second got home from the quilt store where I bought some of the birds in trees from this collection! I wished I could have bought more, so this is my chance!

  16. Very lovely. And so interesting to discover how the designs came about. Thank you for that.

  17. Christine says:

    Very beautiful! I love the nests that look like roses.

  18. Linnea says:

    Beautiful collection. My friend recently bought all of the prints in he breeze colorway for a quilt and I have been drooling over them. I would love some of my own!

  19. Desi Wilson says:

    Love the fabrics. Thanks for offering such a great blog treat.

  20. carrie says:

    So nice! The clay color palette is my favorite.

  21. Kelly says:

    YUM! What lovely fabric.

    Your interview with Jessica is fantastic. It’s so interesting to find out how designers develop a concept into different prints and then colourways, to develop a range. I never would have noticed that Magnolia was really nests, how clever is that!

    I’m very partial to the Berry colourway, but Breeze would be a close second. How awesome would it be to win some of this gorgeous fabric?! I’ve got my fingers crossed.
    Thanks for the chance.
    Kelly :-)

  22. Tong says:

    Such a gorgeous collection, Jessica has done a fabulous job, I love the colour palette she’s chosen. Thank you for this wonderful interview and the giveaway!

  23. Kirsten says:

    I love that I got to learn about how she came up with each print and what her creative process was. It’s so fun to hear that stuff. I love the breeze and clay colorways. Gorgeous!!!

  24. Patty S. says:

    Lovely collection, and interesting interview! Thanks for the behind-the-scissors look.

  25. I love these fabrics! I have long been a fan of the Art Nouveau or Arts and Crafts Styles since discovering a Beth Russell William Morris needlepoint book several years ago. I love the organic shapes and colors of the era. Jessica has captured the feel of the time wonderfully, yet it has such a lovely modern feel to it! I will be nabbing a big stash of this fabric! (and hopefully winning a bit of it here!)

  26. britt says:

    This is a great interview! I’ll never tire of reading about the creative process. It’s interesting to hear about Jessica’s sources and inspirations for her designs.

  27. Sarah-Ashley says:

    Awesome fabrics, I absolutely love the colors!

  28. beverlyanne says:

    Yes please. I need Timber. I love this collection, especially the art nouveau design elements.

  29. Staci Payne says:

    Enjoyed reading this interview and looking at all the lovely photos. Beautiful colors and patterns!

  30. Linda says:

    BEAUTIFUL FABRICS!
    Thanks so for sharing!
    Love,Linda

  31. Vicki says:

    I love this fabric line~~I studied botany in college and have good memories of learning about ginkgo and maple and magnolia trees. And I enjoyed hearing about how it was created, too.

  32. Megan says:

    Beautiful fabrics! They would make such cute quilts =)

  33. Lynne says:

    I’m new to your blog and new to quilting (less than three weeks) although I have always love beautiful fabrics and once used to sew my own clothes.

    I want to thank you for bringing us this interview. The designs are gorgeous and the colours beautiful. I wish Jessica all the best for this and future collections and for her relationship with Windham. I’m so glad they deferred to her; she is, after all, the best person to know how the pieces work as a collection. Well done, Jessica.

  34. Bridget says:

    Beautiful! Thanks for sharing, I love to hear about the process designers use

  35. Sujata Shah says:

    Beautiful collection!

  36. Barb says:

    Thanks for the great interview! I adore those little seed pods and the nests that look like roses.

  37. Amanda says:

    I love the modern spin on the organic shapes. It was neat to hear the origin of the patterns. Cool stuff, not too cutesy, which is always appreciated when you are not sewing for kids!!

  38. Absolutely gorgeous. I love the designs and the colors. Thanks for a great contest. :)

  39. Terriaw says:

    This was a fabulous post! Thank you so much for providing such a great interview. I loved learning more about Jessica, her background and her process for developing her first collection. I have such an appreciation for all the hard work she put into this. And I adore her collection. Already can’t wait to see what she has coming up next! Kudos!

  40. penny g says:

    Love the collection and her thoughtfulness in designing it. I have to try to win it. Thanks for the opportunity.

  41. becca says:

    gorgeous! the colors are so pleasing – thanks for the chance

  42. mommymae says:

    that’s neat to hear where she gets her inspiration. so specific. beautiful line, jessica.

  43. Charlotte M says:

    Ah, I love the breeze colorway so much! And that so much heart went into it, too. Jessica is amazing.

  44. Lesly says:

    Can’t get enough of this fabric line – thanks for the chance!

  45. Sarah Jane says:

    I love all these fabrics! What I love about this line is the modern take on art nouveauish arrangements of the leaves/trees/etc. And the coulours are fabulous.

  46. Cherie says:

    I LOVE this line! I already got some of it and it is even prettier in person!!

  47. hillary says:

    Awesome line. I love the depth/variation within each colorway.

  48. Marlene says:

    I love this collection! Especially the Breeze colorway. I’d love to do a bag with this. Enjoyed reading the design process. Cool!

  49. Lisabee says:

    I love this line! The descriptions of how each pattern came to be is really interesting to read. I can’t decide between the colorways – they’re ALL fabulous in their own way.

  50. Nancy Lee says:

    How pretty… I love the Breeze colorway..

    Such an interesting interview…I would have been scared to death to take sketches to market…