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. Sophie says:

    OOOOh, gorgeous! I love the color palettes she worked with. So cozy and inviting.

  2. Candace says:

    wow. that first dress is so cute in the clay colors.

  3. edina says:

    Great interview and gorgeous fabrics!

  4. Carmel says:

    Oh, I love the little birds in the background on the Magnolia print. Gorgeous!

  5. Oh, so lovely! I really love the Art Nouveau/Arts and Crafts look to this fabric line. I think I’m partial to breeze and clay though. My aesthetic choices run very closely to Jessica Levitt’s.

  6. HotFudge says:

    What a stunning collection of goodies. I particularly love the Breeze colorway, as it reminds me of my childhood growing up by the sea.

  7. erika luke says:

    Love this line!! Thanks for doing this great giveaway!

  8. Catherine says:

    What a wonderful and inspiring interview. Thanks!

  9. jenny m says:

    So deco, and so modern perfect to refresh curtains for the spring!!

  10. Gorgeous range of fabrics. Fingers crossed. :)

  11. Leah says:

    Wow, what an inspiring story … and what great fabrics! Please pick me!

  12. Tricia says:

    Those are lovely colors!

  13. Elsa says:

    I love it! my favourite are the willow designs

  14. Great interview! I love hearing about what inspires creative people and their design process. Very interesting, and I love the fabrics!

  15. Val says:

    Love it! It’s so neat to hear about how Jessica developed her designs. Totally inspiring.

  16. Gina says:

    Beautiful fabrics…perfect colors…not too bold (though I do love bold colors), but more importantly, not too subtle.

  17. tracy_a says:

    Gosh – gorgeous work – I dog-eared that page in the Hancock’s catalog as soon as I got it. I can’t believe this is a first collection – I love it!

  18. I’m a huge fan of this collection! So interesting to read more about it!

  19. Erin says:

    Great designs!! I hope I win!

  20. Jenny says:

    i just love the colors used in this collection!

  21. Aditi says:

    Awesome designs! Thanks for another great interview!

  22. This is really pretty fabric. I love the breeze colorway best.

  23. Jennifer says:

    I really love this line. So pretty!

  24. Hilary says:

    What a beautiful debut! Congratulations.. and thanks for offering the giveaway. Best wishes for your 2nd line on the way!

  25. Elizabeth says:

    Beautiful collection!

  26. I really enjoyed this interview.

    I think Timber is lovely, and the details about each design were really interesting.

    I hope my story is similar one day – I would love to try fabric design.

    Congratulations Jessica, on your first collection, I can’t wait to see you next one!

  27. Meg says:

    I love these! The ginko prints are especially lovely. :)

  28. Jeannette says:

    Very interesting, congratulations to you on taking your time and it all paying off in the end. I love the collection and can’t wait to see what you design next!

  29. Hilary says:

    Clay and Berry are my favorite colorways of Timber. I love the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts design inspiration.

  30. Leigh says:

    Love love LOVE Timber!!!

  31. Kaye Prince says:

    This collection is absolutely gorgeous and I really love the name too – Timber, it’s just great!

  32. Kristen says:

    What a wonderful collection!

  33. Jenny says:

    Beautiful designs and a great interview!!!

  34. Megan L says:

    I LOVE this line. I want whole entire collection so badly!

    I’m so crossing my fingers on this one.

  35. mab says:

    For real and not even kissing up — When I first saw Timber it was the first line that I wanted to buy every single pattern in every single color. It’s not my usual style, so I was surprised by this knee-jerk and powerful desire to have fat quarters of all of it to pet and caress and eventually cut into.

    Sigh. I have a fabric problem. More of an addiction. Pretty please pick me to win this and then I promise I’ll get to a self-help group. Because I can quit anytime…

  36. Madeleine says:

    Oh! I love those prints!

  37. Angelina says:

    Beautiful! I love the breeze & berry colorways!

  38. Kathleen says:

    I really love this line. Floral and natural without looking whimsical or overtly feminine. Just lovely!

  39. DianeY says:

    It’s a beautiful line & you did a terrific interview!

  40. April says:

    Jeeeeeez! I love this collection. Madly. The photo of the display booth is seriously making me swoon.

  41. carriegel says:

    This collection is so beautiful!

  42. Tammy says:

    How refreshing to hear a story like that. I’m a huge fan of Timber.

  43. Emily says:

    This is my first time ever on this website, and as soon as i saw your timber collection i fell in love with it. Now thanks to you i am going to buy it and make something amazing! thank you

  44. This is my favorite interview of all you have done. Great insight into this amazing designers world.

  45. This is my favorite interview of all you have done. Great insight into this amazing designer’s world.

  46. hsthomas says:

    Fascinating post, beautiful fabric! Thanks for posting!

  47. love her fabric!! great post!

  48. Sue Goodin says:

    Such wonderful fabrics and such neat uses for it.
    Please sign me up.

  49. PaulaK says:

    Very interesting post – gorgeous fabrics. An inspiration. Thanks for the opportunity to win.

  50. Sue says:

    That was a great Q&A, very informative :)

    I love collection of fabrics, beautiful designs and colors :)