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. Cindy says:

    Pick me! Pick me! I love this collection!

  2. Jan says:

    I love the collection and I am in awe of talented folks who can create a group of fabrics that look so good together! Partridge is my fave!

  3. Marit says:

    Loved to read the interview! The collection is lovely, soft colors and a great variation in design – lots of lovely contrasts to work on! I have already purchased some of the Willow in two colourways – love it!!! Would love to have a chance to win these pretty fabrics.

  4. Wen says:

    The fabrics are gorgeous! Thanks for the chance to win! I love them all.

  5. corentine says:

    i am loving it too ! love the colors and the patterns

  6. carmel says:

    i would so so want to win this!!!!
    it could realy usefull for me!
    thanks!

  7. Sue says:

    It’s so great to understand the creative process behind a line of fabric. These are great – I love the berry colourway particularly.

    Sue

  8. Belinda Gelhausen says:

    LOVE the whole Timber line! Would love to have them in my stash! So interesting to learn of your engineering/computer science background. My 20 year old daughter just switched her major from Engineering to Art History, mostly because Art History sparks her creative passions in a way that Engineering didn’t. I’ll definitely send her the link to this interview :-)

  9. Amber Lee says:

    I love hearing about the process. I just got some of her fabric and I love it.

  10. Grace says:

    wow so pretty! I especially like Breeze and the Pear design.

  11. Kt says:

    Ummm, loving the berry colourway!

  12. Eliane T. says:

    Lovely fabrics! And great colors! Thanks for the chance.

  13. Sharon T. says:

    Such a nicely designed line of fabric and so pretty. I recently ordered some and can’t wait to see it. Thanks for an interesting interview.

  14. Anne says:

    the colours in this range are just divine.

  15. Anna says:

    Wow. I love every. single. print. in this collection. The colors are fantastic, too. Thanks for the chance to win!

  16. Sandy says:

    love the color combinations in the clay scheme!

  17. elena says:

    I love this collection especially the berry line. Thanks for all the informationa bout the creative line, I always wondered about it. :D

  18. Wendy says:

    I love these colors!

  19. M&Co says:

    Very interesting post, learning how the collections came to be, and the process of it. Beautiful!

  20. mjb says:

    Such a great collection! Love that maple.

  21. Jessica says:

    Would love to win a fat quarter bundle of any of these colorways! The colors are so vibrant and beautiful:)

  22. Amy Harle says:

    WOW – this is a gorgeous collection!!

  23. Marcia W. says:

    Trueup interviews with fabric designers like Jessica L. are really interesting to me. As usual, I read the entire interview twice! Please enter me in your giveaway. This fabric line in any colorway is beautiful. The name is perfect: Timber.
    mlwright29 at hotmail dot com

  24. Erin says:

    I love love love the Timber line and enjoyed reading the back story. It makes me want to go outside and find some inspiration!

  25. Stine says:

    All the colorways are fantastic! I can’t wait to see Jessica’s next collection.

  26. BFromM says:

    I love Timber. I can’t choose which colorway I like better.

  27. Faye says:

    Great article. Great fabric. There are a lot of possibilities here!

  28. Debra says:

    More great fabric. Thanks for the article!

  29. Katie says:

    This is a wonderful interview – thanks to Jessica for sharing so much about the thought process behind the designs. I really like what she did with the Mackintosh roses, although I think my favorite print is “Pear”.

    Well done!

  30. KristenA says:

    This was fascinating! I used to have a 1928 bungalow and love all things with an Arts & Crafts look, so I adore Timber! It was really interesting to learn more about Jessica’s process in designing it as well…

  31. Pattie Crum says:

    Great article, delightful fabric, love the blue/green.

  32. Karen G says:

    I love the fabric!! It would be hard to choose a favorite.

  33. Carrie L says:

    Great designs! I especially love the willow. Thanks for the giveaway!

  34. Molly M says:

    I am imagining new bags and skirts with this fabric. Love it!

  35. Dot says:

    wonderful fabric line—nice new designer. Thank you for the interview and giveaway. I especially like Pear and Maple prints.

  36. yahaira says:

    I love Jessica’s line, I’m so glad she was able to find a “home” for them!

  37. Rose says:

    Wow! What moxie! To go to Quilt Market and see yourself. Of course, the fabrics are beautiful and I can see why they sold. I hope I win.

  38. Sarah M says:

    I love these designer interviews! I was a fan of the collection anyway, and now I have a deeper appreciation. The overall look of tweaking Art Nouveau into Mod is just so inspired. Looking forward to seeing what Jessica comes up with next!

  39. kathy says:

    i love this line – in fact i broke my fabric buying hiatus on it. i had to get a limited selection so any addition to that would be icing! thanks for a great interview :)

  40. craftytammie says:

    i have been reading jessica’s blog for awhile now, and it’s been exciting to follow her journey! thanks for a great interview, and chance to win her gorgeous fabrics!

  41. Angela says:

    I love how Jessica has blended earthy graphics, florals and modern images together. The Timber line is so unique – love the clay colorway.

  42. Pat says:

    I *knew* there was a reason I especially loved this set – I’m a huge fan of Art Deco/Nouveau as well. What an inspiration she is, having switch from a tech field too! There’s hope for me!! :-)

  43. Patty says:

    Beautiful designs, fresh and full of possibilities.

  44. Karen Harris says:

    Lovely fabrics! I especially love the”breeze” colorway!
    Karen

  45. Mitzi says:

    These are just fabulous! If I don’t win, heck even if I do, I’ll be on the look out for these.

  46. Kim says:

    I especially enjoy the element of surprise and whimsy that these fabrics share- the partridge in “Pear,” the bird and nest in “Magnolia.” Every time I scroll down this page I notice a new layer of complexity in the prints. Thank you for sharing your work and thought process with us!

  47. Sam says:

    I love, LOVE the upholstered chair seat. It has totally inspired me, and I need some of these fabrics stat! Great interview, i love reading about her process. Very informative and inspiring!

  48. Marianne says:

    Love it…the clay colorway is most intriguing!

  49. Rachel says:

    I love Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and really liked how his roses inspired your magnolia print. So lovely!

  50. Vanessa says:

    I purchased “Maple” in brown already. I had a tight budget, and spent a day or two deliberating about which print from which colorway to buy. I want more. :)